I remember when I was in my late teens, early twenties, I was terrified of going anywhere or doing anything alone. I also had an insane fear of answering the phone or calling anyone I didn’t know. I’m not quite sure why I had this fear, but it often prevented me from doing things I wanted to do unless I had someone to do them with. One day, my then boyfriend, who was older than me, confronted me with my fear and forced me to go to the cinema alone. I was nearly in tears when I went up to the box office alone and asked for a single ticket. I even considered buying two tickets so that I wouldn’t look like such a loser. I was surprised when the girl didn’t react strangely or laugh at me like I was expecting. Watching that film alone was one of the most liberating moments of my life. I was totally immersed in the film and came out feeling quite triumphant; I had gone alone, and survived!
A few months later I went on my first solo trip to Paris. Well, technically I wasn’t alone as I was staying with a relative, but during the day I explored completely alone. I had visited Paris many times before with my family, but that weekend I felt like I was discovering a whole new city. I went where I pleased, ate whatever I wanted and spoke to random strangers on the street. That was the beginning of my “alone” time.
In 2010 I was living in Barcelona and was made redundant from my job. I knew that I wanted to travel and so I decided to go on a solo trip. I travelled alone around the U.S.A. and South America and then a few months later went to Australia. Now I am very much au fait with being alone, and in fact, travelling alone is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I still like to go off alone once in a while, and frequently go to exhibitions or films alone. Whenever I’m travelling I often meet people who are surprised to see a (relatively!) young woman travelling alone, one of the most common comments I get is “Oh, I couldn’t do that, you’re so brave.” I wanted to write a post for all those people, especially women, who are considering travelling alone. This is to dispel the myths and encourage you to go solo.
One of the best things about travelling alone is that you can potentially meet more people than if you were travelling with a friend or a group. A single person is less intimidating to others and often other people will approach you more easily than if you were with someone else. Being alone also forces you to approach others, and to speak up if you want to have any human interaction. When travelling alone you can also easily join a group if you like them, or leave the group if you don’t. In particular if you stay in hostels it’s a great environment to meet other travellers. As a lone traveller I often got invited to things I maybe wouldn’t have experienced if I had been with someone else. I was invited to a wedding on a beach in Colombia and ended up sharing aguardiente with the bride and groom. I think you can also form deeper connections with people when you’re alone. Some of the best friendships I’ve made have been with people I met while travelling alone.
Getting to know yourself
There is nothing like being completely alone in an unusual place to make you face up to yourself. Sometimes this is a painful process, and sometimes you will desperately wish there was someone else there to distract you from you, but if you really want to get to know yourself, travelling alone is a very good way to do it. You will learn about your likes and dislikes, and you will learn to be true to yourself. When there is no one else to go along with, choices are yours alone to make. When you strip away interactions with other people the core of who you are is all that is left. You will become acutely aware of your surroundings and your senses and intuition will definitely become sharper.
If you arrive in a place and you don’t like it or you want to stay longer you are free to do whatever you want. You can sit for hours in a café, go to see that Barbie through the ages exhibition no one else fancies seeing (I once did that in Barcelona). You set your pace and you can speed up or slow down at your leisure. You can choose what your days are going to look like without having to consider anyone else’s tastes. When Miss W travels she likes to take it pretty easy and she is definitely NOT a list ticker. I like to sit and watch people, talk to strangers, get lost down narrow alleyways outside the tourist areas. Sometimes travelling with someone who has a completely different travelling style to you can spoil a trip. As Alain de Botton says in The Art of Travel, “we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of other.” If you are with someone else and they do not want to do something you are more likely to go along with them than do what you really want to do.
When you travel alone you will be forced to take responsibility for yourself and your things. This can be a double edged sword. It is good because you only have to worry about looking after yourself, and you don’t need to consider anyone else or their safety and well-being. Unfortunately, even today, for a woman this is a major consideration of travelling alone. Whenever I travel alone I am very aware of my surroundings and the people around me when I go out at night or when there is alcohol involved. Travelling alone has taught me to be self-reliant. Although now and again it’s nice to rely on other people, and count on others to help us, in life we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, and travelling alone definitely teaches you how to do that.
All this isn’t to say that when Miss W started travelling alone she wasn’t scared, lonely or apprehensive; quite the opposite. Of course I had days when I just wished I had a good friend with me to share an experience, or someone to watch my bag when I went to the toilet or while I slept. There were some hairy moments when I would have liked to have had someone else to back me up. There were plenty of moments when I was scared, like when I first landed in NYC and I was waiting for the subway and thinking “what the heck am I doing here?” or when I had a layover between buses during the early hours of the morning in a deserted town somewhere north of Sydney. It’s OK to be scared; anyone who says they’re never scared is probably lying or a fool. Fear can be used to our advantage as it keeps us aware. Courage is acknowledging the fear and going ahead and doing it anyway.
I have often heard other people say to me, in particular about South America, “I would go if I wasn’t scared, I wish I was brave enough to do what you did, but I’ll never do it, I can’t go alone, I’ll wait until one of my friends wants to come.” Sometimes we can wait our whole lives until someone else wants to come, or until we’re brave enough or until the situation is perfect. Miss W says don’t wait for others, if you want to go do it, go now and if you must then go alone! Life waits for no one. If you’re worried about safety check your government’s travel advice, take martial arts classes, be cautious around strangers, buy a whistle, whatever, but don’t let your fear paralyse you. Miss W hates to say this, but sometimes you are in just as much danger in your home city as out there in the world, so at least you might as well die happy, right?
You don’t have to go off on a solo round the world trip for the next three years, it can start with something simple like a day trip or a trip to the cinema, or dinner alone. It’s all about learning to enjoy your own company. Go, the world is waiting for you.