When I first decided to leave everything behind and travel the world on my own and all alone, it was exhilarating. The thought of solo travel for 2-3 years seemed like such a crazy thing (I had never solo travelled before), and yet, I couldn’t wait to go. When the final days leading up to my one way flight to Tokyo (which was the only ticket I had bought in advance) approached, I started to get a little scared. Ok, fine, I was terrified. Can I do this? What the hell is it going to be like? Will I be doomed to eat alone, drink alone, and talk to myself for the next few years?
I previously wrote about all the awesome things about solo travel – well, there’s always a flip side. While solo travel is an amazing, unforgettable, and enlightening experience, it is not without its problems. And while I still think The Good outweighs The Bad, and The Ugly – here are some truths you should know about solo travel.
1. You Will Eat Alone… Often
Ok, eating alone isn’t that bad. I was a little self-conscious about it before but now I eat alone all the time, even when I’m not travelling. The bad thing about eating alone is that sometimes you want to eat foods that are meant to be shared amongst multiple people. That’s when things can get awkward and pricey. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally, and sometimes not so accidentally, ordered enough food for 2-3 people and ATE IT ALL. Glorious or disastrous? I say a bit of both.
2. You Will Pay More For Everything
As with eating, other things will cost more when you travel solo because you can’t take advantage of economies of scale. Things like lodging (stick to dorm rooms in hostels and you should be fine – some tips on hostel living), dining, luxury boat cruises, and practically anything that you could otherwise share, will be more expensive on your own. And then there are times when you have to book a “double” bed (really only the size of a single) in a sleeper bus for a 12 hour ride in Laos and share it with a local who burps, farts, and scratches himself in his sleep while spread eagled across the entire mattress (true story).
3. You Have Nobody To Turn To When You Need Help, Sick, Lost, etc…
Needing help or being sick when you’re all alone is not a very good feeling. You can feel helpless, distraught, and start to panic because you think that there’s nobody around that cares about you or can help you. Luckily, this never happened to me except for one time when I was climbing to the summit of Lantau Island in Hong Kong towards the end of the day. The sun was setting and rain had started to fall, but I was determined to reach the summit. After reaching the peak, I realized that I hadn’t seen another soul in hours and soon it would be dark and wet on my way down the steep, rocky mountain. I started to panic as I made my way down because it was now pitch dark and storming and not a single soul in the world knew that I was on this mountain all alone. If something happened to me there, it would be days before anyone noticed that I was gone and even longer for me to be discovered. It was a rather unsettling feeling. I learned my lesson that day to always have someone know where you are and to not be afraid to ask for help and advice.
4. You Are A More Tempting Target
Travelling anywhere has it’s inherent dangers but when you’re alone, you should be a little more careful, cautious, and alert. Don’t go out at night alone, especially in the “bad” areas (ask your hostel clerk to point them out to you on a map), don’t get drunk / wasted, and just generally don’t put yourself in situations where there is no one else around that can help you. Make friends at the hostel and travel in groups, just to be safe.
5. You Will Take Selfies… All The Time
I admit, I take a lot of selfies. Or at least I used to. As a solo traveller, it’s just so much easier to take a selfie than to set up a timer on my phone and try to prop it up on a rock. And I just don’t like bothering strangers and asking them to take my picture only to find out that their thumb is in the frame or that they completely missed what I was trying to capture anyway. So yeah, you’ll end up looking like a vain, self absorbed douche bag with all the selfies you’ll be taking. Meh, whatever!
6. You Will Get Lonely
Although this may seem obvious, and probably be the biggest concern for anyone considering solo travel, I’d love to say that you won’t get lonely but then I’d be lying. Even though I wasn’t alone for most of my travels – I joined groups and other travellers all the time – and had a few travel romances along the way, when you catch yourself alone and unsure what your next step is, that’s when it hits you the hardest. But I learned along the way that loneliness is just another emotion. Like happiness and sadness, anger and love, loneliness is a fleeting emotion and will pass and be replaced by something else, like wonder or joy, just as quickly. And I don’t want to get too new-agey here but loneliness can be a blessing as well – another opportunity in self reflection and personal growth, if you will.
7. Happiness [is] Only Real When Shared
Like Chris McCandless had written in his diary before he passed, I too had my fair share of moments where I was presented with an awe inspiring view or experience and desperately wanted to turn to someone to say, “Wow, isn’t that amazing!?” Unfortunately, the only thing I could do was take a selfie, share it on Instagram, and caption it with, “Wow, isn’t that amazing?!” and end up looking like a humble bragging idiot. It’s in our nature to share our happiness and excitement with those that we care about and when you’re all alone, your only option is to keep it to yourself. The more often this happens, the harder it gets, and the more selfies you take. It’s a vicious cycle, really.
Ultimately, these points shouldn’t discourage you and solo travel is something that I truly believe everyone has to do at least once in their lifetime. It’s such an enlightening and exhilarating experience that it’s really hard to describe in words. You just have to go out and see for yourself. You will be scared. You will be tested. And in the end, you will be completely changed. But once you’ve tried it once, I guarantee that it will change how you travel forever.
For more insight on solo travel, check out Laurence Bradford’s truths on solo travel.
Do you have any burning questions about solo travel? What are your bad and ugly experiences with solo travel?