I’ve always fantasized about traveling the world long-term. I say fantasize, because it took me a long time to connect the dots between how I could go from med school ambitions to backpacking through multiple countries. When would I have time for that? I also never pictured myself doing it solo.
Like many others, I made travel plans with friends that fell through, and had to make a decision: Do I wait until the timing works for someone else or do I attempt the journey alone? I chose the latter and my experience has been a life changing one. Here’s why:
You will never fulfill your travel dreams—or any dreams, for that matter—if you are always waiting for the perfect time or person to accompany you. The more you grow up, the more responsibilities seem to pile on and prevent travel. If you are waiting for someone, stop. Go alone.
Solo travel is only considered weird to people back home. In reality, it’s extremely popular, encouraged and envied once you’re backpacking. I meet more solo travelers than non-solo travelers. Two theories on why. First, people traveling in pairs or groups tend to talk more amongst themselves and less with new people. This isn’t true for every person, but hey humans get comfortable around people they know. Reaching out to strangers isn’t exactly necessary for them. Second, solo travelers are all over and we share the mentality of being strong (or learning to be) on our own. You can immediately talk about where you’re from, where you’ve been and where you’re headed. Having answered these questions a lot by now, I love when the conversation spirals into even more. In the beginning, however, when I was up in the air on if traveling on my own was right for me.. it was the best way to connect and get excited! I was inspired by fellow solo travelers I met and learned quickly from them. It is nice to share fascination for seeing the world, especially with people who have grown up in countries way different than my own.
You meet wonderful people along the way. You are never truly alone unless you choose to be. The hostels are full of travelers and an inclusive friendly energy exists between us all—it is the backpacking way! Last month, I was in Northern Laos on a waterfall trek with a group I had met in the city prior. Laughing through the forest, we came to realize that everyone in the group was solo traveling. 12 people who embarked to Asia on their own, found themselves happily exploring with 11 other people from different parts of the world. After a few days together, we split off into smaller groups to continue our journeys. I have since met up with many of these travelers and sit next to one in Bali as I write this! She flew in from Nepal last night. We, also, just learned that two guys from the group are taking their bromance on the road, motorbiking across Vietnam. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you will be lonely. Do not let the fear of having nobody with you on that first flight stop you from going. The world is full of amazing souls that want to meet you. From bunkmates to bridesmaids, you never know!
On your own, you are bound to be invited to things and say yes more. Traveling solo is a portal to those adventures you may not have considered if you had been with friends from home. It is also hard to merge with others when you have too many people. However, there is always room for ONE more. Let that be you.
You are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. You don’t have to compromise or be on a time schedule like we are so used to back home. Your day can flow how you see fit. When traveling with other people, you constantly have to talk about plans and decide things together. I had a glimpse of this when my friend from home visited me for 3 weeks. Trust me, I loved having her here—she’s amazing and we have future travel plans. So used to being on my own though, I’ll admit that I was exhausted from talking so much about our activities for the day, what we were bringing, where we should eat, what time we should wake up, etc. I’m aware these things seem small and in the scheme of things, they certainly are. However, these questions are a part of all of our days and it is nice to simply BE and have the answers arise in our own minds instead of out loud all day. Observe and ponder things, skip the big cities when you want to be in nature, stay longer in a place you love, change your route when you please. Have no obligations. Ultimately not worry about any of your travel choices affecting someone else’s experience. Or theirs affecting your own.
You find yourself. The journey of solo travel can be challenging. It’s not always glamorous. I hated the transit days at first—the long overnight buses or airport layovers. Over time, I have grown to love and look forward to (most of) them. Enforced relaxation looking out a window can be nice. You're headed somewhere new. You can reflect on where you’ve been and how much your mind has changed since you were back home. Your inner monologue is refreshingly different on the road. “What is the currency conversion here” “Am I on the right bus” “Is this sunset fake” “Can I live here”… It doesn’t even matter what the new thoughts are, it just feels so good to have some variety. Gain new perspective on life, who you are and how you want to spend time on this planet.
I’m often asked if I miss home, and the answer is no. At least not yet. I only wish my loved ones could be here to see for themselves what I find so enlightening. Traveling has brought me peace. I’m proud of my independence, my hard work to get here, all the mental battles I’ve conquered along the way. Exploration does wonders for the soul. I know it has for mine.