I have always been a huge believer in solo travel. People who heard about my plans for my upcoming solo trips, regardless of where I was going, worried about my safety, especially as a woman. “What if something bad happens?” was the refrain I heard over and over again. People also were fascinated by the idea of me spending so much time by myself, and wanted to know if I’d get lonely. Overall, people kept telling me how brave I was and how they could never do anything like that. As much as I enjoy being called brave, they are wrong. Anyone can travel solo and have a great time, as long as certain precautions are taken (which will be discussed in future posts). For now, I want to present you with the reasons why traveling solo is something everyone can and should do.
You can do what you want, when you want.
When I travel alone, I’m on my own schedule. No one sets the agenda for me, and there’s no one to fight over what to eat for dinner. On a group trip to Amsterdam while I was studying abroad, my group of friends got into an argument over whether to go to a zoo (I voted no). In the end our group split up and half went to the zoo and half went elsewhere. When you’re traveling alone, none of that type of conflict happens. Do you want to go to the Buddhist Temple or the beach today? It’s all up to you. If you’ve had it up to here with Peruvian food, you can choose to eat a pizza if you want (pro tip: Peruvian pizzas aren’t that good). If you want your trip to be high partying, sedate, or somewhere in between, it’s up to you. You’re paying good money for this trip. Make it what you want it to be.
It pushes you out of your comfort zone
When you’re traveling by yourself, you have all of the responsibility. No one is going to do anything for you, and in a new situation, it’s easy to take advantage of the comfort of a group, but personal growth comes from putting yourself in challenging (note that I said challenging, not dangerous) situations. I spoke no Spanish when I backpacked Peru solo. I was in Cusco and I needed to take a bus to Ollantaytambo. Unlike Southeast Asia, there wasn’t a big backpacker bus ferrying budget travelers to the next destination together. I had to go to the bus stop, buy a ticket, and get on the bus all by myself. It doesn’t sound very hard in the abstract but in a totally foreign country and unknown language, it was quite a challenge. I felt so proud of myself as we started to drive into the Andes away from Cusco. I had risen to the challenge and it felt good.
It teaches you skills you didn’t know you had
Growing up, the female members of my family had an anthem. We’d put on Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” and sing whenever we did something ourselves that we might have previously asked a man to help with. My favorite lyric in “I am Woman” was always the line where Helen sings “If I had to, I could do anything.” When you’re traveling alone, you’re going to be put in situations that you’ve never had to deal with before, but you’re going to rise to them. I got ripped off by a cab driver in Vietnam, who had fixed his meter to run at 10 times the rate the normal rate, and wouldn’t let me leave the cab until I paid him. I was scared, but I handled the situation with aplomb. I gave what I had in cash (which wasn’t much, because I made sure not to carry very much with me on a daily basis), apologized, and got out of the cab, making sure to remember the details of the car. If you had asked me previously how I would have handled this situation, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer. But I rose to the challenges that traveling alone posed…and learned to take motorbike taxis in Vietnam, not taxi cabs!
It is empowering
Once I began taking major solo travel trips, I began to notice that I felt more confident, especially in the face of challenges back at home. Knowing I had the wherewithal and ability to travel across regions and countries alone made things back at home much easier to deal with. I felt stronger, and I was proud of what I had done.
It isn’t as dangerous as everyone says it is
As a woman, I was warned over and over again about the dangers facing me out in the big scary world. Well, I have news for everyone who has considered traveling solo, but especially for girls: it’s really not that dangerous. Certain really dangerous destinations aside, the world plays by the same safety rules your home city does. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t get so drunk you lose control or your judgment becomes impaired, don’t flash around a lot of money, shiny jewelry, or fancy gadgets. Aside from the general street-smart rules you would follow in any American city, you won’t have anything to fear.
You’ll meet great people
Although I’ve spent much of the time I was traveling solo, well, solo, I also had the opportunity to meet some really great people at hostels, at sights or on trains. The people I’ve met are from all over the world and thanks to facebook, I’ve been able to stay in touch with them so that if we’re in the same place again we can meet up. It’s easier to meet people if you’re not with an already established group. It forces you to put yourself out there socially and allows you to develop closer friendships than you might otherwise.
You’ll have a better opportunity to soak in the culture
Sometimes it’s hard to really appreciate a foreign culture, to soak in everything about it, when you’re with people you know. You might get wrapped up in conversation or group dynamics, which can be fun on some trips, but on other trips, you might gain more from just observing. Every morning Vietnam, I would sit at the low plastic tables on the street, eat a bowl of pho, drink some Vietnamese coffee, and watch the world around me. Occasionally, I’d help some local Vietnamese people practice their English. It would be hard to be so open to my surroundings if I were with people I knew.
Because everyone said you shouldn’t. Or couldn’t.
And don’t you just love proving people wrong?