by Erin Elaine
When I tell someone I’m traveling alone, the reaction is either Aren’t you scared/lonely? (from people who never travel alone) or Good on ya, aren’t you having a blast? (from people who have traveled alone).
I enjoy traveling alone, and encouraging other people to give it a try. This isn’t to say I don’t like traveling with friends, because I do! I’ve traveled with friends many times in the US and Europe, and I always enjoy it. But it’s not the only way to enjoy traveling. It’s good to change things up.
What are the benefits to traveling alone?
I travel alone mainly for flexibility. I like being able to choose how to spend my day. Sometimes I might want to go museum hopping, sometimes I might want to spend the day reading on the beach, sometimes I might want to take a cooking class or explore some hiking trails. When I’m by myself I can do whatever I want, when I want. I value being able to do that.
If you’re winging it and don’t have set plans for where you’re going to be sleeping, being alone can be a blessing. During peak season, you’re twice as likely to find a single hostel bed rather than two. I use hostelworld to book my hostels. There’s also the option of couchsurfing, which is free. While lots of people will offer up their couch for a single traveler, you’ll be hardpressed to find a place that has enough space for 3-4 people to sleep for free.
It’s easier to meet new people when you travel alone. When you travel with a friend you’ll end up spending time talking with them and not striking up conversations with new people. It’s a lot easier to approach someone who’s sitting alone in a hostel common room, or on a castle tour, or at a cafe. I’ve met so many cool people while traveling, and it’s not a coincidence that most of them were also traveling alone at the time.
What challenges come with traveling alone?
There have been countless articles written about being safe while traveling alone. I’ve found most of them are pretty reactionary and I take their warnings with a grain of salt. If you have a good head on your shoulders, you can make safe decisions anywhere in the world. On the flip side, some circumstances are out of our control, and bad things happen, but it’s stupid to live your life in fear of what might happen. If we let fear control us we would never leave our homes, let alone have the guts to travel. So my advice is Be smart, be prepared, but don’t be scared.
You will feel lonely sometimes, but that’s okay! I think being able to be alone with oneself for days or weeks on end shows strength of character. Those people who are afraid of being alone are missing out on a huge opportunity for growth. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Some days will be better than others, but you’ll learn something either way. Learning how to be alone might be a skill you have to develop, but you’ll be glad you did.
You have to be a bit more creative to have social experiences, but it’s not as hard as you might think. Like I said before, it’s easy to meet new people when you travel alone. I met great people in Seville, Rothenburg, Provence, Rome, Gimmelwald, Bruges, Belfast, Salzburg, Ljubljana, Prague, Naples, etc. Sometimes it’s as easy as introducing yourself at breakfast or inviting people to join you for a card game in the hostel common room. Sometimes you’ll have to join a “forced social activity” like a walking tour or a beer tasting, but it can be a fun way to get acquainted with new people. They may or may not be people you keep in touch with afterwards, but you can still share an evening and have a nice conversation.
Figure out some activities that you enjoy doing alone, for those evenings when you don’t feel like going out or when your hostel is kind of empty. For me, my kindle is a godsend. I love reading and ever since buying it I’ve been devouring books. For other people, it might be writing poetry, or birdwatching, or meditating, or playing Angry Birds. Whatever it is, be sure to take some time to enjoy it. Sometimes the most enjoyable part of traveling is the down time. Finding a way to have fun will keep you sane.
Trying to get the courage to travel alone, but don’t think you’re ready?
My advice would be, just do it. If you’ve never tried it before, don’t assume it’s not for you. It may take a few days or a week to get a groove, but after that you’ll feel like a pro and you’ll probably be glad you did it. I never traveled alone until I was 26, when I moved to Spain. Other people try it for the first time at the age of 55 and love it. Give it a shot!