I recently realized that I never really discussed this topic at length. And it’s not for lacking inspiration or questions about it! So by popular demand, here is why I travel solo and why it’s accessible to everyone.
After a few trips with friends in 2009 and 2010, I started traveling “solo style” back in the spring of 2011, 1½ year after my very first trip.
Following unsuccessful attempts at finding a travel buddy that
1) was interested by the same destination I was interested in, and
2) would be able – and willing! – to match my vacation dates
forced me to the conclusion that always finding a travel buddy would be way trickier than I thought.
I had to choose to choose between less frequent travels and using my vacation days when everyone else does (and risk getting stuck in the perils of the high season more often than not), or figure out another option. As I was already – and completely! – contaminated by the travel bug at that point, I wasn’t ready to give up on anything. I only had one solution: stop waiting for others and do things on my own. #StubbornBackpacker
So traveling solo appeared like the next logical step in my “traveler’s evolution”. I won’t say that life forced it on me. But the circumstances – along with my desire to get away at least twice a year – clearly geared me towards that option! (Turning to backpacking was the following step and this one came much quicker. It was a fast and quite natural transition, fed by my desire of complete travel freedom and increased mobility.) So in 2011, for the very first time, I took off with my smallest suitcase (didn’t own a backpack… yet!). Destination: London, Edinburgh, Dublin & Belfast!
Probably the biggest perk of wandering by myself is the freedom that comes with it. I am free to do and see whatever “I” want. For how long “I” want. I can spend how little – or as much as – “I” choose on food, lodging, attractions, etc.
As I was visiting Machu Picchu, I was only able to get a few snap shots from the Caretaker vista before the clouds rushed in. As I came by myself and this was the most anticipated part of my trip, I just sat on a rock, wrote postcards and waited 30-45 min. until the clouds cleared up again for a short time, to get more pictures. Then the clouds came back. So decided to wait again.
I was perfectly fine with that, because I was dreaming of visiting this place for so long.
On the other hand, I couldn’t blame someone, who is not sharing my interest – or my patience! – for the place, for not wanting to wait for me all this time.
That freedom also includes waking up/going to bed whenever I feel like it. (Don’t underestimate the frustration that could arise while traveling with someone that doesn’t share your “sleep patterns”…) #BeenThereDoneThat
By living on my own terms for these few days/weeks away from home, I also get to reflect on things and get a chance to regroup/recenter my life a bit; I can also enjoy some of these guilty pleasures I don’t dare bother anyone with. Whether I chose to linger on a terrace with a hot coffee, or have an impromptu sunbathing session in a park or an intense bargaining session in a flea market, whatever pleases me, no matter how silly or ridiculous it may seem to others, becomes possible. And there is no one to guilt me out of these precious moments! (And the potential of adventures residing in flea market shopping… you have no idea, haha!)
I am the least introvert person you will ever meet. Yet, every trip, every long haul flight or extended train ride is for me a chance to get lost in my thoughts and enjoy some quality time… with myself.
Finally, by spending a lot of time by myself – and especially because I’m a woman -, I am less “threatening” and it makes me easier to approach. Because of that, other travelers and even locals might extend an invitation, for a meal or an activity, more easily. In the end, I might leave and come back alone, but I’m definitely not lonely on the road, on the contrary!
The Fear Factor
As I was writing this post, I tried to remember all the questions and comments I heard when I brought up my solo trips. The most common is probably “Aren’t you scared?” (or the variant “Is it really safe?”). Obviously, there are places that are not ideal for a female traveling alone. I think the essential part of travel safety remains in the way we travel. In how we are – or not – truly exposed to danger. Is a country’s criminality really directed towards tourists or are the crimes mostly committed against locals…?
I have safely traveled to El Salvador, a country that has the second-highest intentional homicide rate in the world. I have been to Guatemala, also part of the top 10. Still convinced that I was safe there and that I could safely return to both countries. Why? Because crimes are mostly committed by locals, against locals. On the other hand, I feel Pakistan wouldn’t be a safe travel option for me at the moment… Yet Pakistan’s murder rate is similar to Argentina, a country that doesn’t exactly come to mind when you think of unsafe places!
It’s true that it can be unsafe to walk alone in the streets of a foreign city at night;
but it’s crucial to keep in mind that… it’s also potentially unsafe to do that in the town where you live !
It’s also essential to differentiate fear and real, actual danger.
I’m scared when I’m on my balcony and I look down… but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to do so or that my balcony is going to fall off !
Also, nothing builds up and maintains self-confidence like overcoming travelers’ fears. There are numerous reasons to be afraid while away, without facing danger. One can fear the unknown or the discomfort of sticking out like a sore thumb. Others may be scared of not being able to communicate. Mortified at the idea of getting lost or by not having a certain control over their environment. There is nothing more human than fear. But overcoming these feelings can become such a great source of pride!