Travelling alone – why do it?
I like the freedom to drift and float. The freedom from an itinerary. The freedom from someone else’s travel experience expectations. Sometimes what you want out of travel is merely the chance to go about your life some place else for a little while, to break away from the places and people that you associate with every day to allow yourself to reflect on where you are and where you want to be.
I remember a conversation with an ex-boyfriend early on in our relationship. We were still in that getting-to-know you phase, and naturally the topic of travel came up. We were discussing whether we preferred traveling with someone or travelling alone. .He expressed a preference for traveling with friends, whereas after some deliberation I said that I generally preferred to travel alone – a concept he was unable to quite fathom. Why on earth would i choose to go somewhere by myself when I could go with my friends or someone that loved me? I think he was even more baffled when he way down the track he went on a camping trip with a few friends, away from internet connection and found out via his friend’s Facebook newsfeed that I had booked a last minute trip to Europe in the week we had gone without talking…which was probably fair enough on his behalf, but i digress from that matter and will now discuss the perks of flying solo.
Funnily enough there have been few times when I have felt alone while travelling solo. I tend to meet up with friends for legs of the journey, or make new one’s when i stay in hostels or just enjoy some quite self reflection by passing the time with my head in a book. The beauty of travelling in the internet era is that a friendly voice or message of encouragement is just an easy wifi connection away. Furthermore the ease and speed at which you get to know someone by experiencing a foreign city together is quite remarkable. I have friends on Facebook that I only spent an afternoon hanging out with but the bond we share is no doubt a deeper connection than the bond i share with other acquaintances that i see much more frequently. I like how travelling alone connects you to people, you get to tell you story to a stranger, and you get to hear theirs. You get to experience people away from their every day context and habits, and in doing so learn more about yourself. Near strangers met on the road have given me better advice then my parents or friends when it comes to the big questions “do i really love him?”, “what do i want to do with my life?”?
Traveling alone teaches you the important skill of self reliance. It can be easy and convenient to rely on your friends, partners, family members or colleagues, but invariably they don’t always have your back, they have their own stuff toddle with. There is nothing wrong with needing a shoulder to cry on or a helping hand every once in a while, but it’s also important to know that in a time of crisis you can be self sufficient and help yourself. Some of my greatest achievements have been finding myself after being lost, scared and alone in a city where i did not speak the language, know anybodies name or have a phone with google map capacity. I thought I would never find the unassuming alleyway which looked like every other fucking alleyway in the midst of Kathmandu where my hostel was but find it i did, and I did it all by myself, Mariko don’t need no man!
It’s easy enough to focus on the perks of travelling alone – more freedom, confidence booster, new friends, new life perspectives, a break from the people and place you call home, but their are also certain risks or disadvantages that attach to the choice to travel solo. One of the other reasons my people have expressed confusion about my desire to travel solo was due to their protective instincts, which can at least partly attributed to the fact that I am myself and can at times be a bit of a risk taker, and also because I am a young slight, very Western looking girl. However, i think this is an issue that deserves a little more exploration then dwelling on my slightly reckless tendencies. Some people argue that it is not safe for women to travel by themselves. I liked Jodi Ettenberg, the women behind Legal Nomad’s take on this issue, Jodi suggested that “travel abroad is not the issue. The issue is treatment of women”. It is a sad truth, that due to prevailing instances of everyday sexism and varying degrees of gender equality worldwide that it is scarier (and perhaps not as safe) to be a women travelling by yourself than it is to be a man. Also I think he did have a little cause for concern as I was in Europe at the time by myself and had already managed to break my little toe, fall off a cliff sort of thing and get mild concussion. Jodi is frank about it “I don’t want to pretend that there is no danger in solo female travel” she says “the issues of sexual assault and violence against women are what I call checkmate arguments: they are undeniably rational things to fear when travelling alone.. of course those checkmate worries are also worthy of fear at home”. Her overall stance on the issue is to be aware of the risks and sensible about it, but not let fear hold you back, as travelling alone is one of the most rewarding and empowering things a young person can do. I concur with Jodi on this one.
I have a real appreciation for the perks of solo travel. I like having the freedom and independence and feel like it really does force me to push out of my comfort zone and embrace the outgoing social side of my personality at times, and revert to my more internalising lone girl who reads long books side when I would prefer to go a day without uttering words. As long as I know that I have people back home who love me, that’s enough of a safe base for me to go and explore the world solo. Although I probably won’t book another holiday without telling my partner, because in future if I meet a likeminded male I’d love to share (at least some) of my travel experiences with them, but definitely not them all. I like my me time and even if i had a serious relationship or you know godforbid children the free spirit in me would probably run away every once in a while.
Do you like to travel alone? If you haven’t tried it, would you?