Updated: Jun 1, 2020
I am a 21-year-old student. Born and raised in France with a British culture. More importantly, before we start this article, I am a tall, white male; therefore, I cannot speak on behalf of ethnic minorities or women when it comes to solo travelling. It is not for everyone and I can certainly understand why some may be reluctant to take on this challenge of going across the globe with all its inherent risks. However, I will say this, I have met solo travellers of every race, religion and gender and they have had very good experiences throughout their travels, especially in South-East Asia. Anyway, please take into account my circumstances of travel when reading this article and feel free to send me your thoughts on my different social media platforms.
Why did I start solo travelling in the first place? After travelling with friends and family, I always found that there were things I wanted to do which did not suit necessarily the group. I obviously enjoyed my holidays with these people, but I sometimes felt as if there was an area of the city I wanted to visit, or an activity that I wanted to do but was the only one. That is of course also part of travelling as a group; you make concessions and ultimately you still have a great time. However, my growing interest in travelling to new places, discovering more about the world as well as a growing passion for photography, which requires a little more time in each place, meant that I really started considering solo travelling.
By September 2017, with some few work experience for events in Paris, I decided to visit a city that was familiar but to do so alone this time to see how it felt. Feeling independent and free of judgment when stopping at every corner of the city to take a few pictures, was a new experience for sure. Then came London in February 2018, more places to visit, more pictures to take. My confidence was growing and I eventually decided that I would embark on the incredible adventure that is Interrail in the summer of 2018, as a solo traveller. Sure, I was going to stay at a friend’s place in Croatia, Switzerland and France, but that was 9 nights out of the 5 weeks I did.
There were definitely a few moments where I didn’t feel at my best but also a lot of happy and joyful moments throughout the trip and there are many reasons for this. Before I dive into the arguments, I will say that since that Interrail experience, I have been to Lisbon, travelled in Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Lyon and Amsterdam as a lone traveller. I would say that after two years of solo travelling, I have gained a lot of experience and this is how I feel about it. Please read on for my tips and why you should try it out at least once in your life!
First of all, as I mentioned earlier in this article, you do not have to make concessions when travelling alone to fit in with your group’s plans. While this might sound selfish, I am sure you have been in a situation when someone just wanted to rest all morning while you wanted to go out exploring and vice versa. In my case, I am very adventurous and always push myself to the limits, whether it is way too much walking, or short nights of sleep in order to enjoy the nightlife but still have a great time exploring the following morning. I am conscious that this does not suit everyone, whether they want to do it or their body can keep up. When exploring alone, you can literally pick up your guidebook or phone with your latest google search of what there is to do in Prague and just set off. Fan of castles? Go ahead. Fan of a casual walk through the city centre to admire the architecture? Treat yourself! You do not have anyone to tell you otherwise but yourself. This is also the case for stopping for pictures, choosing what to have for lunch, what to do with your evening and so on. This can also make it easier to travel cheaply in case you have different budgets in the group. This being said, you might not have heard of every good review of the places you visit and someone in a group might have a brilliant idea which you won’t hear if you are alone, and for that, travelling as a group can be very interesting. You just need to find the perfect partner(s) to travel with so you get the perfect holiday.
Secondly, one of the main arguments against solo travelling is that you often feel alone. Now, that is true, it is not always easy to be alone. I have had restaurants, such as Kampot (Cambodia) looking at me shocked that I wasn’t sharing my dinner with my girlfriend. It can be hard to take in, it isn’t exactly very socially accepted yet and you will get a few weird looks. You need to keep your mind focused on happy things, take a book to the restaurant or plan the next adventure, or even call/text friends and family. They will be very important for you in these difficult times. However, the joys of travelling as a poor backpacker are that you will often end up in hostels. Hostels which have other young backpackers, people with a travel mind similar to yours and a view on life that can be pretty close to yours. These people can be a group or a couple or even better, a solo traveller. Do not be afraid to interact with them. Particularly the solo travellers, they might have the same anxiety and problems as you do. Groups often welcome solo travellers tag along to their activities, sometimes out of pity for you or they might be really impressed by your adventure. Not only do you make great friends, you learn more about different cultures, experiences and even recommendations for the place you are in. Even better, you can inspire others to try out the solo adventure and they can inspire you to try new things that they have done like skydiving or eating scorpions. You will learn so much from these new people, have a great time partying, or touring the city or even travel buddies to go to the beach. The advantage of these groups is that if eventually it doesn’t work out or you have different directions in your travels, it is not very difficult to leave them behind, no long-lasting friendships are broken. On the contrary, you can even make friends for life, all over the world – very practical for when you need a place to stay. See all the advantages? So, go on, talk to the people in your room, join in the hostel activities, whether it be quiz night, a free walking tour of the city, a boat ride of the island or a pub crawl. You’ll have memories for life with people you met only an hour before.
Talking of meeting people, you might say you can do that as a group or as a couple. Think about it twice. If you go with your friends or partner abroad, when are you going to meet someone or a group of people? That would be admitting your group of friends is not enough or that you feel like your romantic trip isn’t exactly what you expected, and that’s a bit sad. Now, I can safely say that I have met some fascinating couples during my trips, in Vietnam for example, as well as great groups of people. These were experienced travellers, people who have travelled a lot together and can safely say ‘yes it would be nice to meet someone along the way’, and not offend anyone in the group by integrating someone. Moreover, for experiences with the locals, it is a lot easier for them to receive one or two people in their homes than large groups. I have had several life-changing experiences in local families where I was welcomed like it was my family and I know it wouldn’t have been possible if I were not alone. This can be for transport reasons or simply convenience for the family.
From an individual point of view, you will develop so much as a person. You will learn how to be more independent, finding solutions on your own and be less reliant on others. Now, this might seem like a big philosophical speech that doesn’t mean much to you, but it is a life lesson that you can use in everyday life, in the workplace, or back home. You get to know yourself better, know what makes you insecure, sad or happy and being in total sync with yourself is very important at our young age. It can be a huge confidence booster; even if you are terrified before starting, once you end your first, second, third or fourth solo trip, you will see that you can do it, you can rely on yourself, you had a great time and you definitely did not struggle as much as you thought you would, giving you the mental strength to go even further. This is when my favourite part of solo travelling comes: pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You will do things you have never done before, from bungee jumping, riding a motorbike, trying new dishes or getting tattooed. Inspired by the ‘Yes Theory’ YouTube channel, I was constantly ‘Seeking Discomfort’, whether it is going towards absolute strangers or doing crazy things I would have never imagined doing in my life. These kinds of experience are incredible for personal development. You can enjoy your own company, progress in terms of well-being and mental health and ultimately have a great time, which will be easier to look back on as you lived it to the maximum.
Which brings me to my final point. Going to the beach house for a week with your friends can be great, play card games, drink and have a fantastic time at the pool or beach. This article isn’t a black or white article to say, ‘groups are bad’ and ‘travelling solo is good’. I can fully recognise the joys of travelling with others, I recently did Venice as a couple and planning holidays with my friends. However, unless you have truly amazing friends who are perfectly in sync with your travel habits, you might miss out on the local experience. Once alone, you can go to a small café, talk to the locals sitting there and enjoying life go past. You can fully immerse yourself in the environment surrounding you, wherever you are in the world. Try learning the local language, whether it is with a book or by asking the locals, who are always eager to share their experience and love for their country and culture. You will not have the ‘distractions’ of your partner or friends to keep you away from fully plunging into what makes each place you visit so special.
Before we conclude, I will say it is not for everyone. As I said in the introduction there might be issues with gender and race or religion. Moving past that, there are a few other components you need to take into account before you go solo travelling. Be aware of the risks, whether you are travelling alone or not, please do a bit of research on the local customs and dangers you may encounter. I would add try visiting a city you know well or that is a little familiar alone first, like I did with Paris. You have the confidence of knowing the language, the culture and the place. It is a first experience, but you get to try out your skills when it comes to relying on yourself as well as how well you handle solitude. I have lived alone for the last three years and know how to keep my mind busy or even myself busy when not surrounded by people I know or people in general. After learning to be by yourself and visiting something familiar, I would suggest doing a small trip abroad, whether you know the language or not, preferably not to really challenge yourself. I did London which wasn’t a great example, but I know some people that jumped straight into a four weeks tour of Asia or Interrail without really challenging themselves beforehand and definitely struggled from the first week onwards. Before putting a lot of money on the table, try smaller experiences and see whether this is for you. I can safely say I had real doubts by the end of the second week of Interrail if I would manage to continue. I missed my partner, my friends and family. It can’t be perfect the first time, but with more and more trips you learn from your past experiences and eventually, you can really enjoy your whole experience.