When I started my blog in the Spring of 2017, it was mainly because I got asked so often about solo travel – and, obviously, there are PROs, but there are also what might be considered CONs.
Therefore, I decided to share my experience not only with my friends. Actually, I hope to inspire, inform, and encourage as many of you as I can to give solo travel a try.
No Big Deal
I’ve been reading so many posts on solo travel. On how to do it, on where to go, on what to consider.
Over the past decades, I’ve never noticed that hitting the road solo is such a complicated process with so many aspects to consider.
The other day, someone even contacted me since they want to ‘raise awareness’ for solo travel.
Raising awareness for solo travel? Wow!
Has it really come to that? Is solo travel a disease? Are there awareness walks – which would nicely match with the cause of travelling, though?
Are you given sea blue awareness ribbons to stick to the lapel of your explorer vest?
Or is it just a disability, so you better travel to countries accessible for the impaired?
To me, solo travel has been nothing more than buying a ticket for one.
First of all, I think I need to demystify solo travel.
As a matter of fact, I mainly travel solo because
- not many of my friends travel as much and as often as I do
- I don’t feel like coordinating travel dates with others
- I don’t feel like compromising on a country
- I don’t feel much like compromising at all,
especially since after decades of solo travel I’ve developed sort of an it’s my way or the highway attitude when planning the trip – or even a single day.
So there are no philosophic reasons like ‘I want to break free’, ‘I want to feel my inner self’. No, it basically comes down to technicalities why it’s more convenient to go by myself. And yes, over the years I got the hang of it for various reasons that I list in the PROs-section.
The Difference Might Be Only In Your Head
Talking ’bout technicalities: The fact that you are travelling solo is nothing but a technicality.
The country you are going to will be the same whether you are by yourself or in a large group. So places won’t be more or less dangerous and the weather won’t be better or worse.
Another person – unless it’s an ex-pat or someone who already has been to the place of your choice – will not be necessarily of any help:
Instead of one lost fool not knowing where to go, you’ll be two lost fools looking for directions.
Do you think that’s better? According to my observations, travelling couples – lovers or friends alike – get approached, hassled, pestered much more often. Obviously, a couple of victims is more profitable than a single victim.
So yes, this post should neither convince you nor hold you back from travelling solo. Thank God, people are complex and have diverse needs and totally different preferences. That’s great and makes the world a colorful place.
Where To Begin
Honestly, I don’t think that there is a particular place where to begin travelling solo. I’m positive that you can travel to any country solo. It might be a bit more complicated for women e. g. in Islamic countries, but even that is totally makeable.
The only thing that I personally would consider is the risk of getting sick which definitely is higher in certain places than in others – due to climate and hygiene. And I find being sick by yourself in a foreign country can be pretty nerve-wracking. I’ll tell you about it in the CONs-section.
Other than that, I believe that there is nothing else to consider that you don’t have to think of like a family- or group-traveller, too.
So all I intend with this post is to prepare you for what you will probably face when travelling solo. I will neither convince you nor hold you back.
I don’t believe in missionaries.
I had my first real solo travel experience in 1992 to the United States. Before that, I had been by myself to England, France, and Jamaica, but that was different insofar that I either stayed with a host family, with friends or had been there before in the company of friends. In 1992, the trip to the US was just me alone going for the first time to a country I’d never been to before.
I travelled the so-called “Deep South” resp. “Bible Belt” by Greyhound from Charleston, South Carolina, to New Orleans, Louisiana, and it was quite an experience. It was long before the internet and smartphones, and when you were on your own, you were on your own. Anyway, after four very interesting weeks, I came back really inspired and bursting with confidence.
Initiation to a life of travelling by myself.
Alone No More
Then the same year I got pregnant (which had nothing to do with that initiation, though) and my travelling changed. Not only because I now had a baby in tow, but because I began to work as a freelancer and switched from vacationing to temporarily moving to places.
Before my daughter started elementary school we stayed every year for a couple of months in Belize, Honduras, and Costa Rica.
Besides the baby, I was by myself. Sounds tough? Actually, it wasn’t. Because the fact that you’re by yourself does not mean that you’re alone. You meet people and you have the chance to maybe show a different side of your personality.
You make new friends who might have a totally different perception of you than your buddies back home. Because you are different. You are exposed to distinct situations that evoke sides of your personality that usually lie fallow.
Back To Where I Started From
After having travelled for almost twenty years together with my daughter, she eventually started to travel by herself and with her friends.
Since I don’t have a steady partner to be automatically my travel companion, I had to look for some friends to travel with me. And agree on the destination. And on the route. And on the activities. And coordinate time and length of the trip – and agree on the budget. Phew! That sounds exhausting.
Travelling by yourself is like living by yourself. You can do whatever you want and whenever you want to do it. You develop habits and – yes, quirks. Eventually, you realize that you wouldn’t want it any other way; and maybe that you hardly could have it any other way.
Just like living a single life has its pros and cons, travelling by yourself does, too. Here I’m weighing some pros and cons. If you choose to follow my example, you might find yourself travelling with the best companion ever: yourself.
P like PROs
My blog’s title bye:myself is not a typo! When leaving my hometown and my everyday life, I’m saying bye to my comfort zone and to a part of – myself. It allows me to show a whole different side of me, I address people much more openly – and not only because I have to be more open. I’m leaving my everyday’s self behind and give this other me more space.
This does in no way mean that I’m pretending to be someone else. Actually, it might even be the contrary. Finally, I have the chance to be absolutely myself with a clean slate.
This is of course much easier without someone in tow who constantly reminds me that usually, I’m like this or like that.
Actually, by bidding bye to one side of myself, at the same time, I say hello to another.
Needless to say that travelling by yourself gives you the luxury of freedom. From choosing your destination, the route, your accommodations etc. you can get up as early as you like or sleep as long as you want, skipping breakfast.
You can stay in stores, museums, or on a park bench as long as you please.
You can talk to people or spend your day in silence.
When I was in Florence by myself, I visited eight (!) exhibitions in one day with a lunch break of only a couple of minutes; and I was happy and satisfied, it was just perfect for me.
Most other people wouldn’t call this a break or vacation.
Most other people would call this boot camp.
But I can spend my days exactly the way I like.
Many people tell me, they don’t like to do things by themselves because they want to “share” the experience.
In a way, I can relate to that, especially when it comes to resting and dining:
When I’m resting between let’s say two exhibitions, it takes a couple of minutes.
I sit down, drink my coffee or water – and off I go.
What else do you want me to do there? Stare at the wall? Stare at other people?
Then I rather stare at more paintings.
So that’s not very relaxing, I give you that.
But as always there’s an upside: I’m getting far more things done resp. I get to see and experience much more in a day because I’m not distracted. There’s not another person who needs to go to the bathroom, who is thirsty, who’s tired and needs to sit for a while, who sees something in a shop window and needs to check it out.
There’s me, and I’m on a mission. My mission is to make the most of my day by seeing as much as possible.
Oh, and another thing: thanks to – yes, for some people a no-no – social media, I am sharing. I’m sharing with far more people than just one travel companion, I’m sharing with dozens of friends all over the world; who do not mess up my schedule by going to the bathroom.
It’s a fact that as a single traveller you get in touch with other people – travellers and locals alike – much easier than travelling as a couple or in a group.
Many people are curious about why I’m travelling by myself and how it works out for me. And often they find me interesting and my company pleasing so they suggest doing something together; and I can choose to go for dinner and a drink with them or have a snack watching local TV in bed – by myself.
You can stretch out on this huge bed, you can put all the pillows you want behind your back.
You have all the cute little toiletries for yourself and four towels instead of two.
Everything is just for YOU, you don’t need to share a thing. You can be noisy, you can leave the light on as long as you please and when you’re tired there’s nobody there who wants to keep watching TV or needs the night light for reading.
The room is your oyster – and yours alone!
C like CONs
Travelling by yourself means you are…by yourself.
Even if you enjoy travelling by yourself – and being alone in general, for that matter – there comes a moment when you feel like hanging out with other people, chatting over a drink, sharing your travel stories and experience.
In a moment like this, you cannot just turn your head to the right and there is your travel companion.
You have to go out and approach people – and yes, they might reject you because they want a romantic drink in the sunset; without you.
After years and years of travelling bye:myself I cannot remember this happening to me, though.
But that is also because I’m prepared and willing being bye:myself when travelling bye:myself.
If you’re not ready for this, from time to time this might become a toughie.
Actually social media such as facebook can be an instant cure for this: share your day with your friends back home. With every comment and like you will feel less alone.
Going on an organized day trip can be a great way of meeting other people since you communicate quite naturally – free walking tours that are available in most big cities are perfect; but please don’t forget to tip your guide.
And – being discreet is crucial. If you throw yourself on people and seem desperate, you will most certainly chase them away.
Then from my experience, it’s much easier to meet openminded and friendly people in smaller and – yes: cheaper – guesthouses than in luxury five-star hotels. It’s probably even not the people’s attitude, it’s just that the whole atmosphere is more reserved and not encouraging to mingle.
Going out for an exclusive dinner, having a lovely cocktail at a posh bar – I hardly ever do this when travelling bye:myself.
And this is the situation where I feel like depending on others.
While sightseeing, going to a museum or hanging out on the beach can be fun with or without other people’s company. Having a special meal and a couple of drinks is always more enjoyable with others; and you depend on finding other travellers who want to share this with you.
Celebration or Consumption?
When people travelling together go out for dinner, they take their time to order, They have a glass of wine, they talk, have another glass of wine, then they eat, talk some more, more wine (ok, now I’m making these good people a bunch of winos – so ok, forget the last glasses of wine, actually they’re having coffee after their meal).
When I go to dinner, I order, I eat, I drink, I pay, I leave. 20 minutes. And even if I linger over a second glass of wine – 30 minutes.
While exhibitions demand focus, dining requires idleness.
It’s indisputable that travelling by myself is more expensive than travelling with a companion.
Only in Europe, the price for a single room differs from a double room. Everywhere else you pay for the room, no matter if you stay there by yourself or if you share it with another guest.
You cannot share taxi fares, fees for drivers etc. Unless you find another traveller – or even a couple or a small group – that is willing to share these costs with you.
But your expenses are not automatically divided by two; and that sucks. Period.
Getting sick on a trip is never funny. But getting sick when travelling by yourself is a pain…not only in the neck.
The only time I felt really abandoned on a trip was when I got sick in Africa and had to get up and get me something to drink and go to the doctor – all by myself.
I felt like vanishing from mother earth. I thought I would die by myself on an African island and nobody would ever know about it.
Yes, I was a little dramatizing the situation, but that was for exactly this reason:
I was alone!
I was by myself!
It’s really annoying when you have nobody you can boss around to get you something to drink and get your drugs from the pharmacy and take every shit from you because you feel lousy.
Solution: Stop pitying yourself and get over it; or stay healthy.
This single traveller problem shrunk significantly with the invention of smartphones and selfie sticks. You don’t need to ask other people to take a picture of you in front of Buddha. You just take a selfie.
I personally don’t like selfies – unless they are meant ironically. I actually wrote kind of a rant about this whole selfie-culture.
Being opposed to selfies, I still ask people to take my picture in front of Buddha sometimes.
And sometimes I try to take a decent selfie with him.
And often I simply don’t have a picture of myself with Buddha.
So now you can weigh some of the CONs against the PROs.
If you think, travelling by yourself might be worth a try, go for it.
Maybe you can start with a weekend trip to another city. This way, you’ll be able to check out whether this could be an option for a longer trip, too.
It certainly will be a journey.
I’d be very happy if you’d share your perspective and experience on single travel with me in the comment section below.
If you have any questions, I’d be pleased to hear from you!
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