This time last year the idea of going solo travelling seemed like a nothing more than an unrealistic dream. It was something that I’d been talking about for years but I’d never built up the courage to travel alone before and the idea of just turning up in another country with nothing but myself and my backpack seemed crazy.
I wasn’t a particularly confident person, I didn’t think of myself as really sociable and I definitely wasn’t well organised. When it came to trip planning, I was happy to let other people take charge and I was known amongst my friends as a fairly unobservant person. All in all I didn’t fit the stereotype of a solo traveller.
However, the idea of a solo backpacking trip was so appealing to me. I loved adventures and I was really keen on challenging myself and proving that I could do it. I loved the idea of having the flexibility and the freedom to travel where I wanted, stay where I wanted, meet new people and just go with the flow.
The hardest thing was finding the confidence to book my flights. For a few weeks I was in a constant mental battle between that voice saying ‘this is stupid’ and everything I knew about how amazing the trip would be. Eventually, it came down to knowing that I couldn’t not book this trip while I had the chance so, one day I just went ahead and booked my flight to Bangkok and once I was committed I didn’t think twice.
I mean I literally DIDN’T think twice (I don’t know if this was some weird self-protective strategy because I was really stressed) but I didn’t plan anymore for my six-week South East Asia backpacking trip apart from my first nights accommodation in Bangkok and I didn’t knowingly feel that scared about it anymore, even when I left home to go to the airport.
In fact it was only when I turned up in Bangkok, after getting totally ripped off by a taxi driver and sitting in my quiet hotel room all alone (always book yourself into a sociable hostel ladies and gentlemen) and that’s when it hit me, ‘what the hell am I doing here all alone?’
Little did I know as I sat in the room building up the courage to venture outside, my life had already been revolutionised from the very moment I’d stepped on that plane.
Here are some surprising things that I’ve learnt from solo travelling
1.I Became 10 billion times more confident
One thing that really surprised me about solo travelling was how much more confident it made me from the get go. Travelling by myself really forced me to take control, make decisions and be brave because I had to be. Knowing that I can spend a day walking around Bangkok’s Chinatown, hitching a Tuk Tuk ride around Angkor Wat and spending an evening alone in Times Square makes me feel like I can do anything.
2. I’m so much more aware of what’s around me
One of my biggest flaws before travelling alone was not really paying that much attention to what was going on around me. If you’re travelling with family or friends then it’s easy to bounce off each other or let someone else take control. Travelling alone has forced me to take note of everything from big things like the address of my hostel and the route that I took to get from there to town to smaller things like noticing a pretty building or a great looking restaurant that I might want to check out later.
3.I learnt to make friends with perfect strangers
One thing I really feared when I first boarded that plane by myself was the idea of being alone for my entire trip. However, the world is full of solo backpackers and we’re all in the same boat. One thing that really surprised me about solo travel was not just HOW EASY it is to meet other travellers but also that I’m actually quite good at striking up a conversation with a complete stranger.
Meeting people travelling is a really strange concept. It requires you to do day trips, share rooms, have dinner and even travel with people who you’ve just met, however, it’s important to remember that meeting people travelling is a little bit like starting uni: You’re all in the same situation and you will make friends very quickly. Sure you won’t get on with everyone that you meet travelling but it’s important to remember that you’re all there because you’ve had the same idea so you must have something in common. I still keep in touch with people I’ve met travelling so you might find friends for life too.
4. I’ve learnt about myself
When you travel with other people it’s often hard to work out exactly what it is that you want because everything is a compromise. Travelling alone lets you work our exactly what’s important to you from the type of things that you enjoy doing when you travel to how much alone time you need or how much of a party person you are, plus having the time alone to think really helps you to get to know yourself.
5.How to eat alone in restaurants
It may sound like a funny one but before I went travelling the idea of dining alone in a restaurant really stressed me out. Travelling alone taught me to not only be ok with dining by myself but also to actually quite enjoy it. While I spent lots of my meals out eating with people I’d met, I found that when I did dine alone I focused and enjoyed my food so much more when I didn’t have anyone to distract me.
6.I’ve learnt not to rely on others
This is probably one of the most liberating things that I’ve got out of solo travel: Being entirely self-dependent. It is so liberating to know that I don’t need to rely on anyone else to do the things that I want to do. So many of us are guilty of blackmailing friends into trips because we really want a holiday, solo travelling teaches you to just go regardless. In the past at home if none of my friends were free I wouldn’t go for coffee or lunch if I fancied it, now treating myself to a day out is something I do regularly.
7.I’ve learnt to ask for help
Knowing when and how to ask for help is something most of us struggle with. There’s a preconception that solo backpackers are really tough and confident people but it’s virtually impossible to travel alone without asking for help. Solo travel taught me to be ok with asking for directions, asking for advice and help with things that I physically couldn’t do ( Because sometimes when you’re tiny like me, you need help getting your rucksack in the overhead section on a bus).
8.To be tough
On the whole solo travelling was so much easier than I had excepted but of course, there are times when it feels like everything is going against you and travelling alone teaches you to be tough. Whether it’s standing up for yourself when someone is trying to rip you off, dealing with unpleasant travellers or even just when it feels like nothing is working out and no one is helping you, solo travel teaches you to make the most of it and just keep going regardless.
9.To ask people to take photos of me
I used to find asking strangers to take photos of me so embarrassing. However, I’ve learnt that just overcoming the embarrassment of asking someone to take a photo of me is so much worse than the tragedy of not having any pictures from an amazing trip would be. If you feel anxious about asking then try to find someone who’s also travelling alone. They’ll totally get where you’re coming from and they’ll probably ask you to do the same for them. You might even make a new friend.
10.To be adaptable
This is a massive one for me. You cannot go travelling alone and not be adaptable. Firstly because one of the best things about solo travelling is having the freedom and flexibility to go with the flow and secondly because you can’t prepare for the unexpected. This year alone, I’ve been caught in the middle of a typhoon with flooded streets up to my knees, I couldn’t enter a country because of political disruption, I witnessed Bangkok go into shut down because of the death of the king, I arrived at what I thought was a Boeing 737 flight that ended up being a tiny propeller plane and I’ve completely rearranged entire itineraries to travel with people who I’d just met. It’s all just part of the fun.
11.To deal with loneliness
I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t feel lonely while I was travelling this year. Sometimes there will be points where you don’t meet people and you’re mainly by yourself for a few days. Sometimes you have to hang around with people who you don’t really relate to and you’ll miss people at home who share your values and really know you. However, loneliness is something that happens to all of us from time to time and solo travelling teaches you to recognise and deal with these feelings because you have to.
12.To value my friends and family
You will meet so many amazing and inspiring people when you travel but travelling also teaches you to value how fantastic your support network is back at home too. I’m really lucky to have funny and supportive family and friends in my life. Sometimes when I’m travelling and everything feels a little too different, just talking to the people I love is all I need to cheer up and get the confidence to keep going. My friends and family who leave me little comments when I post a picture, who deal with me answering their messages at strange hours, who are always there to talk and who even read this blog are the reasons that I not only have the confidence to keep on travelling alone but also why I look forward to coming home.
13. What it means to truly be free
To travel is to be free but heading out with nothing but yourself, what’s on your back and whats in the world, well that’s when you really understand what freedom means.
Travel changes you. Solo Travel makes you unrecognisable. I don’t think there’s a year in my life that I’ve learnt as much about myself and about life than this last year I’ve spent travelling. Travelling alone has taught me so much more than what I’ve written in this blog post and I guess overwhelmingly it has taught me that there is no type of person who makes a good solo traveller.
You don’t have to be the loudest, the smartest, the funniest or the bravest. Also please don’t think that you must have months and months to properly discover what it means to travel alone. All of the points I’ve mentioned in this post, you will learn from just a couple of days travelling alone, whether it be a quick city break or few days somewhere sunny, the destination isn’t important, it’s the act of just deciding to go in the first place that really matters.