Waking up. The alarm beeps and she blearily rubs the sleep out of her eyes. For a minute, she’s disoriented and groggy – the phone is still going by her ear, the sheets are new, crisp and stark. She takes a deep breath. The air is cool and refreshing, a precursor of the possibilities and of things to come. She throws off her covers, Gets up and Go.
Why do I travel solo?
This is one question that I get asked a fair bit. By my parents, by my friends, by total strangers. And sometimes, it’s even a question I ask myself.
Do I travel to escape from my life in Singapore? No, I don’t think so – despite recent setbacks, I do have to admit that as far as life goes, I have it pretty good. Do I travel for that freeing independence that so many others spew on about? Not really, either.
My first solo travel experience was Sydney (June 2013). What was it like?
I’ll admit that Travelling Solo has its benefits and its drawbacks.
1) Self-Discovery: You Get to Focus on Yourself.
When travelling solo, you choose what you want to do. There’s no need to compromise, no need to go back and forth with mates or strangers deciding what you want to do for the rest of the day. You are in charge of your own itinerary and you set the pace for the day. How hard do you want to go? What do you want to see?
Those chillax days – where you’re just sunning yourself on a rock or just lying in bed convincing yourself to get up and go, those are important for you to just take a break and disconnect from life.
On the other hand, those days where you’re hitting one spot after another and walking some 15 k’s a day, those are great as well. Because that’s what tells you that you’re in a different world, experiencing a different culture and in a different city.
Both kinds of travel are essential because you learn more about what you value in life. Things you notice while walking and exploring, thoughts that drift through your head (or not) while you are taking an easy day – these are the thoughts that are at the core of you, when there is nobody hassling you for that piece of work and you’re just free to be yourself for yourself, not put on a mask for society or for other people.
2) You Get to Meet many more (interesting!) People
So there I was, sitting on a bus in Finland on my way to Helsinki city centre. And this person who’s noticed my obvious tourist status (try being the lone Asian onboard Finland’s public transport!) gives me a smile. Why not, let’s strike up a conversation with him. He’s a business reporter (what an awesome sounding job, ey?) and was a genuinely fun conversationalist. These sort of experiences have only ever happened to me as a solo traveller.
Prior to travelling solo, I normally travelled with my ex-boyfriend (Which made it a little difficult to socialise because people see a couple and go ‘meh’ sometimes. Other times, well let’s just say my ex-boyfriend was not the most sociable of characters and so I felt as though I was stepping on his toes because he’s way more introverted than I am. Which means small talk with strangers could be pretty tough on him! Whereas that tends to be my mainstay type of conversation (at the start anyway) as a solo traveller. You learn to breeze through it quickly. People are generally quite interesting when you find out what makes them tick.
3) Problem Solving: You Grow Up
As a solo traveller, you HAVE to be more aware. There are a lot of things I take for granted, living in Singapore. But when I travel solo, my eyes are always returning to my valuables and belongings. I’m constantly checking my surroundings and people around me. This may surprise quite a lot of people as I am usually rather careless and I tend to misplace my things. That is, when I’m at home or in a familiar environment. You don’t quite get that luxury when you’re in charge of yourself in a foreign country.
I’m proud to say I’ve never had trouble navigating a foreign subway system. The only time I’ve faced issues like this is when the train I was on in Italy broke down and I had to get off at a train station in the middle of Nowhere, South Italy. I sat around, waited for the next train (sneaked on, rather) that was going in the same direction as my original destination. I made it in one piece. Experiencing stuff like this while you’re a lone traveller – might be a little daunting, but the sense of satisfaction you get means so much more (ha! I didn’t die!).
4) Rediscover your faith in humanity
Haha, this sounds so cheesy! But, it’s also true. People are more aware of a solo traveller. Sometimes, they’ll even admire you for it. You get better service because people are amazed you’re travelling alone. They keep a watch out for you. Some of the most amazing people I met were my B&B owners in Salerno. They took me around, met me at the train station and helped me carry bags over uneven cobblestones. My original host in Salerno (Francesco) was such a gentleman and a sweet guy that I was happy to say that Salerno was one of my favourite cities in Italy. Because sometimes, travelling is about the people you meet and not about the places you’ve been.
5) Put Yourself Out of your Comfort Zone
When travelling solo, I’ve had to eat alone (I got over my fear of this a long time ago. I’ll just bring along my kindle or reading material, I’ll whatsapp friends from all around the world – I’ll send pictures of my food!, or I’ll just people watch). In addition to eating alone, I’ve had to navigate a strange country by myself. I’ve had to walk up to total strangers and strike up conversations on where to go and what would they recommend? Some people have been brilliant, some have been strange, but it’s always been an experience. Tinder makes this easier, lol (TinderTourGuides?!). And it’s different. It’s an experience you don’t get in your hometown and I would thoroughly recommend it anytime.
1) You may get lonely
There’s no way around this. Humans are social creatures and sometimes you’ll be stuck in a hostel full of people younger than yourself and you may feel the feelings of loneliness crawling up on you. Don’t! If you feel shy (for whatever reason) to strike up a conversation with your hostel mates, go out and sign up for a day trip out of the city. Find the local free walking tours. These are excellent ways to get to know other travellers (and maybe bump into other solo travellers looking for company)!
2) Solo Travel is not for everyone
That’s ok, but you need to experience it once before deciding it isn’t for you, right? Maybe sometimes when you’re taking in a beautiful sight, you want to share it with a loved one. There’s nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t make you less self-reliant (I usually share it via Whatsapp!). You might just not feel comfortable venturing by yourself in a strange city. That’s ok. Just because you’re not travelling solo does not make you any less of a traveller, despite what some people might try to make you think.
3) Safety, Safety, Safety
As a solo female traveller, this is something I’m always leery about. I do try to avoid strange narrow streets and dark places, although some times it’s inevitable that I bump into strange characters near train stations. I’ve had a bad experience in Naples (just felt really unsafe) but thank goodness I had some friends that came down from Rome to help me out.
And while I’m comfortable as a solo female traveller, there are some places – like India, for example – that I would hesitate at travelling solo in. Never take your safety lightly as a solo traveller.
What have your solo travel experiences been like?