Is it weird that I am enchantedly mesmerized by airport departure boards, dreamily staring at the possibilities? Or would you consider it a waste of time that it takes me two hours to clean my room instead of one because I distractedly doodle on the dry erase map posted to my bedroom wall? And, is it judgmental of me that I question the intelligence of those that pass on the opportunity to travel because they have to travel alone?
I am often questioned, “Aren’t you scared to travel alone?” Well, yes. Of course I find it a bit of an intimidation to step beyond my white picket fence (not sure where that is exactly), but I am NOT able to justify sidestepping travel opportunities just because I’m slightly scared by what I might encounter beyond my front door. Personally, I consider it almost a crime to sit home and knit (I have nothing against you knitters out there. It’s a very admirable hobby), when I have free/cheap flights, no significant reason to stay in one place, and oodles of time to traipse around the world (oodles of money would completely sweeten the deal, but I guess I can’t have everything:).
It’s not that I prefer jumping on a plane without company, but I appreciate the time spent navigating a new destination solo. Some of my best stories, favorite moments, and most treasured friendships have developed because I was willing to venture off alone. Solo travel isn’t something to be viewed through a negative lens, as there are many pros to traveling alone. Here are some reasons why you may want to take your next trip sans plus one.
Why Travel Alone
When you travel alone, you can make your trip the way you want. Every place on your itinerary are destinations that you want to visit. If you want to book an expensive cruise or go to that obscure vegan restaurant, you won’t be covering your budget buddy’s lack of finances, or drag the grumbling carnivore to a table, tossing out phrases like, “They say the tofu something-something tastes exactly like free-range grass fed beef. No joke.” The beauty of traveling alone is that you can do the things that you’ve always wanted to do, at your speed, and in your way. No compromising here. Why would anyone want to go to Currywurst Museum? You do! So go! No one can stop you!
You have to make all the decisions.
Since it’s only you, you must make all of the decisions, and for a person like myself who is often caught in indecision limbo, traveling alone forces me to figure out what I want, and trust that I can figure out what I want. When traveling, one is constantly required to make decisions: “Which street do I walk down? What kind of food do I want to eat? Is this hostel a nice place to stay? What time do I need to leave for the airport?” I so often don’t want to make decisions because I am afraid that I will make the wrong one, so I will abdicate the decision responsibilities to someone else in a group, which is all-around negative for a few of reasons: a) I never have to take responsibility for a decision gone bad, and end up playing the blame game. b) I never have to figure out what I want and in turn, don’t get in touch with who I am. c) It’s true that you will look back on some decisions and think, “Well that might have not been the best idea ever.” But, usually you learn something. The more that you make decisions, the easier the process becomes.
Making the decisions on what to see and what to do- Copenhagen, Denmark.
Book “the last available.”
It’s once again only you. You need only one bed for the night, one seat on the airplane, one spot for the tour. Since all of my air travel is on a space available basis, meaning, if there are seats that have not been purchased by regular passengers, I get what’s left. When traveling alone, the stand-by travel is tricky even as a single, and with more, it can be all too exciting at times. I would not have gotten to Tallinn if I was traveling with anyone else (that’s a story in itself). Even when you aren’t traveling stand-by, if you are traveling in high season, it’s always harder with a group of four, and even a challenge with two travelers to find accommodation or transportation needs at times. It’s not as difficult if all of your plans are set, but if you want a little travel flexibility, then it’s nice to travel solo. Also, it’s easier to find a host if CouchSurfing if you are alone.
You make friends more easily.
You have two choices; be anti-social on your trip, or be outgoing. Introduce yourself, strike up conversations, ask questions, and listen to what people have to say. You’ll make friends. Also, others are more likely to approach you or to include you in their group if you are traveling alone. I’ve realized that, when I come home and retell my adventures, most of my sentences start with, “You’ll never guess who I met/You’ll never guess what happened.” Most of the time, you’ll realize that your only alone because you choose to be alone. Pretend your back in grade school, when it was acceptable to say, “Will you be my friend?” None of my co-workers believe me when I attempt to convince them that I am shy, (maybe in my past life) but even chatty me still is intimidated at the concept of walking up to a group and asking them if I can join them. You never know what interesting characters will be added to your best friend list if you just take a chance to find out who they are. They just might be pretty cool.
This is the first time that Keri and I met David. Keri and I were going on vacation to Hawaii, happened to sit next to Dave on the flight and chatted the entire 5 hours. A year later, he and his friend Jimmy, adventured to Europe with Emily and I. Now, David and Jimmy are absolutely two of my favorite people in the world, so much so, that Jimmy is now listed as my travel companion (you can be jealous. It’s a big deal).
Yes, my Mom told me never to talk to strangers, but I’ve learned you have to be open and that there are good people in this world. Whenever I think of Jimmy and David, I am overwhelmed by the unlikely odds of the friendship, and because of that, constantly think of them with thankfulness (I will write a post of how the two of them put up with traveling through Europe with me for 17 days straight. Trust me…I would have ditched me long before the trip ended. They are two of the most patient, funny, and considerate guys I have ever met! Love them:)
I adore these boys, and yes, David looks ridiculous 90 percent of the time, and Jimmy is chill 100 percent of the time.
You stretch past comfort zones.
I had just deplaned after landing in Copenhagen and was waiting in the customs line, and was basically thinking, “Oh s***, I’m leaving my comfort zone of a metal tube and airport walls…uhhh, can I do this?” The unexpected is intimidating. You will get lost. You will have to problem solve. You’ll probably be anxious at many times, but you must believe that everything always works out, because somehow, it does. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” and when you travel, you will. You learn that your fears are usually unwarranted and that the world is less scary than you once thought. Your comfort zone gets a little bit broader, your world bigger, and your anxieties become more muted when you challenge yourself just a bit.
I even made it through the Tallinn hostel experience with a smile on my face, and that was out of my comfort zone. So awkward.
You build self-confidence and self-reliance.
You gain self-confidence and self-assurance when it’s only you reading the map, choosing accommodations, and making the decisions. You realize you are more capable than you had once believed. For whatever reason, on my last trip, I felt this need to go all alone, like I needed to see if I could actually take care of myself and have fun in the process, and I learned, I could. I believe in myself and my capabilities just a little bit more now.
You realize that you need people, you accept the kindness of others, even when you know that you will never be able to repay them.
You must be confident enough to take care of yourself, assertive enough to ask strangers for help, and humble enough to acknowledge that you need people, and you need them to take care of what you can’t at times. Most people want to help travelers, and if someone is rude, ask the next person. When I’ve traveled, I’ve had to simply accept the kindness of others, cause I’ve needed them. Since there wasn’t anything I could do to repay them directly, I take the same consideration when I meet other people. Karma is alive and well, trust me. Always “Pay it forward.”
This is my laptop being returned after I left it in a Taxi in Greece. Aris refused anything. He is just a good person!
Time to notice your insecurities.
When I was traveling through Scandinavia, I noticed nuances in my character, insecurities that would surfaced because I was alone. I felt uncomfortable with being only with myself. I was challenged to be still, and there was time and quiet to reflect on the anxieties that I experienced during certain points of my adventure. I was a much more shy version of my typical self, and I didn’t like that. It was frustrating for me. I wanted someone else to make the decisions. I wished I wasn’t alone because I would have been more comfortable going out with my friends. When I was in Tallinn, it reminded me of walking through Zadar, Croatia with Emily, and I wanted her to be with me so badly. I don’t like being alone, but who does? We do need time alone. We must get to know ourselves and who we are, and traveling alone will give you the opportunity to do that if you are open.
Just A few of the places I’ve been solo
Vancouver, BC: September 2009
Cologne, Germany: October 2010
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. October 2010.