The summer of 2012 will always be one of my most favorite times, as it was the first time I traveled solo. It clearly left a mark on me, as it got me addicted. Most of my favorite moments happened when I traveled alone, as for some reasons they just felt more momentous and remarkable. When people ask me what’s so great about traveling alone, I don’t know where to start because I have so much to say. Here’s some of them.
1. I love solitude
I’m an introvert by nature, and I love solitude. Even when I’m with my closest people, I still need some time alone each day. I can’t be constantly with people. When I travel in a group, I feel like I need to make sure everyone is having a good time and not bored, and sometimes I worry that maybe some of them are not enjoying the trip, because one person’s sour mood can affect mine too. For me, traveling solo means fewer things to worry about. It also gives me the solitude that I need, and with it, comes the solace.
2. I can be selfish
I can compromise in almost every situation, but not when I travel. With the limited time and money, I want to experience things the way I want it. With group travel, sometimes you need to sacrifice some of the things on your list and maybe visit the places you’re not interested in. One more thing: I move faster when I’m alone. I find that when you travel in a group, things take much more time because someone always takes longer to get ready, or someone needs to take 592435 photos of themselves in the same place to get a decent shot, someone else needs to pee every few minutes, some others are fussy eaters so finding a place that satisfies everyone would be as difficult as finding 7 Horcruxes. When traveling solo, I love that I can go wherever I want at my own pace, with or without an itinerary, and enjoy myself.
3. I get lots of things done
I’m not talking about doing errands or things like that. I’m talking about writing and taking photos. I’ve realized that when I travel alone, I become more creatively productive. Thanks to all the waiting in the airports/stations, or the journeys spent on airplanes/trains/buses, I have a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts or watch people around me, uninterrupted. Sometimes I form ideas based on my observations of these passing strangers. This is my favorite time to write, and I write a lot during these times. Somehow, I also take better pictures when I’m alone, as I don’t feel like I’m rushed.
4. I love surprises, and I love getting lost
There’s something about getting lost and getting surprises when you’re alone in a place you’ve never been before. Somehow, I enjoy it more than I would if I were with someone else. I see and hear more things, and I experience more feelings and emotions. Not a lot of people enjoy getting lost, but I like it. I love seeing the unseen corners and things that I wouldn’t consider putting in the itinerary. I found the best cappuccino in Rome when I was lost, trying to find my way back to the apartment. A wrong turn in York brought me to the most picturesque alley in town. Getting off at the wrong metro station in Barcelona took me to one of the most stunning, quiet areas of the city. There are countless moments and little things I wouldn’t have experienced had I not gotten lost, and that’s why I welcome unexpected things in my trip with open arms.
5. It forces me to be responsible
…and less clumsy. To be completely honest, one of the things I don’t like about myself is that I’m very scatterbrained. No matter how hard I try to be organized and not forget things, I’ll always end up leaving my phone, bag, or camera (!!!) somewhere. When I travel alone, I’m really paranoid about leaving my things behind, so I take the extra effort to not lose things. Not just my belongings, there are other things as well that I need to be responsible for; my safety, my budget, my well-being, and a lot more. I have a tendency to slack off when I’m with someone, knowing they will always remind me or give me warnings, so when I travel alone I force myself to be responsible and cautious.
6. It pushes me to start conversations with strangers
Being an introvert, I usually don’t feel comfortable being with new people, let alone conversing with them. Ironically, I’ve always romanticized having a deep and thoughtful conversation with a stranger ever since I watched Before Sunrise (it’s every solo traveler’s dream, I think). While I didn’t find my Jesse, I did have memorable conversations with people I met along the way. My host in Prague showed me around and told me how he moved from France and made a living in Prague by teaching French. There was another adventure with a fellow traveler who was cycling across Europe and was stopping for a few days in Bruges, where we made it a mission to find the best beer and waffle in town. There was a Polish immigrant in Berlin who helped me find my hostel. He could only speak Polish and German, and my limited German wasn’t enough to carry a conversation. In the end, using hand gestures and Google translate, we ‘talked’. These random conversations with strangers in places I was yet to familiarize myself with, are some of my fondest memories of my travel.
7. It makes me learn a lot
Just like other people, I always do research before going somewhere. But when I’m traveling solo, I double my effort because I know I have no one to rely on but myself. I try to learn the language (at least to do a basic conversation with the locals for everyday interaction like ordering meals, shopping, etc.), the culture, and the dishes. I try to memorize the map, bus/metro routes, stations, and get a good picture of the area before I get there.
And then there are lessons I learn during the travel, too. Things I learn from strangers, from the interactions between people, or from the pieces of information I get in the most obscure places. It opens my eyes to things I wouldn’t see at home, opinions I wouldn’t hear from friends or acquaintances, and to all the differences and also, the things we have in common. But most of all, I learn about myself when I travel solo, more than any other times.
Of course, there are the downsides of traveling alone. Accommodations and tickets fares could be more expensive, it’s hard to get a picture of you without bothering people around you, some places look too daunting/dangerous to be explored alone, you have to stay vigilant and cautious all the time, the list goes on. But with all the things I get during these times, it’s worthwhile.
Have you ever traveled solo? Tell me your experiences :)