“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
1. See what you want. Forget about the rest.
It’s as simple as that. When you’re traveling alone, you get to make the calls. Maybe you feel like a social butterfly one night, a total hermit the next. Maybe you want to stay in and read your book. Or maybe you want to climb a rock and watch the sunset.
Maybe you only have one day in a city, but damnit, all you feel like doing is eating a subway sandwich and going to the movies. For crying out loud, do it. You’re allowed. You don’t have to answer to anyone. There’s no one there to make you feel bad about your St. Petersburg indulgence in Hollywood films and movie popcorn instead of seeing the Hermitage. Don’t feel guilty about it! You have no one to appease. Do what makes you happy. You’ll have an awesome experience either way. And what’s more – your experience will be totally unique to anyone else who has ever been to St. Petersburg. And how cool is that?
2. It’s easier to meet people.
If you’re traveling in a group, you’re really not very approachable, are you. Other travelers will be less likely to come up to talk to you, because you kind of look… busy. Occupied. When you’re on your own, it’s just easier to find new friends. You’ll probably find that more backpackers will strike up conversations with you, invite you along on their adventures, etc.. I traveled through Russia and into Latvia with a good friend of mine from home. We both had purchased tickets to London and our flight was leaving in the morning. I decided, with 8 hours to go, that I wasn’t going to take my flight. I said goodbye to my friend, who took the flight to London, and there I was again – just like that – alone on the road with no plan or idea where I was going. That very same night I met one of the most amazing people I have ever met – in the common room of our hostel. We traveled together from Riga to Vilnius and, when he carried on to Vienna without me, we exchanged contact information. Months later, when I was in Malta, I decided I would give him a call. I stayed with him for two months in the east of France, living with his family in a beautiful part of the planet that I never would have seen if I hadn’t decided to forfeit my flight to London in favour of traveling alone.
3. It’s cheaper.
Okay, this depends on a lot of things, but for me, when I travel with friends – I tend to spend more money out at restaurants and pubs. When I travel alone, I eat a lot of street food. I buy a lot of convenience store ramen, and instead of buying expensive pub pints, I opt for the cheap 7-Eleven canned beer or bottled wine alternative.
It’s also cheaper, and easier, to find accommodation when it’s just you. Couchsurfing, for one, is much more simple when you’re traveling solo. Hosts are, more often than not, way more likely to have space on a couch for one person – not two or more. You’ll meet some really cool locals through couchsurfing, too, so make sure you give it a try! Also, organizations like WWOOFING and HelpX tend to have more flexibility when it comes to single travelers. The number 1 is just easier to work with, it seems (case in point: aside from two unavoidable nights while I was in Italy in November, I haven’t paid for a single night of accommodation in eight months. Eight months).
4. It’s a really rad sense of accomplishment.
The day you realize, “Hey, wait a minute! I’m in Ulaanbaatar by myself and I seem to be getting by just fine!” is a day you will never forget. It’s an amazing sense, knowing you’ve done this all on your own. No one has been there to hold your hand. This feeling, the feeling of figuring stuff out for yourself in a totally foreign country – it’s indescribable. Maybe you realize it after taking the subway to Tiananmen Square without issue. Or maybe you ordered a coffee successfully in Russian. Perhaps you bargained for a t-shirt in the markets of Morocco and got a steal-of-a-deal. Or maybe you’re bike-riding home from your job in Seoul to your very own apartment in Korea. Whenever it happens, the feeling that comes with it is so completely incredible as to become almost addictive. You’ll start asking yourself, “what can’t I do?” The answer, my friend, is nothing.
5. An Italian lover, what?
You’ve thought about it. Come on, who hasn’t? When you’re traveling alone, the opportunities are endless. Romance on the road becomes a very real possibility when you’re allowed to – pun intended – fly by the seat of your pants. Maybe you meet someone really awesome and decide to stay in Florence longer than you had planned. You can do it, because there’s no irritating friend reminding you of your pending train to Pisa in the morning. Go to Pisa next week instead. Hell, don’t go at all if you don’t feel like it! Or maybe you can convince your new Italian lover to drive you there instead. Who knows, right? Your journey is an open book!
6. Lots of alone time, but you’ll never really be alone.
Ah, yes. One of my all-time favourite aspects of solo travel. You have a lot of time to dedicate to the things you enjoy, without hampering anyone else’s holiday time. Whether that’s photography, or running, or playing the guitar, or relaxing with a book and a few tunes. For me, that means I get time to write. I can stay in one evening with a glass of wine and my journal, or I can spend a day at a coffee shop and work on my blog and not be made to feel guilty about it. Alone time is rejuvenating, especially when you’re on the road for so long and you’re constantly interacting with people; it’s nice to have relaxing time to hang out with you, to do things just with you. I’ve discovered I’m kind of a fun person to hang out with, thank you very much! ;) In all honesty though, it’s really important not to sideline yourself. And at the same time, as any traveler knows, you’re never really alone when you’re on the road. You will always be surrounded by people, some of whom turn into the greatest friends you will ever have. You’ll have time alone, but you’ll never really be alone. Is there anything more perfect than that?
7. It’s safer than you think.
I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re not clinically defective. If you have a good common sense about you, you’re going to be just fine. It’s funny; most of the time, I feel less safe at home than I do on the road. Of course, it depends where you go, but as long as you’re taking necessary precautions and not wandering down dodgy back-lane alleys full of hookers and blow, you’re going to be fine. Don’t do anything stupid, keep an eye on your stuff, and you’ll be good. And just in case, keep enough money on you for a call home. Because if you get really scared, Mom is only a phone call away.
8. You will learn so much about yourself.
You’ll start understanding yourself on a level you probably didn’t even know was possible. When you’re on the road and all the decisions are up to you, you’ll start to realize things about yourself that you probably weren’t even aware of before you stepped out of your comfort zone. I, for one, didn’t realize I had a knack for pronouncing strange words in different languages (the fact that I don’t know what I’m saying half the time is besides the point!). Nor did I know how much I really enjoy sitting in foreign coffee shops for entire afternoons, by myself, just watching the comings and goings of people. I didn’t know I had the ability to pack for week-long trips using only the inside of my modestly sized purse. I didn’t know I could go for days without brushing my hair either – nor did I realize I look kind of fabulous with a bit of a rat’s nest going on (ok, so that’s a lie, but I’m more comfortable with it now!). I also didn’t know how much I actually enjoy the company of just me. I’m awesome, damnit!
9. Invaluable experience to put on your resume.
Employers are actually really impressed if you’ve done some travel, and even more impressed if you’ve taken off to strange lands by yourself for extended periods of time. The bottom line is this makes you a more desirable employee. People want competent people. They want people who have real world experience. And doesn’t that sound like something you want, too?
10. That never happened.
Ha! And last but not least… the keep-your-sanity clause. You know that really embarrassing thing you did? Well guess what. It never happened. No one to prove I dressed up in some stranger’s clothes and walked through a bar in eastern France giving the peace sign to everyone I saw? Oh, that’s right. That’s because THAT NEVER HAPPENED. ;)
The best part about all of this is that, if you decide to take the plunge and travel on your own (which you totally should!), you don’t have to wait for anyone. In fact, you have no excuse at all! Find a world map, spin a globe, open your atlas. I don’t care how you do it, maybe it’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Maybe it’s somewhere obscure you’ve never heard of. Whatever your choice, choose a destination. There are no wrong answers. Go online. Do some research. And book your ticket. Just do it! Because you are in the driver’s seat. You can fly to Madrid, Santiago, Riga, New Delhi, Tokyo. You can fly there next week, if you like! So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags! Get out there and start exploring the curious corners of our incredible planet!
Smile, because you have the opportunity. Capitalize, because you can. In the great scheme of things, aren’t you going to regret it if you don’t?
Good luck, and happy travels!!!