Traveling alone is the only way to truly roam free, as far as I’m concerned.
A year ago today, I was shaking in my shoes at the prospect of traveling by myself in Southeast Asia. I was utterly terrified that I’d constantly be lonely. I was about to board a plane to Bangkok with no clue what the year to come would have in store.
Let’s be real, I hate being alone. That “me” time that other people seem to crave? Nope, I don’t desire that. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying I hate “me” time. Totally and completely hate it!
I need to be social every day or I’ll get depressed.
I don’t really seem like a good candidate for traveling solo, do I? I certainly didn’t think I would be. I tried everything – talking to friends about meeting up for various legs of the journey, trying to con my cousin into coming along, and even considering a much shorter trip so that I wouldn’t have to go it alone. In short, I was petrified.
Eventually it became clear that there was no way to wait for a travel buddy and also see all of the things I wanted to see before retirement. It seemed a little hopeless, but then I read a post titled Please Don’t Be Afraid to Travel On Your Own, which I can honestly say was one of the biggest factors in giving me the courage I needed to buy my one-way ticket to Bangkok. The rest has, as they say, been history.
Thankfully, I ended up making friends almost immediately. I sat outside in the common area of my guesthouse on Khao San road my first evening abroad, smiled at a fellow female traveler, and before I knew it I was sitting across from her at dinner. It was so easy! It turned out that travelers were so open and friendly!
The trend continued. I’d walk into a dorm room, insert myself into the conversation, and before I knew it I had six new friends. It was sometimes as easy as walking up to a table in a crowded bar and asking to join. ”Of course you can!” they’d always say.
I even made friends on long bus and train journeys. We had hours to kill, so there was plenty of time to get to know each other. I’d board a bus solo and emerge with a group of seven new friends. Really, it was that simple.
I know I wouldn’t have put as much effort into meeting people if I didn’t travel solo. There were times when I wasn’t feeling competely up to it, but I still went to the common room of my guest house or stepped out onto my patio in hopes of finding someone to talk to or hang out with.
I simply wouldn’t have felt the need to try that hard if I always had a friend in tow.
Plus, there are certain awesome opportunities that present themselves to solo travelers, and solo travelers only.
If I wasn’t a solo traveler, I probably wouldn’t have been able to drop everything and paint a mural in Vientiane, which is still a favorite travel memory of mine. Someone would have been waiting on me and probably would have been quite bored watching me mix paint all day.
I may never have had my shot at 15 minutes of fame in Malaysia. I certainly wouldn’t have ended up hitchhiking in Java. I wouldn’t have had the freedom to answer, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll leave tomorrow, maybe next week,” when asked how long I was staying in any particular place. I definitely would not have made as many impulsive decisions, but honestly, those ended up leading to some of my favorite memories. I think a good chunk of my sense of adventure would have been shot if there had been a voice of reason around to talk me out of things.
Now, I won’t claim that solo travel is without its challenges. Nearly every major decision is made on my own. If something goes awry, it has to be handled by me and me alone. I can’t pass the buck.
That said, I had no arguments last year. There wasn’t anyone to bicker with! I had to get shit handled myself and it taught me how to be patient and let go of the little things. Instead of stressing out and waiting for someone else to come up with a solution, I skipped the crying over spilled milk and got right to problem solving when needed. I didn’t have a choice, which forced me to develop quick problem-solving skills. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I believe in my ability to do things. In a way, traveling solo has killed a lot of my fears and self-doubts.
I actually have come to love and crave the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that comes along with handling everything on my own. Things absolutely do go wrong, but now I’m prepared for them.
Solo travel, as it turns out, is actually pretty awesome.