The Good, The Bad And The Ugly With Solo Travel

I’ve read lots of articles on the subject of solo travel. More often than not, these articles tend to romanticize the concept of  being a solo-traveler. I feel like they give half the picture on what it’s like to travel on your own, which I think is not fair to the reader. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a solo traveler and have been all my life. So I’m very familiar with the the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of traveling on my own. These are my two cents on this subject.

The Good

Let me start off by saying that I love being a solo traveler. I can’t image traveling any other way. This past year I’ve traveled throughout Europe, South East Asia (I’m currently in Malaysia) and plan to land in Melbourne in two weeks. Save for 3 instances (which I’ll get into later) I’ve traveled this last year on my own.

So what is that I enjoy the most about being a solo traveler?

The freedom to do what I want, when I want. For me this is the essence of freedom. Waking up in the morning and deciding on that day what I will or won’t do. That’s the beauty of long term travel. I might feel like being tourist in a city one day (visiting all the historical sites) or decide to take it easy and lounge in a park, cafe or beach depending on where I am. There isn’t a second party to consider or negotiate with. It’s entirely up to my whims for that day.

How many times when you’ve traveled in a group have you been forced to see or do something that doesn’t interest you. Or worse, wanting to see or stay longer at an attraction while others in your party are bored and not interested in it. You’re constantly having to make accommodations for others, at the expense of your enjoyment.  As a solo traveler its all about you and what you want to do. You get to be selfish and focus 100% of you energies on satisfying your curiosity.

It develops independence and helps overcome shyness. Traveling alone forces you to take responsibility for yourself. There’s no one around to rely on or to carry you through difficult situations. This might sound like a negative, but trust me it’s not. This is one of the greatest lessons a solo traveler learns early, the realization that they’re capable of dealing with pretty much any situation they’re faced with. This will give you more self confidence than anything I can think of.

The other aspect of solo travel that I love, is it will naturally make you more outgoing. We all have a measure of shyness that we need to get over, in my case a lot of shyness to get over. Traveling on your own forces you to approach people and (at times) start a conversation with them even when you don’t feel confident. Whether it’s being the older guy in the hostel getting to know your roommates or asking for help from people when you’re lost in a city. It’s the randomness of the situations that’ll make you more comfortable in approaching and talking to people.

The unexpected friendships you will make along the way. This – by far – has been the greatest gift of traveling on my own. When you’re in a group, there’s no need to meet new people. You already have a pre-built social circle. Anyone that approaches you will be looked at as suspect. When you’re traveling on your own you’re more open to people and to making new friends. It’s human nature. I’ve made friends through hostels, courses that I’ve taken and complete random chance in a train station (this really happened).

I was in a train station in Kyoto and someone came up to me to confirm that they were getting on the right train. Turned out I was the one going the wrong direction and he saved from ruining my entire day by getting on the wrong train. We started talking and we were surprised to find that our stories were extremely similar. Even more of a coincidence he was traveling to Cambodia and Thailand the same time I was. So we agreed to meet up and travel those countries together. This only happened because I was traveling on my own and open to meeting new people.

The Bad

The boredom and loneliness. I’ve read several articles on solo travel where the author says loneliness is not an issue. That’s a big fat lie. There’ll be times when you’ll be bored and lonely. This is part and parcel of solo travel. While most articles sell it as a positive (get to know yourself better!) the reality is less glamorous.

There are cities that lend themselves well to solo travel. Where there are a million things to do and see. There are other cities that don’t. Those tend to be the places where the loneliness and boredom set in. When you’re stuck in middle of nowhere or in a quiet small town, the lack of company will become an issue. It can get bad and you’ll find yourself testing the theory on whether “loneliness can kill”. But wait, it can get worse.

You can be in a city that’ll make you hate yourself for being a solo traveler. I’m referring to the romantic destinations whose idyllic beauty demands to be seen not through one, but two pairs of eyes. That all who pass in front of it be part of a happily committed relationship. Where singles are mocked and scorned. I have a love/hate relationship with these romantic destinations. The last place I visited that provoked that reaction left a deep mark on me and I wrote a post stating solo-travelers should be banned from Prague. 

No space for party of one. Can it be a party if it’s only one? Being solo at bars or restaurants sucks. I’ve gotten good at sustaining myself on take out, but there are times that I crave a nice sit down dinner. It’s uncomfortable going to a restaurant and having dinner alone. I’ve gotten used to it, but there are moments the discomfort of eating alone gets to me. Going to bars or having a night out solo also is not fun. Unless I am in a group, that’s something I refuse to do. No way I could go to a bar on my own. No thanks.

The Ugly

Having a medical emergency when you’re on your own. Being severely sick and alone in foreign country is awful. Worst feeling in the world. Recently I got a bout of severe food sickness. I was vomiting and shaking uncontrollably. Once the vomiting stopped, I had to drag myself to taxi and get to the nearest hospital. During this moment of physical weakness I really felt isolated, scared and vulnerable.

My hope is that sharing the whole unvarnished truth still encourages anyone who reads this to try solo travel. While not perfect (nothing is in this life) I love it and hope to keep doing it for as long as I can.