Travelling is a very personal thing. From picking a destination, to figuring out what you will do once there, meeting new people and making the most of it: all of it is best done alone. And yet every person who was not out and about on his or her own seems to have the same reaction when encountering a solo backpacker: “Travelling on your own? Whoa!”
Whilst more than half the people I have met on the road were travelling solo, the minority of backpackers in groups, or couples seem to think we were the oddities. From exclamations about how brave we were to the “I really couldn’t do it”, I have encountered the whole spectrum of amazement, concern, and dismissal as crazy. I blame it all on jealousy.
You don’t need to be brave to travel on your own
It has always been a great mystery to me when people mention bravery, courage, or guts in relation to solo travel. What is there to be brave about?! Travelling really isn’t that complicated, when you think about it. You’re home. You feel like going somewhere. You check flights. You get on a plane. You get somewhere. There, you just started travelling. Where and when your bravery got into the equation really befuddles me.
All you need to travel is a plane ticket and some vague idea about what you’d like to do once you get to your destination. Or sometimes, not even that. I am pretty sure you can manage that on your own. If you think it is dangerous to go overseas without some kind of backup or a partner, please, read on. Also, I would very much like to remind you that travelling has nothing to do with trying to take down a gang or conducting a bust on a Mafioso’s warehouse. You don’t need back up. You’re not a cop on duty.
Even if you are in a group, you are alone
Travelling is all about the experiences you encounter and what you take out from it. I mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating: travelling is personal. Even in a big group, you are, ultimately, having a unique experience, because YOU are going through it. The guy next to you probably doesn’t see or feel the same things you do, and it doesn’t matter that you are “travelling together”. Apart from meals and maybe checking out touristy things, most people who travel together don’t spend that much time doing the same things. I say “most” here because I have met some rather interesting couples who seemed to have been surgically attached to each other before they went on a trip abroad. But imagine yourself, someone who has not undergone surgery before boarding a plane, going to an exotic location with friends. Chances are, you will meet new people, disagree on some things to visit, and go off and meet up again pretty regularly. You are, basically, a solo traveller with other solo traveller friends who you happen to know from back home.
You are never alone when travelling
Just to be slightly confusing, I would like to point out that one is NEVER alone when travelling. A solo traveller is nothing more – or less – than a completely independent traveller. One who can do whatever he or she wants whenever the fancy takes them. This is, ultimately, the only difference. Freedom.
When backpacking around the world, you will share rooms, you will eat in restaurants, walk on streets, visit sights, all surrounded by people. Now, having people around and being with people is not the same. But take into account that you have things in common with these strangers, more things in common, one could argue, at this point in time and space, than with your friends back home. You will meet people EVERYWHERE. So much so, that you might long for home and… quiet. The one thing I have always missed when backpacking the world was alone time. I kid you not. Time to seriously just tune out and enjoy my own company. It won’t happen on the road. You will have chatty roommates, lost travellers following you around, cool fellow backpackers organising a trip to that remote location you thought you could not get to without a car, that they so conveniently already hired… There is always so much going on, everywhere, that you will be caught in a whirlpool of faces, stories, experiences, sights, sounds, smells. One thing you won’t be is alone.
Some stuff to consider
I have never, ever, thought twice about going anywhere alone. Having said that, I have some rules.
- I trust my guts. If I don’t feel comfortable, I get out.
- I use my story telling skills. Lying can make you safer in a couple of situations where you might feel uncomfortable. I once confused a guy so much in Kuta, Bali, he gave up on me and walked away in the pouring rain. Let me explain: he was getting a bit too friendly, I was stuck in a little corner trying to get away from the torrential rain with nobody around but him (it never happens in Kuta, but the rain was truly something out of this world). It was getting dark, and he was a bit shady. He asked where I was staying, I said in Bingin; where I was going, I said Uluwatu; what I was doing, I went to great length to mention every town I knew the name of, making it sound like I was going to see all of Bali within an hour. He tried to get me a cab, I said I had to meet a friend in Seminyak, but that I wanted to walk down to see someone first down the road… he eventually gave me a look that said “you’re insane” and walked away.
- Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home (and I am not talking about hiking a volcano). The world at large is not more dangerous that wherever you’re from. But it isn’t less dangerous either. Would you get hammered and then walk alone in the middle of the night, only choosing back streets “shortcuts” back home? Would you take all the cash you have for the month with you to go down to the beach, or your local pub? Probably not. If you answered yes, then, by all means, do it everywhere else in the world, it means you know what to do and how to deal with the situation if it goes sideways.