Whether it’s a yearlong round-the-world expedition or just a weekend getaway during a study abroad semester, there is something indescribably liberating about traveling to new places alone. Solo travel abroad presents the kind of life experience that cannot be properly described without actually experiencing it for yourself, but far too often these types of adventures are stopped in their tracks by factors such plans for the future, the opinions of family and friends, and simple fears about what traveling alone entails.
What follows is a shortlist of five reasons to ignore each of those influences and to break away from the rat race – and instead find what can easily be one of the most formative experiences of a lifetime.
1. No Friends? No Problem.
One of the biggest concerns of prospective solo travelers is the notion that there will be no one to talk to while traveling alone and that loneliness will quickly and inevitably set in. For the vast majority of solo travelers, this is entirely false. In fact, traveling with other people can often trap you within a social bubble that envelops your small band of travelers, and goes no further.
The whole point of world travel is to see unfamiliar places, meet new people, and try different things – at least one major part of the reason you came all that way can be negatively impacted by bringing friends along for the ride. A nice compromise might be to consider booking a tour or traveling alone, where you’ll meet new people in a safer, more intentional space.
2. Hostels Can Help You Socialize.
Socializing is always as easy or as difficult as you want to make it while traveling. If you are feeling particularly adventurous and want to make some new friends, hostels are some of the best places on earth to do so. Group bunk rooms are almost always the cheapest accommodations in town and provide a fantastic environment to meet and get to know fellow travelers, many times from countries all over the world.
Regardless of where each person calls home, the simple fact that each of you is far away from that particular place provides a unifying experience around which you can easily and quickly start a conversation. Many encounters you have with strangers will last no longer than the several hours, but it is also more than possible to make lifelong friends in the same types of situations. This means that solo travel combined with hostel living may possibly be the quickest and most effective way to diversify a Facebook friends list known to man!
Pro safety tip: Never tell a stranger you’re alone! Find more important solo travel tips here.
3. No Compromising.
Seeing and experiencing new places with old friends obviously has its advantages, but far too often these other people can delay, alter, or outright cancel even the best laid plans. Traveling alone means that none of these burdens are even a possibility. Trying to organize a trip around one life (yours) is hard enough, but doing so around several lives can often be nearly impossible.
Even if you somehow manage to coordinate schedules and find an ideal time to travel with a group of friends, everyone will have slightly different goals for their time abroad, leading to logistics issues and disagreements on how time should be spent. If you were to travel alone, even just once, every possibility would remain open to you as you make your way around the places you visit. It is this freedom of choice in your movements that makes solo travel so liberating. You decide the course of your day and you write the story of your trip! Your adventure is entirely up to you and you get to make your experience exactly what you want it to be.
4. No Mountain Too Tall.
To pretend that any kind of traveling can be done without its fair share of challenges is unrealistic. There will always be some kind of obstacle or adversity to face when you venture out from home, whether it’s to the other side of the world or to the grocery store down the street. These problems will simply have to be solved in order to move forward, but the sense of accomplishment one can achieve when facing them alone is indescribably empowering.
The memories of “that one time I was completely lost in Madrid and still managed to make it back to my hotel by using broken Spanish and a rousing game of charades with a few locals” will stick with you for the rest of your life. These types of experiences leave you with a sense of being able to handle almost anything once you return from the trip, with vivid recollections of the challenges faced and subsequently defeated while traveling. If you can deal with your problems in a strange country where they speak an even stranger language, why wouldn’t you be able to overcome just about any issue at home?
It is this empowerment through experience that makes travel so important in life, and solo travel is especially adept at forcing individuals to learn to solve problems as they come, a valuable and applicable life skill to say the least.
5. No Fear, Just Faith.
Dorothy Thompson, perhaps the most influential woman in the history of American journalism, once noted that, “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” This notion served her well as she broke down the gender barriers in journalism, and it is more than applicable to the idea of travelling solo as well. Dorothy had no idea what to expect as she made her way into the unknown realm of an industry consisting almost exclusively of men, much the same as a traveler embarking on a journey has no idea what challenges he or she may face in the coming days, weeks, or months. And that’s the fun of it. Leaving the comfort and familiarity of a place you know well in search of new and strange locales inherently involves a certain degree of fear.
Fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar is an emotion that has been found in humans for millennia. For our ancestors, traveling outside of the areas they knew well meant facing the very real dangers that may be present there (most notably the risk of being eaten by predators) and so they stayed close to home and close to their fellow humans. For them, it was their fear of the unknown that kept them alive.
In today’s world, it is quite the opposite – just ask Dorothy Thompson. There are very few things out there that want to eat you. Rather, the lions and tigers and bears that fueled the fears of our ancestors have been replaced by less tangible things, things with metaphorically sharp teeth rather than literal ones. Concerns about family, friends, finances, and careers left behind will often deter potential solo travelers long before plans can even take shape. But like any good story, an ounce of courage will open up doors you didn’t even know were locked. Take a chance on travel, take a chance on the kindness of humanity, and most importantly, take a chance on yourself.
While you don’t have to ignore these fears, do your best to acknowledge them without letting them deter you from your grand solo adventure. The collective voices of experience from hundreds of thousands of solo travelers who have faced these exact fears in the past will tell you that they are entirely unfounded. Jobs will be there when you return. Money issues can be handled with disciplined spending. And family and friends can either accept your decision to go or they can face the fact that it is your life to live and consequently not their decision to make.
There’s a lot you can learn about solo travel from group travel and vice versa.
Instead of dwelling on the fears about what might happen, go into the experience with faith in the idea that you (and only you) can control what will happen. Having the proper mindset is the most important factor in the success of a solo trip, and it is perhaps the biggest hurdle you will face. However, once that hurdle is crossed, you will be fully prepared to make your trip exactly what it is meant to be; the adventure of a lifetime
A Midwesterner born and raised, Jake recently graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in Kinesiology and International Studies and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Health at Colorado State. He is a writer for GoAbroad.com and loves inspiring future travel.