Most people are surprised - some even shocked - when they find out I love to travel alone. Reactions to my revelation vary from long, sympathetic stares to appalled cries of: "Don't you get lonely?"
Sure it's great to share your travelling experiences with others, but I equally enjoy the journey when I was on my own. The fact is travelling solo is one of the most self-satisfying experiences you're ever likely to have. So for anyone who's never contemplated taking-off alone, I thought I'd share five fabulous reasons why you should consider flying solo.
#1 Freedom & flexibility
The biggest attraction of travelling solo is the sense of freedom and independence you'll feel. It's one of the few times in life when you get to call all the shots. You decide when to go where and you don't have to consult anyone. When travelling, you're often presented with opportunities to experience new places or sights that weren't in your original plan. If your travel companion doesn't want to go, you'll either end up comprising or, worse still, miss out altogether and then bemoan the decision for the rest of the trip. But if you don't have anyone to consider, you can spend all your time lazing on a beach if you want, or suddenly decide to explore that little-known temple which piqued your interest. What's more, if you don't like a place, you can simply move on. No debates; no arguments; no compromises. Bliss!
#2 New found friends
Most people assume that travelling solo means you travel like a hermit and spend all your time alone. Far from it - you only need to be alone if you want to be alone. In reality meeting other people tends to be much easier when you're on your own. For starters, you'll be forced to come out of your shell and initiate conversations with others. And moreover, as a solo traveller you're far more approachable than a couple or a group of friends.
A casual chat in a local cafe can easily turn into an invitation for dinner or even the opportunity to discover a region of a country you'd never dreamed of going to. For me, a chance meeting with two other travellers in L'viv in the Ukraine turned into a cross-country train journey into the heart of the Carpathian Mountains to trace the family roots of one of my new found friends. It was actually one of the most fascinating, fun and entertaining trips I've ever been on. Yet while most friends you make on the road will temporarily provide you with the benefits of having a travel partner without the commitment, there are those kindred spirits that you'll meet that will become friends for life. In fact, many of the friendships I have to this day have been made when I've been travelling solo - that includes my two travel buddies I met in the Ukraine!
#3 Local connections
As a solo traveller not only will you find it easier to meet other travellers, but you'll also be infinitely more approachable to the locals who can easily be intimidated by large groups of foreigners. If you're alone they'll be more inclined to invite you to eat with them, or even to put you up for the night than they ever would if you’re travelling with someone else. I've had some of my best local experiences when I've been by myself: I had dinner with a real Transylvanian Count in his castle in Romania, I celebrated the Orthodox Easter with a local family in the tiny Republic of Moldova, and, I was given a personal tour around Bardia, an isolated town in the far north of Libya, by two elderly men who expected nothing except a heart-felt thank-you in return. I would never have had these opportunities if I had not been alone.
#4 Make up your own mind
Have you ever noticed that when you travel you tend to change your opinions of a place depending on who you’re with? For example, you finally set your eyes on the Pyramids in Egypt and are in total awe, when your travelling companion turns to you and says, “They’re not that impressive.” So you take another look and have to agree your friend’s right – surely they should be bigger? Alain de Botton, author of The Art of Travel, argues that how we see the world when we travel is greatly influenced by those we travel with. Not only do we change our views, but we also limit our curiosity to fit in with our companion’s expectations. Therefore, the only way to truly see and experience a place is to travel alone.
#5 Personal Growth
Finally, here is my top reason why you should consider travelling solo. The greatest benefit of travelling solo is that it boosts your confidence and helps you grow. Travelling solo is when you really find out what you're made of. With no one else to rely on, you must learn to trust your own instincts and make your own decisions. Things of course will go wrong – remember I wound up in hospital on my last solo trip – but it's these very challenges that'll make you stronger. And with every new hurdle you conquer, your confidence will grow as you discover that you're far more capable than you ever imagined you could be.