A lot of people were surprised to hear that I would be doing part of my travelling alone, and the more I thought about it, the more I struggled to understand why. Sure, travelling with other people is great, but solo travel gives you the freedom to do exactly what you want, exactly when you want. There are a lot of arguments against travelling alone, but I think everyone should try it at least once.
I traveled alone for three weeks in the US, visited London by myself a few times before I moved here and now I am planning a solo trip to Italy in October. I would never give up travelling with others, but travelling by yourself has it’s own charm and it’s own benefits.
But isn’t it kind of embarrassing?
There seems to be this feeling that travelling alone means you have no-one else to travel with, and often that absolutely isn’t the case. I spent 5 weeks travelling round the US and the first 2 weeks were with my best friend, but I could hardly expect her to take that amount of time off work just because that suited my schedule. Travelling alone doesn’t make you look friendless or ‘a loner’ – it just shows that you are independent and willing to make your own choices.
But won’t I be lonely?
Maybe, but there really is no better way to meet new people than when travelling. Some of the most unique and interesting people I have ever met are ones that I spent a few hours with in a hostel and never saw again. And the beauty of travelling alone is that you can be as social or as anti-social as you like: there are always like-minded people around to drink or sightsee with, but you also have the opportunity to spend time alone when you want to. If you are really worried about meeting people, try and find hostels that advertise themselves as being very social: my hostel in New Orleans (Madame Isabelle’s) hosted group dinners, nights at a comedy club, walking tours and hot tub parties. Plus, staying in a dormitory-style room gives you plenty of opportunities to meet people in a similar situation.
But won’t I be bored?
Just because you are visiting a place by yourself doesn’t make it any less interesting: in fact it might make it even more interesting because you don’t have to compromise on what you see and do. When I travel with a group, I am more than happy to go with the flow, but it makes a nice change to go to the restaurants I want to go to, skip the tourist destinations I think are a waste of money and spend as much or as little time in a place as I choose. When I used to go on girls holidays (which I loved) we spent all day by the pool and all night in the bars. At the time, that was perfect for me but now I much prefer to do a little less nothing and a little more sightseeing: travelling solo allows me to plan my time without thinking about other people’s wants and needs. Yes, I am aware how selfish that sounds, but isn’t solo travel an inherently selfish activity?
But isn’t it dangerous?
There it is: the big one. Almost everyone, when told about my trip around the US, immediately replied with ‘Really? Alone? Is that safe? Especially for a girl?‘ I understand that this comes from a place of love and concern, but it is also a little bit patronising. Sure, some of the places I visited weren’t the safest – my hostel in San Francisco was in a fairly dicey area and I once took a wrong turn down a very shady backstreet in New Orleans – but tourist destinations aren’t inherently dangerous, regardless of your gender. At the end of the day, you (as a woman or a man) can face danger anywhere: on your way to work, in your own home, or – yes – while travelling alone. The fact is, you can’t live your life based on fear, because you will never get anything done. You should definitely ensure your own safety when going solo, but this narrative of the damsel in distress traveller who gets lured off the safe path like Red Riding Hood is frankly ridiculous. Yes it happens, and when it does it is absolutely tragic, but how many men and women travel alone and return home safely? The answer is the vast majority of them.
So how can I stay safe when travelling alone?
The main thing is to always let someone know where you are. I sent my parents a copy of my itinerary so on any given day they would always know what city I was in. It’s also incredibly important to stay in touch as often as you can: regardless of where you go, your family and friends will worry about you. Another good idea is do your research and know which areas are safer and which you should steer clear of. Try to avoid walking alone at night in unfamiliar areas; the cost of an Uber is always worth it to ensure you get back safely. Of course you can go too far in your efforts to be safe. A girl I met in New Orleans carried a pepper spray keyring with her while travelling. Sounds like a great idea, until the drunk boys in the hostel start macing each other for a laugh! You should also remember that the people you meet while travelling – although a hell of a lot of fun – are still strangers to you and after a point you should treat them as such. The bottom line is to follow your gut instinct: if something, someone or somewhere doesn’t feel right then move on.
So can I travel alone?
Yes! At times it might be boring or lonely and it could even be a little dangerous. You might find yourself eating alone in a restaurant thinking why on Earth did I decide to do this or you might feel pangs of jealousy watching picture-perfect friendship groups pass you on the beach. You might even regret it. Or it could just be one of the most rewarding thing you have ever done: you could meet like-minded people who you will remember forever, you could see amazing things you never expected to and you might even learn something new about yourself.