Travel is an edifying experience no matter how you do it. When you leave your comfort zone to venture into the unknown, the new sights and sounds are bound to stimulate you. It doesn’t really matter if you’re in a group, on a round-the-world tour or taking a package vacation to a popular tourist destination. Your trip will likely be memorable, no matter what.
However, there are some significant benefits to solo travel that you may want to consider when you begin planning your next trip.
Overcoming fear and concerns about safety are two of the biggest hurdles most people (but especially women) face when it comes to traveling alone. Fortunately, both issues tend to be overstated. Most solo travelers will tell you that, once they hit the road, they never regret it because their anticipatory fear disappeared quickly. With regards to safety, you can mitigate against unwanted incidents by following some simple solo travel safety tips.
Here are four great reasons to travel alone:
Traveling Alone is Not Lonely
Traveling solo gives you the chance to be alone– a rare luxury in today’s world of crowded cities and hyper-connected lives. This prospect may initially frighten some people more than any of the other perceived dangers of solo travel. But in reality there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Traveling alone does NOT mean you have to be lonely. For one thing, you’ll inevitably meet new people on the road, both other travelers and locals, so there’s rarely much time to be lonely. In fact, you may find yourself cherishing your alone time even more.
Getting a chance to catch up on reading is enough reason for some of us to travel alone. You’ll be glad you have a book on hand at night in your hotel, on long train rides or flights, and while waiting for meals at restaurants. It’s easy to bring an e-reader or tablet with you and load it up with all the books you’ve always wanted to read. And don’t forget to add some classic travelogues, such as:
– The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
– A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark
– Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
– City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
– Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy
But don’t forget to take some time to just be with yourself and your thoughts. You may ultimately be surprised to discover aspects of yourself you never knew existed, such as a facility for languages, a sense of adventure or an affinity for spicy foods.
Less Compromising, More Exploring
When you travel with others, you’re constantly compromising. You want to shop all day, but your friend or significant other wants to hit the museum and art gallery. Your friend is too tired to go out for dinner and is happy munching on trail mix, but you’re starving and dying to try the authentic restaurant that was highly recommended by the guidebook writer you met on the train.
When you travel alone, you get to do what you want, when you want. You can choose to spend an entire day wandering around a Guatemalan street market. Or an entire evening sampling food in Dharmasala. Or an entire afternoon dancing with the Maasai of Tanzania.
Without the friction that often happens between travelers with different sensibilities, you can get down to the most important elements of travel– discovery, adventure and life-changing experiences.
Exploring Other Cultures
There is nothing like traveling alone to get to know a new culture. When you travel with another person, you each tend to get your social and emotional needs by the other. But traveling solo forces you to look outward. When you’re alone, you are more highly motivated to socialize with people you meet on the road, which of course includes locals.
This means that you’re probably going to be taking more risks, stretching yourself a little further out of your comfort zone, and opening up to the people you meet and the culture they celebrate. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself looking for opportunities to immerse in the culture by joining group activities such as festivals, cooking classes and cultural immersion tours. Or you may decide to visit women’s cooperatives and other such endeavors.
Conversely, the culture may reach out to you! In many countries, especially those with traditional indigenous cultures, solo travelers will often be invited for dinners, weddings and other social events.
Most countries of the world are friendly to travelers, but you might want to check out Travel & Leisure‘s list of the best countries for solo travelers. They crunched the numbers from both the Global Peace Index and the Happy Planet Index to measure where in the world people live longer and happier lives.
When asked, most solo travelers will tell you that the single biggest benefit of their adventures was the confidence they gained from the process of going it alone. To paraphrase Freya Stark’s famous quote, there is nothing like realizing you can wake up alone in a strange city and feel only pleasant sensations.
When you travel alone and learn how to negotiate tuk-tuk rates in Thailand, endure bumpy bus rides in South America and survive “Delhi Belly” in India all by yourself, you eventually begin to realize how strong and resilient you truly are. In fact, traveling solo can provide you with a crash course in confidence building, with the extra benefits of travel and adventure thrown in.
In the end, there are myriad reasons to travel alone, and only one real reason not to: FEAR. Once you find a way to conquer your fears, step outside your comfort zone and dare to explore this fascinating world in which we live, chances are the only regret you’ll have is waiting so long to take that first scary step! –Mariellen Ward
Mariellen Ward is a professional travel writer based in Toronto and Delhi. Her award-winning website, BreatheDreamGo, is one of the world’s leading travel blogs about India. Mariellen co-founded Toronto Travel Massive and Delhi Travel Massive and founded the WeGoSolo online community for female solo travelers.