I have spent the past month traveling alone on the east coast of Queensland, Australia. It has been absolutely AMAZING. I am exhausted. I have met new people every single day.
A question I get asked a lot is, “are you traveling alone?” Right now, the answer is “yes.” Most of the time, people move onto the next question, but sometimes, especially when talking to couples or groups of people who are traveling together, I feel a bit of judgement or concern. Because of this, I would like to explain why I prefer traveling alone and why I don’t think anyone should feel sorry for someone who doesn’t have a travel partner or group.
Traveling alone in Australia is very common for both sexes, and from who I’ve met, it seems even more common amongst females than males. I’m in a safe country. I’m traveling in safer places than when I was living in Philadelphia, so I feel pretty good about it. I’ve traveled before. I know that bad things can happen, but I take the same precautions that I would take anywhere: I don’t go down dark alleyways or walk home late at night alone, I keep my expensive belongings hidden or locked, and I try to be a good judge of character and situations.
When I travel alone I can do what I want, sleep when and for as long as I want, eat when and what I want, and meet as many people as possible. I find that I am more outgoing when I travel alone because I need to be in order to make new friends.
I just read “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel” by Rolf Potts as suggested by a friend. It’s a short book but helpful to read in my current travels, and I found a quote that I absolutely love which the author took from another book:
“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am…. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”
-Michael Critchton, Travels
I find that traveling alone allows me to be my favorite version of myself. When you meet new people, you are whoever you want to be. I’m not saying that I act like a different person than I would at home, but I am who I like to be. Without someone knowing anything about you, new people base their opinion of you off of their first impression of you and their time with you instead of opinions they may have about where you grew up, the schools you went to, the people you know, or anything else that you don’t choose to share. As you keep moving, you have a clean slate, every single day, to be whoever it is that you truly are or want to be, without any outside influence.
I also love meeting new people to learn about other cultures, even if it’s just more about the country in which I am traveling. I learned more history about Mission Beach by asking an older man for directions and continuing conversation than I did from anyone I met at the hostel where I stayed or the tour guide on my white-water-rafting trip there.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing and laughing about the differences in American English, Australian English, and British English amongst new friends that strangely don’t always agree on words in what is supposed to be the same English language.
I have proven to myself in the past week that I can open my mind to meeting friends from all different backgrounds when I bonded more with people from Mexico City than I did with a girl from Connecticut.
The best part of not bringing along anyone else to talk to is that you have PLENTY of different people to talk to. Especially at hostels, when you’re sitting around with a group of people from all different countries, you can’t not learn something new. And guess what else?
It’s actually difficult to be alone.
When I meet people during the day and tell them that night that I don’t feel like going out, they tend to give me guilt for it just as my friends at home would if I wanted to stay in on a Saturday night. It can be difficult to have a night in when there’s always something to do and new people to share new experiences with.
That is some of the exhausting part of traveling alone: always going out. The constant partying can be tiring and also tough on your wallet, so you have to be mindful of your own physical and financial situation. You can always say no if you really need to get some sleep, but I have found that to be very difficult which is why I’m pretty tired as I near the end of this month of hopping from one place to the next.
Some mornings, I wake up and feel like being alone, so I sneak out of my hostel and go for a run or go to the beach or go sightseeing and then I come back later and find people to hang out with. Or at night when I just feel like sitting on my computer, I lay low for awhile and then do something social. I’m currently sitting on a couch on the deck at my hostel writing this while two friends take their showers and when they’re finished, we are meeting for a beer.
Another difficult part of traveling alone is that situations aren’t always comfortable. You aren’t going to connect with every person you meet, and that’s okay. You try to and if it doesn’t work, you accept it and you move on.
As far as travel companions, I do have a few girlfriends that I really enjoy traveling with. They’re awesome and I know that we are really compatible in what we like to do. I am very lucky that I’ve had great experiences traveling with these friends, and I will always invite them along on any of my trips. However, as much as I love my friends, if I can’t have them as my companions (which is often the case these days since we all have different lives at the moment), then I’m still going.
Don’t cancel your trip just because your travel partner canceled on you. I recently met a guy who was supposed to come traveling with a few other people and they all canceled, but he still decided to go. It was his first time traveling alone and afterward he said it was the best trip he had ever been on. He was so glad that he ended up traveling alone because he met a lot more people than he would have if he had been traveling with a group. And those friends that were supposed to join him? Well, after seeing his pictures, they were messaging him saying how jealous they were of him and how they wished they would have come along.
If you are choosing a friend to travel with, let me give you some advice: first off, keep in mind that it can be difficult. Find someone who likes the same activities as you. Try to find someone who has similar eating and partying habits as you. Give it a trial run: try traveling with that person for a weekend before committing to weeks or months at a time. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out, go alone. Try it for yourself. Maybe you’ll agree that it is refreshing to be able to do whatever you want while you travel.
Something else that is important to do when traveling alone is to do the things you would have done had you had company. Want to go on that kayaking trip but it only offers double kayaks? Show up alone and find a partner to go in your kayak with you. What if there is an odd number of people? Well, then maybe the guide will join you in your boat and you’ll learn more than you would have about the area than you would have with anyone else. You should have all the experiences that you want to have regardless of who you’re with. Sure, meeting some friends at the hostel to join you may be better, but if no one wants to join you, be your own best friend.
You can have as much freedom and flexibility traveling alone as you want and you can meet as many people as you feel like meeting. Just don’t miss out on anything that you want to do because you’re afraid of being alone.
Keep in mind: