The art of travelling alone
Ready for a week-long trip or a round the world adventure but can't seem to muster any of your busy friends? Or simply want to spend some quality time exploring a new place on your own? Here, blogger Suzanne Bearne explains why travelling alone can be one of the most rewarding experiences.
Leaving Blighty for a year-long round the world adventure or a three-month career break may not seem like the most ludicrous idea for a twenty-something female but when you it comes up in conversation that you’re doing it on your own, some friends screw up their faces in surprise. ‘On your own? But anything could happen,’ is often the response as they conjure up images of you fending for yourself in a foreign city.
Throw other people’s dismay aside. I’d urge anyone to travel alone. I’m a seasoned solo traveller. Eight years ago, fresh out of university, I hoofed off for my first solo trip of 15 months around the globe. Two years later, a few weeks around Eastern Europe. Last year, South America for nearly four months.
The advantages are endless: you’re not tied down to anyone. You can plan the most weird and unusual trips and change them at a moment’s notice without worrying how your friend will feel. If you decide to scrap visiting that village outside Rio to lie on a beach instead, so be it. No one is going to argue.
And you know what? Just because you’re travelling alone doesn’t mean you’ll be lonely. Because really, you’re never alone, not if you don’t want to be. There’s always someone in the hostel, in the bar bar or on that day trip that you inevitably ending up sharing your travel stories with. And then, as is the traveller circuit, there’s a high chance that when you check in at that next hostel or you’re when dancing the night away in Rio’s Lapa you’ll bump into them again. Or, if end up having fun together, you might just join forces for the next leg of your adventure.
I’ve made lifelong friends during my travels and gained experiences that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had travelling with a friend or part of a group. I’d take bets that there’s a higher chance of mingling with the locals when it's just you.
Take for instance my experience with Danielle, a sweet nineteen-year-old Bolivian girl I asked for directions when I was meandering around Sucre. She happily directed me to my destination, San Felipe Neri, a local church with wonderful vistas, and walked away. Ten seconds later she was by my side. ‘Can I take you there?’ she asked, before explaining that she’d like to practice her English. The answer was: of course.
Danielle proved to be quite the teacher, informing me about the history of the church while we swapped overviews of our lives. At the top of the church we clogged up my memory card with dozens of snaps of the hundreds of white buildings and terracotta rooftops filling the city. A few days later, Danielle was my local tour guide once again, showing me the grand tombs at the city’s cemetery Cementerio General. Would I have had the luxury of such experiences if I were travelling with a friend or in a group? I seriously doubt it.
On the flipside, I’d be lying to say I’ve not enjoyed the company of a friend or partner during my travels. Last year Ellie, one of my best friends who I met on the East Coast of Australia way back in 2004, joined me for the Inca Trail. When my legs tired, she was there to encourage me. Every now and again we’ll reminisce about the ups and downs of that incredible, but tough, journey.
If you’ve not jetted out on your own before, do take the time out to try it out, whether that’s a month-long trip to India or a weekend in Scotland. My instinct is you’ll be rewarded.
Suzanne Bearne is a freelance journalist specialising in retail, digital and travel. She’s also a travel blogger and can be found blogging at www.devotedtotravel.wordpress.com and tweeting at sbearne.