“Are you going by yourself?”
“But…how do you do that?”
“I get on the plane. And I go. By myself.”
I’ve had this conversation about 900 times. Do I not have any friends? Am I crazy? Am I getting deported? Why am I going alone?
It’s simple. To me, travel is a personal experience. It’s a chance to learn about yourself; who you are and what you want from life. It allows you to see how different the world is and to put your life in perspective. When you remove yourself from your life back home, you’re able to take that time to reflect and see things in your life a little differently. However, when you take a bit of home with you (i.e. a friend), that becomes a lot harder to do.
And then, when you are alone, there are no limitations. You can go north or south, by boat or by train, you can just sit on the street for the whole day and watch the world go by. There are no rules, no one hour lunch breaks. There’s no one else to worry about and no one checking up on you. You can eat whatever you want and sleep wherever you want. For once, you can finally just ask yourself what you want to do today, and then do it. In the process, you’ll learn things about yourself that will surprise even you.
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready.”
–Henry David Thoreau
One very common reason people have for not travelling is “I don’t have anyone to go with.”
That’s not a reason. It doesn’t even make sense. Are airlines only selling double passes now? Is there a buy one get one free sale? Let’s get real. It’s an excuse, and not a very good one.
I get you, though. I’ll be the first to admit – that first solo trip is pretty tough. You wonder what on earth you’re doing. You’re afraid you’ll have no friends and you’ll be sitting in your hotel room watching TV for two weeks. I know, because I’ve been there. Trust me.
My first solo trip was to Málaga, Spain, four years ago. I went there to take a language course, thinking it would be cool adventure to tell my grandchildren. As soon as I got to my room I just lay on the bed for five hours, staring at the ceiling. I fell asleep. I woke up and stared some more.
“I want to go home,” I thought.
I was terrified to leave my room. I wondered who would be out there, what I would say to them. I wanted to eat dinner but I didn’t want to sit in a restaurant by myself. I’d look stupid. I didn’t even know if there was a restaurant nearby. Maybe I’d walk too far and I’d get lost. Maybe people would look at me funny. I couldn’t even speak Spanish! How would I order my food, or ask for directions? My stomach was growling, but I just couldn’t get myself to get up and go.
In the end, I didn’t eat dinner that night. I stayed in my room, watched TV on my laptop and went back to sleep.
Needless to say, things got better. But the only reason things got better was because I started making them better. And I only started making them better because I had to start making them better. If I sat in my room all day, no one would’ve cared. No one would’ve even known. There was no best friend there to come knocking on my door, to hang out with all day, to talk to at lunch, to go on trips with. The only person I had to depend on was myself.
I started being more sociable. It was uncomfortable at first, but I did it. I made an effort to talk to people and introduce myself. I got to know all my classmates. I learned to say YES to every invitation, no matter what is was for or where we were going. Slowly, I started to see a different side of me. I loved meeting new people, learning new things. I found a new enthusiasm for life. And in the midst of it, I suddenly realised how constrained and limited my life had been back home.
By the end of five weeks, I felt completely at home in Málaga. I remember sitting in the taxi on the way to the airport, trying to talk to my driver who couldn’t speak a word of English. In my broken Spanish, we talked about his wife and kids, his hobbies, what it was like to grow up on the coast. I was amazed that we actually understood each other.
I stared out the window and thought about all the things I’d learned, how different I felt and how much I’d changed in such a short time. Just five weeks earlier I had been a frightened idiot too scared to leave my room to eat. Now I was chatting in a new language with a complete stranger and had made a whole new network of friends from all around the world. When it came time to board the plane, I was crushed to leave, but I was so thankful for the inspiration. Just one short trip led to so many positive changes in my life, ultimately leading me to the journey that I’m on today.
“We cannot expect to grow if we are too afraid or unwilling to change and face challenges. When we exit our everyday, mundane lifestyles to do something different we can experience growth, undiscovered strength, and new abilities within ourselves.”
People will ask, do you really need to go alone? Can’t you take someone with you? Won’t it be just as awesome?
Well, yes. I’ve travelled with friends and it was a lot of fun. But when you have someone with you, it’s just not the same. You have to agree on where to eat, where to sleep. You need to discuss what sights to see, how long you’ll stay. In times of uncertainty or loneliness you have someone to depend on and seek comfort in. More often than not, you will learn more about your travel buddy than you will learn about yourself. There will always be compromises, and whenever you compromise you are, by definition, settling for something less than what you truly want.
For that reason, I always encourage people to travel alone at least once in their life. An adventure with no limitations, no excuses and no compromises. It might be the scariest thing you’ve ever done, but if you do it, I can promise you three things:
- It’ll be one trip you’ll never forget.
- You’ll return home a completely different person than you were before, and people will notice it.
- You’ll want to do it again.
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Travelling alone has probably been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I feel like a completely different person than I was 4 years ago. I believe in myself now. I can depend on myself. I’m not afraid to chase my dreams and try and build the life I want. If something seems hard or awkward, I’ll do it anyway. Failure excites me. I want to learn and grow. I see everything differently than I used to, and I don’t need alcohol or television or video games to have fun. When I need to, I am able to simply sit in silence and just enjoy the company of myself. The world has become a completely different place.
Have you travelled alone before? Did you love it? Hate it? What’s your experience? Let me know in the comments below!