Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Advantages of Solo Travel
The advantages of solo travel as I've experienced them:
No conflicting opinions
Eat when you want and sleep when you want. Travelling alone means you're on your schedule and yours alone. I find this so liberating. I stop when I'm tired and I snack when I'm hungry. Some nights I'll have a pina colada on a Sri Lankan beach if I feel like it, others I won't and I'll never feel pressured to. Travelling solo truly gives you the freedom to do what you like when you like, with nobody in the world to tell you that you shouldn't. And as an added bonus, you will never ever ever get in a fight over directions.
I was definitely glad to be travelling solo when I was hitting the Brooklyn organic markets and trialling a pint of vegan ice cream every night for a week. There was nobody to tell me I shouldn't eat a bucket of ice cream in bed then sleep til noon. I enjoyed the lack of audience immensely.
Locals feel protective
I've done India in a group, with a boyfriend and alone. And somehow, the solo travel made India seem smaller. Being a solo female always draws locals to me and most are very protective, and they also seem to worry that I'm lonely. When people realise I am alone they become more interested in chatting, getting to know me and giving me advice. They look out for me, make sure I knew my train stop, have somewhere to stay and that my luggage is safe. Being alone makes you more approachable, and it makes experiencing the culture more immersive.
You get a lot of reading done!
I get most of my annual reading done on the road. At home, I'm distracted by friends and errands and my perpetual to-do list that stretches into infinity. When traveling, I have three meals a day with only my own company and many hours of buses, trains and planes to fill. Free book exchanges and cheap roadside stalls along the road make it easy to burn through an ever-changing reading list while hopping between guesthouses. I've read some life defining stories I picked up for free in book exchanges, and always come home more inspired than before I left thanks to the many hours of reading I've caught up on.
You bond more with other solo's
It's all well and good to have a drink and dinner with the other people staying in your hostel when you're travelling in a couple, but there's a different level of companionship when a solo meets another solo. It's a given that you two are now friends for as long as you have to spare for each other, whether it's one meal or a week of backpacking. You'd never split a bed with a stranger if you were travelling with friends, and you'd be missing that experience of instant friendship. Those close quarters are what come with solo travel!
You are most present
Being present in the moment is something Westerners, especially the young ones, are infamously terrible at. Unless you're an Eckhart Tolle devotee, you probably fill most of your awake time with stimulation. Texting, calls, Facebook, Instagram, reading, work, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol. Anything that stops you from sitting still at any point in time. But stillness is a practice we all should foster. Sometimes, without having a companion to mindlessly talk to, you are forced to be present in the moment. You are forced to see what is happening around you, without the distractions of pointless conversation or social media. When you are left with nothing but your thoughts, you are able to notice more about the world around you than if you were filling your time with distractions. And most importantly of all, you are forced to confront yourself.
You learn more about yourself
Spending a few months alone is a great way to learn more about yourself than you knew there was to learn. You have nobodies emotions or thoughts to consider but your own, and you'll discover facets of your personality you didn't know existed. Traveling alone means you remove the outside influence of others opinions. You live with only your perspective on what you're witnessing and experiencing. You also learn that you are enough company for yourself. You're a good self-conversationalist, and you have plenty to think about. You don't need inane chatter to fill the void, because you yourself are interesting enough. You are one small person on a very big planet, and being alone in the middle of it can give you perspective on your problems. You have absolute permission to be yourself and explore yourself. You are going to have to live with yourself for the rest of your life, take the time to get to know who you really are.
You have no choice but to overcome insecurities
It's time to get over your fears. I'm so grateful I travelled at 21 and was forced to fend for myself alone in foreign countries. Long hours travelling across a non-English speaking with just my backpack and no contact with the outside world could be confronting at times. 8 hours on a bus when I was pretty sure I was dying of altitude sickness but the only ambulance was at the end of the bus route was a fortifying experience. There was the very real chance I was going to be unconscious before I reached Kathmandu, yet I had no choice but to accept fear as part of life and continue to travel, or run home to my mother and never experience anything again.
Before solo travelling I couldn't yell at anybody. I couldn't swear at someone and tell them to get lost. I might have gotten frightened if I was lost or confused and alone. Not any more, because thanks to travel I had no option but to overcome these insecurities. The thought of being alone on a foreign street where I can't speak a word of the language isn't remotely frightening, it's homely and familiar. I'm not afraid to take up space and be seen like I was as a young girl, and I'm not afraid to make mistakes.
At 21 I realised being drunk and letting go on the dance floor wasn't true freedom. I learned that immersing yourself in a new world with only your intuition to guide you is. I love having myself for company, and after the first week I spent solo (Paris, 2012) I've never looked back.