During 2010, as I traveled alone through France, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina, I regularly encountered people who find it courageous to travel alone. I remember a hairstylist in Bogota. As she blow-dryed my hair, she told me she couldn’t picture it. I asked her why. She couldn’t really say. So it goes. For most people, traveling alone is unimaginable.
Traveling alone still gives me a thrill, but it’s not scary anymore, I’ve done it so much. Traveling alone can be occasionally lonely, yes. I have felt pangs of loneliness at times. Scary, in South America or Europe, rarely. It’s easy to meet people when you travel alone if you stay at hostels and hook up with couchsurfing, a global network of travelers who support each other through hosting and advice. People think that couchsurfing is only for finding a place to stay, but it’s also for making friends. Go to the “groups” section and find the city you’re visiting, find out what people in the couchsurfing community are planning. Post a message saying that you are coming to town, does anyone have advice or want to have coffee? Couchsurfing members are astonishingly friendly and helpful.
Here are five reasons to travel alone, some classic, some idiosyncratic. There are also reasons to travel with a romantic partner or with friends. Each experience is unique, but traveling alone is undoubtedly rich. Add yours in the comments.
1. Learn how to make decisions. For me, traveling alone was one crash course in making decisions–just keep on rolling the dice and see what comes up. Stop the research. Stop the analysis paralysis. Just keep choosing and living. In travel, everything is as it is, and there’s always another day to change course and choose again. A lot more happens in life when you stop worrying about what to do and just go. That problem dogged me in the year before I made the decision to travel. I was so freaked out by the idea of putting my life in storage and jumping off the known career path that I pondered the decision to death. I planned to travel only four months and wound up going for over a year. Once I got started I didn’t want to stop.
2. Openness to the world. The sense of risk and heightened reward is what draws me to traveling alone. Traveling with a friend can be an adventure too, but the adventure quotient is usually higher when you are alone. You’re more vulnerable in the sense that you have to seek out company and help. There is a lucky charm in traveling alone. My friend Mark lived in Rio for three years right by the beach in Ipanema. On a solo trip to Rio I stayed with him and he jokingly told me he could always spot the solo travelers by the red streaks on their backs: the spot they couldn’t reach themselves with sunscreen. Apt observation and probably true for some solo travelers but not all. But hey, just because I’m traveling alone doesn’t mean I can’t ask a hunky Carioca volleyball player to put sunscreen on the hard-to-reach places. That’s the advantage of traveling alone, isn’t it? Openness to adventure. 🙂
3. The grace of trusting in strangers. Traveling alone also teaches you to trust your fellow men and women. They are the ones who help you out when you are in need. I will never forget the man who stopped a long-distance bus for me in Colombia so he could go buy me Coke and toilet paper (I confessed to him that I had “digestive” issues right before we got on the bus). Then he invited me to his family’s home for lunch, and I still get emails from the family saying they will never forget me. I have had similar experiences all over Brazil and Colombia. The kindness and welcoming spirit is unbelievable.
4. Star in your own movie. When you travel alone, the trip is completely yours. You are the star of your own movie. All the mistakes are yours to make, the serendipitous discoveries to enjoy, and the insights to savor. The recollection of the trip is entirely personal and private. Even though I have blogged extensively about my travels, there is no one who was along the whole journey with me who can say what it was all about. Some people prefer to share memories and make meaning from the trip together. That is beautiful as well, but there is also a soul-searching power in doing an odyssey on your own.
When we set out on an extended travel by ourselves, we may not know why we are going when we begin, and it may only be clear when we come back. When you finally understand the narrative of your solo trip, it’s your secret.5. A new best friend (or love) 4-eva. In a whole year of travel, I made a new best friend who I know will be a friend for life. We will be at each other’s weddings if we get married, we coach each other through our post-(or newly)-travel lives, and we hope to meet up for other adventures in Africa, Asia, and to dance tango in Buenos Aires. We spent close to two months together in Cali, and we met up again in Buenos Aires for two more months. Our friendship is pure gold and we have both helped each other grow in innumerable ways. That openness to a new friend might not have been there if I had already been traveling with someone else. And who knows? You might meet the love of your life. Thataforementioned friend did actually . . . .
This post gave me so much joy and comfort. Thank you.
All so true! This was just what I needed to read right now, thank you!
i wanted to cry when i read this post! thank you for sharing this. <3 i love the freedom and the things i learn and people i meet from travelling alone, and wish i could go places more and by myself. it just sucks that in our culture, people think it’s crazy that a girl would wanna go even just to a neighboring country unchaperoned. i’m 23 and my father still goes ballistics because of this. lol. anyway, thank you for sharing your experiences. i’m falling in love with your blog! <3
I enjoy traveling alone, but I’ve hit the point of having a bit of envy for people who have someone to babysit their carryons so they don’t have to schlep it to the airport restroom and back.
I loved this post and going to share. It reasonated with me as I travelled to Italy alone last year and loved the feeling of being able to do what I want when I want without having to pander to the needs of others.
Traveling alone should DEFINITELY be a mandatory life experience! While abroad in college, a good friend told me I wasn’t allowed to come home until I took one trip by myself. I ended up going off by myself twice and it was the greatest, most liberating thing I have ever done. As a shy person, I tend to take the backseat in a group even of my closest friends. I was so pleasantly surprised with myself because of the people I met, the conversations I had, and the risks I took. It also helped me realize I was completely capable of understanding a map by myself 🙂 I didn’t go longer than 9 days, which I think is a perfect amount of time just to test it out and get your feet wet, but I can’t wait to go back for more!
openness and independent are the two words i love the most apart from being alone sometimes on my own…
the thought process becomes stronger as you tread alone the global path meeting strange people(mostly lovely and wonderful souls) with lots of surprises around the corner.
lovely post..you speak my heart
I have been solo traveling for almost 20 years now and still relish my lone ventures. As I read this article and then the associated comments I kept thinking, I want to be her friend, and her friend, too. Although I like traveling solo, somehow I think it would be awfully fun to travel with any of you!
This was really nice to read. I’m constantly debating with myself when to leave for extended traveling, and of course, since I’d be doing it alone, I can talk myself in and out of it at any time. This was somewhat comforting to read. Now if that financial aspect wasn’t so daunting…
What if I want to travel fo 3 days ??
I envy you for being brave to travel alone. I wished that I am like you. Sigh.
i would love to begin traveling alone… what are some great ways to get started??
any info is much appreciated!
love from texas!
Belonging to a moderately liberal/conservative Muslim family, and the youngest of three sisters travelling to the United States of America was near to impossible but after much convincing and planning my father agreed to send me last December from Pakistan all by myself to the fair ground of sin – Las Vegas (where I was staying at my best friends) and I can’t begin to tell you what a life changing experience it was. From the moment I set foot out of the comfort of my father’s sheltered/protective shadow it was liberating and the amount of things I learnt along the way was unbelievable. The people I met, the journey in itself was full of energy albeit scary moments but I was confident nothing would go wrong. I was at my happiest best after I returned. I am now contemplating my second trip to New York.
Loved your post, Sasha. I wish I had started travelling before when I was younger. At that time, I was at the University, and raising my children. Last year I made my first long trip alone and headed to Ecuador. I did try to go with a friend but they simply laughed at what they called my “odd backpacker style”. This because I prefer hostels and B&B rather than expensive all inclusives, and I love to walk and use public transport which enables me to feel the country and its locals. It seems I should be ashamed of these “inappropriate conducts” inadequate for a female my age…
A was a bit scared but had a wonderful experience in Galapagos and Ecuador. Took some fantastic photos and felt so confident and happy when I came back to Buenos Aires.
Equatorians were helpful , friendy and respectful though they kept asking :” Where did you leave your husband?” (Divorced middle aged are not supposed to travel alone… )
After reading your post I think I will consider a second journey this time to Costa Rica. I have seen amazing pictures!
Thanks again. Besos y abrazos desde Buenos Aires 🙂
Hey , loved reading your post, how did you get started travelling? I’ve been looking at tours with STA travel but they seem really expensive – do you think its cheaper to organise yourself? I’m planning to go to America from los angeles to new york via the deep south . I’m 24 and don’t really have a group of friends to go with so am going to go it alone! 🙂
Love your post. Can really identify with all 5 points as I recently returned from a year of travelling solo in and around Australia.
Travelling alone has made me a better person, and given me the confidence to do anything. I am currently planning an 8 month stint around South America!
Cheers from Toronto, Canada
I’m thinking about going to Brazil alone this summer and reading this made me want to leave right now 🙂 Occasionally I have doubts about traveling alone and I have a feeling that everyone thinks I’m crazy for wanting to do it. But this is inspiring me to go for it! It’s my dream to travel and I feel like I need to just jump in or else I’ll never go. Thanks!
I love this post! I have and always will be a solo traveler!
Being introverted makes it difficult for me to be with someone.
People give me a “pity” nod when they learn I’m traveling alone. I reply “Don’t! I’ll happier then you’ll ever know!”
Cheers from Vancouver!
All SO true, Sasha! As you know, I have done much the same. I blogged about discovering reason #4 on your list, except I called it being “the hero(ine) in my own movie.” One of the things I also noted about my experience (presumably there will be more when I have completed *my* healing process — oh, the parallels!), was that people initially treated me like some sort of deviant when I said I was going off alone. But once I went, I had all KINDS of support and encouragement cheering me on. (Blogged about this phenomenon also.) While traveling alone is certainly not for everybody, I think many people secretly desire to just chuck it and GO; yet few actually believe that such a decision is available to them. I think so many of us make limiting mistakes in hanging onto those beliefs. It is all about choices, and priorities. You and I are wired for experiences and adventure and connection, and so, we must go.
“You and I are wired for experiences and adventure and connection, and so, we must go.”
Love it Rebecca.
Yes it takes two to Tango. But #2 is there, and astounding.
Dancing with a former Russian Ballerina — shockingly perfect.
The body doesn’t lie. The physical intelligence, attention to detail, and grace was thrilling.
Like I am telling you, Sasha. You know it in the ways that can’t be expressed in words.
Ah yes! And don’t forget there are quirkytango things (workshops and retreats) to come. https://sashacagen.com/adventures