Whenever I mention that I’m heading out on a trip, usually the first question is if I’m going with friends.
I say no, I’m going alone.
And the other person usually looks really shocked or wildly impressed.
I have to admit, that I love this reaction. I find it incredibly amusing that people find this so odd, and the look never ceases to get old.
I didn’t set out to travel solo at first, but just sort of fell into it. After years of waiting around for friends who were “very interested” in potential vacations, but who suddenly went MIA when the time came to buy tickets, I finally said F*** it and bought a ticket on my own. I decided at that moment that I would no longer wait around for life to happen, I had to make it happen myself. And so away I went, with little more than a plane ticket and a place to stay.
There is something strangely exhilarating to get on a plane, to a country you’ve never been to, where you likely don’t speak the language, and just wing it. Please note, that “wing it” for Lauren involves doing weeks of research and planning but only book a few hostels and tours prior to arrival. I’ve always been a planner so forcing myself to be open to anything is sometimes a challenge. But oh so worth it.
Circumstances forced me to travel alone, but I quickly realized that it is one of the absolute best ways to travel. And I’m so so grateful for the trips I’ve been able to take solo.
First of all, travelling alone forces you to exit your comfort zone. In the past you may have relied on someone else to help you figure out how to get somewhere or decide on which bar to party at, but this time around it’s all you. You are completely responsible for yourself. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to find yourself successfully navigating the Paris metro on your own or finding a way to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. These may sound like small feats, but they leave you feeling like anything is possible. Trying new things when you’re surrounded by your friends is much less intimidating than doing it on your own, but you often reap less of the reward. It takes courage to do things on your own, and I feel like these acts of bravery change you. They leave you a more confident and open human being. I know I grew so much from my first solo trip, and continue to with each one that follows.
Another great thing about solo trips is that you are willing and much more open to making new friends. Some people think that getting on a plane alone means you’ll be spending the whole trip alone, and that couldn’t be further from the truth! Throughout my journeys I’ve met tons of solo travellers, who are all looking to make friends—people to site see with, people to enjoy a cup of coffee with, or go partying at night with. Many of the people I’ve met I’ve stayed in touch with…there is one guy that I talk to nearly every day, even though he is 9 hours ahead in time zone. Others have invited me to stay at their homes if I’m ever in Sao Paulo, Melbourne, Bombay, and more.
When you travel with friends, you are often coming from the same culture and background. But when you travel with new friends from different countries, you open yourself up to learning about new cultures, new people, new languages, and customs. It makes you a more worldly human being, and forces you to see the world in a different light than you may have previously.
You’d be surprised how little language skill you need to share in order to make a new friend. Everyone laughs, dances, and smiles in the same language. The people you meet on your journeys are like you—curious about the world, passionate about travel, eager to learn—similarities that tie you together, in spite of cultural barriers.
When you travel alone, you see the world differently than when you are with people. Have you ever gone to a movie by yourself? It’s a totally different experience than when you are with people. When you’re with your friends, you’re often talking and filling the silent—which is great, and can lead to some really interesting discussions, but you may also be distracted. You may miss something wonderful because you’re busy being social. Solo travel leads to a lot of inner reflection and thought. You’re more open to learning about different cultures when you’re not pre-occupied with the social aspect of your trip.
And finally, when you travel alone, you can do exactly what YOU want to do the entire time. There are no discussions or making compromises in terms of your itinerary. You get to see the sites that are important to you and focus on whatever sort of adventure you want to have. For example, I LOVE castles, while a friend may not have been willing to pay $250 for a Day Trip to the Loire Valley to see a bunch of chateaus, that was really high up on my list. I was willing to splurge for something I was excited about and didn’t have to get anyone else to approve it!
Now don’t all go uninviting your friends at once. I’m sure sharing a wonderful travel experience with someone you care about can be a wonderful thing. I’m just saying, don’t wait around to travel just because you don’t have someone to go with. Go explore the world and eventually someone will see how much fun you’re having and ask to join you!