Traveling alone (a.k.a solo travel)

On all of my longer, bigger trips I’ve traveled by myself. On the trips where I’ve mostly slept in hostels, carried 20 kg backpack, needed visas, boarded a lot of flights, been sick or away for more than two weeks, I’ve traveled alone.  But for the weekend getaways in Europe I’ve always had company!

There is a word for traveling alone that I only encountered when I started reading travel blogs and connected with travel bloggers and travel-minded people in Twitter. They’re calling it solo travel.

At first solo travel sounded a bit off to me. I mean, it’s a logical, nice and beautiful way to say someone is traveling alone, by themselves. But to me, it sounded like covering up. Like saying “I’m traveling alone” would make you pathetic person with no friends whereas “I’m a solo traveler” was something you could be proud of. The term has grown on me since and it makes sense to use it but when I can, I tend not to.

My first trip by myself was my six-month working holiday in Australia in 2006-2007. I was 24 when I started the trip and had not traveled anywhere by myself before. I don’t think I had even spent one night in a hotel by myself. Or anywhere besides my own home for that matter.  And I had not even lived alone to that moment; I’d moved straight from my parent’s house to live with my then-current-boyfriend.

Blue Mountains, Australia NSW, 2007

Happy girl at sunset in Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia after a long day of hiking alone.

Thinking back now, I think I should have been terrified about going alone. Leaving home, friends, family, everything behind and traveling by myself. But I can’t remember it that way. Sure I was terrified. So, so terrified. But not about being alone. (My prior-travel anxieties are a whole another post topic).

What it came down to for me was that I needed to go. I wanted to travel. I ached to do that for me. Maybe it would have been nice to have company, a friend to tag along but the lack of that someone was not going to stop me from going. It was the time for me to travel and just the fact that it wasn’t that time for any of my friends was not enough of a reason to postpone my trip.

And I am so thankful and happy that I did go alone. Being alone was exactly the thing that made the trip into what it was.

Traveling alone for that first time and for such a long period of time (it was and still is long period of time for me) also kind of defined travel for me. Travel is a freedom, state of mind and an adventure. It’s living now and not “what if”. I’ve done two major trips by myself since then and loved them as well.

Pros and cons of traveling alone

When you’re traveling alone, you’re actually rarely alone. At least not when you’re staying in hostels (which is something I recommend all solo travelers to do!). There is always someone to talk to (usually somebody talks to you even when you’d rather be left alone) and you really don’t need to be an overly social person to that to happen (I know I’m not). I’ve met such great people in hostels and formed lasting friendships with people I happened to have drinks with in a hostel bar.

Another way to meet people is taking part in tours. No matter whether it’s a three-hour tour or a week long one, you’re bound to speak with other tour members and most likely find someone you get along with.

And sometimes alone is a good thing. There’s no one to blame for your own bad mood (it gets boring pretty soon to be angry alone, misery loves company you know), nobody to nag about your plan for the day and nobody saying “I told you so” when you choose the wrong street and end up walking for an extra two kilometers. You don’t have to make any compromises, you can choose what to do, where to go and when. The freedom and independence of it makes traveling alone so great.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech, 2008

The beautiful town of Cesky Krumlov, Czech

But I’m not saying it’s all “happy happy joy joy” traveling alone either. Even when you’re meeting new people and even though there is always someone to talk to, there are times when you definitely wish someone you knew (and someone who knows you) was traveling with you. I’ve had those moments during my travels, and mostly they come when I’m seeing, experiencing or visiting somewhere or something that totally blows my mind, is special to me, gives me strong feelings. That’s when I wish someone dear and close to me was sharing that moment with me because only them would know how I feel, what that moment means to me.

And I also wish someone was traveling with me when I get sick on the road. That’s always a very lonely time.

I’ve also been extremely lucky: I’ve never been harassed, mugged, robbed, neither have I ever felt unsafe during my travels. I think this is mostly because I’ve traveled in fairly safe western countries (only 3 + weeks in Asia and couple short days in eastern Europe) but also because I’ve never traveled with anything too expensive and never felt insecure either (it shows and the bad guys sense it). And maybe being slightly older than the average backpacker already on my first trip has given me some security as well. I guess I’ve also had some kind of guardian angel so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the future.

Give it a try

Traveling alone is something I strongly recommend to everybody who is passionate about traveling. If you haven’t traveled alone yet or if you would want to travel but haven’t got a friend to go with, just go alone. Just try it once, maybe just for a week. If you find it not to be your thing, then that’s fine. But what you might find instead is something new and wonderful about yourself, how little credit you’ve given yourself or what you really are capable of. All pretty good things, eh?

Cape Foulwind, South Island, NZ, 2010

I'm the Queen of the World! 😉

So I’ve done solo travel, next for me is traveling as a couple. I think I’m just as scared about that as some people are about traveling alone. Any comforting tips?

This post was inspired by an article in (featuring @20sTravel, @BlueLollipopRd and more ) that was brought to my attention by @Tareksway)

by Mari in Thoughts and stories

2 Responses to / Vastaukset Traveling alone (a.k.a solo travel)

  1. Wouter

    While I was in London last week, I found myself thinking about this subject. In most parts I agree with your findings about solo travel / travelling alone. But I realised something else: in London I was in my own and barely in touch with other travellers, either in the hostel or elsewhere. So I really was travelling alone.
    While I was travelling in New Zealand, I was on my own, but never truly alone. Wherever I went, I chatted with other people and sometimes travelled together for a while.
    So I thought that that may be a difference between being a ‘solo traveller’ or ‘travelling alone’: whether you truly keep to your self or you’re continuously in touch with other travellers.
    Or maybe it’s just the same and it depends on your own mood ^^ Just something I was thinking about 🙂

    • Mari

      I see your point. I think your state of mind, your mood at the time plays a big role, but it might also have something to do with the length of your trip? When you’re traveling for a longer period of time, you have time to hang out in the hostel. You cook more often so you meet people in the kitchen. You write a journal, or sit by the computer. Maybe watch movies in the common room. On a shorter trip you usually don’t because you have a limited time to go out and about to explore the place you’re visiting.

Add a comment / Kirjoita kommentti