To some, the thought of setting off into the unknown with little more than the pack on your back and a good book for company may sound like purgatory, but others wouldn’t want it any other way. So, should you travel solo, or with others?
Both ways have their own merits, yet equally, they both have their pitfalls. Having done both, here’s my take on the pros and cons of solo travel, along with tips to successfully go it alone.
First of all, let’s get really negative.
The ‘L’ Word – It is sure to vary from person to person, but every solo traveler will experience a lonely moment or two. Its inevitable. There are ways, however, to deal with this. During these periods, endeavour to be a little more proactive. If you are in an area exposed to substantial backpacker traffic then why not book on to a group tour for the day, or check into busier accommodation such as a hostel? A quick company fix may be all that’s needed to shoo away the demons.
If, however, you do have a particularly fervent social inclination, take this into account when planning the trip. It may be wise to focus more on established backpacker trails with their boundless opportunities for intercourse er, discourse. Furthermore, whilst on the road, make it a consideration when picking accommodation to look for places that have communal areas so to increase the possibilities for interaction.
Fancy Yankee Dollars – A subject close to every backpacker’s heart. Traveling solo means spending more of them. It’s all too common for many places to charge by the room, not the amount of people. Single rooms, if on a different tariff, will not usually come in that much lower than a double. Accommodation-wise, over time it does work out more expensive to travel alone than if you were to split room costs with your companion. Its fact that leaves me feeling cheated, embittered, and generally a grumpy old man – which is probably why I find myself traveling alone in the first place. There’s sometimes the option to share with others, but if its solace you want then the bullet has to be bitten. Bah, humbug.
Beast of Burden – Like hand grenades, there are other things also made for sharing. Medical kits, toiletries, and books are but three examples. But if there is no-one to share them with, you must carry them yourself.
Safety – It’s indisputable that traveling alone may involve slightly greater risk than traveling with others – but we must keep this in perspective. There will be greater safety in numbers, but, for the solo backpacker, a few extra precautions taken on the road will reduce the risks significantly. For instance, if avoidable, don’t plan to arrive in a new location at night, travel on busy public transport – preferably with other people you have become acquainted with - and attempt to blend into your surroundings as much as feasibly possible.
Your Best Friend – You will be joined at the hip (almost literally) to your pack. Where you go, it goes. There’s no leaving it at the roadside with your buddy while you pop into shops for drinks etc, or while dashing around a station looking for the right kiosk from which to buy your next bus ticket. Forward planning is needed. Do any necessary running round with your pack safely at your accommodation – it may mean checking out transport hubs a day prior to departure, and shopping for food before you leave the guesthouse – but a little prior preparation will negate this ‘backpack handicap’ considerably.
Remember though, a solo trip is not all doom and gloom. Far from it. In my opinion, embarking on a solo trip has profound positive aspects that far outweigh the few negatives.
Ok, now’s the time for the good stuff.
Independence – In the words of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart “They can take our cheap double rooms, but they can never take our freedom!” – Well, it went something like that, anyway. The liberty that one ultimately achieves from solo travel cannot be underestimated. Unfettered and free to go where you want, when you want. No debates, no compromises. Amen to that.
Make new friends – If you are on your own, you will meet more people. It’s as simple as that. A solo traveler is infinitely more approachable than an established group. In addition - from the other side of the fence, so to speak - those on their own will be much more likely to spark up a conversation with others than if they were already engaged within their own immediate sphere.
The Intimidation Game – Not only will you meet many different people, but those you meet will be more inclined to open up in a one on one situation. It’ll aid in understanding more about the people you encounter and the places, cultures, and customs within your locale. In addition, local folk may be more inclined to invite a solo traveler to eat with them, or even to put them up for the night. It’s infinitely more likely to happen than if they were one of many in a herd of backpackers.
Hitch Without Hitches – Full buses? Not a problem. One person, with one backpack, can almost always squeeze in the tiniest of corners on transport. Also, with a little encouragement, transport staff will be generally more likely to allow 1 more to hop on than if there were at least twice as many people with twice as much baggage. This goes the same for hitching and all other means of getting yourself from A to B.
Grow – This is the biggie. By its very nature, traveling solo will also play a key role in your own personal development. Not only does the solo traveler have greater time to reflect and learn more about themselves, but this obligatory self reliance will engender a great personal confidence as you learn just how much you are capable of achieving.
Going it alone isn’t for everyone - and it does have its downsides - but hopefully this low-down will enable those currently planning a trip to make a better informed decision.