Telling people I spent four months travelling solo in South America prompted a range of reactions and quite a few misconceptions. But what surprised and even saddened me was the number of people who said: “Oh, I could never do that. I wouldn’t be brave enough.” This genuinely seems to be holding people back from embarking on solo travel – they miss out on amazing travel opportunities because they are frightened of going alone. Now, solo travel is by no means an obligation, but neither should it be feared. So, here’s the truth of solo travel, at least the way I see it.
“You must be so brave”
Not really. Stubborn, yes. Determined that I wouldn’t miss out on a great experience just because it meant going solo, yes. But the truth is, I was terrified in the few days before I left the country. I wondered what the hell I was doing, whether I would cope and whether I would actually enjoy it. But I had a volunteer placement set up, so my trip began in a family home, with a job to do and people all around me. I was still a little nervous about hitting the road by myself and actually ‘travelling’, but once I flew the safety of my Peruvian nest, I realised it wan’t so bad. I went from day to day, learning how this new life worked. It’s no different in this sense to any new experience: the unknown is always a bit frightening and we all have to deal with it at various points in our lives. Once you adapt to being a ‘solo traveller‘, you find your rhythm and it feels natural. And when you have it figured out, you feel like you can achieve anything in the world.
“Isn’t it lonely?”
I was always sceptical of those gung-ho types who proclaimed that solo travel was brilliant, fabulous and not a bit lonely. I was worried that I would be very lonely, going from place to place all by myself. I am comfortable in my own company for a short amount of time, but I need the company of others to be at my happiest. Fortunately, I can honestly say that in four months, I probably spent less than five days on my own. I met people all the time, everywhere I went – sometimes other travellers, sometimes locals. I nearly always had someone to chat to, have dinner with, or go on trips with. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have met half the people I did had I been travelling with someone else. Many of the people I met have influenced or even changed my life. Ocasionally, very ocasionally, I did find myself alone and, yes, lonely. But anytime this happened, fate had a way of sending someone along and stopped me being lonely.
“What if you get lost/stuck/in some kind of trouble?”
Travel does not always go smoothly; there will be challenges to overcome. But once you get over any inhibitions that stop you talking to complete strangers, help is always at hand, even if all you need is a shoulder to cry on. Despite what some news reporters and sweeping cultural generalisations would have you believe, most people are kind, decent folk willing to help you out. You have to be resourceful as well and learn quickly how to think on your feet, but you will get yourself out of trouble. I got stuck, lost and cross on various occasions, but I’m not still stuck, lost or even cross, so it does work out in the end.
“I wouldn’t want to eat in a restaurant alone”
This seems to be a deep human instinct, the one thing that is singled out more often than any other and many of us, including me, have a real dread of eating dinner alone in a public place. I did not want to do this at all. So generally, I didn’t. I found that solo lunches were fine and actually quite enjoyable, especially a large buffet restaurants which had communal tables, where people would come together, have lunch and exchange conversation. Dinner was a different matter. Most of the time, I either had people to have dinner with, or I cooked for myself. I made friends on the road all the time – something that was much easier than I thought it would be – and fellow travellers are always looking for dinner companions. I have a lot of treasured memories from these impromptu dinner dates. But once, in Uyuni, Bolivia, I found myself alone, hungry and with no cooking facilities, so I had to go to a restaurant by myself. I felt conspicuous sitting down alone, but then I became aware of British voices at the table next to me. It was a group of four, who had apparently just met one another, so I grabbed my drink, gathered my courage and, wondering if I sounded like a nutter, I introduced myself. Just like that, I had a whole group of people to have dinner with.
“I could never do that”
Maybe it’s due to the above perceptions, but people have said this to me. Maybe they think I posess some special powers that they don’t; I wish I did! Yes, it’s a daunting prospect, but if you want to get out there and see the world, completely unrestricted, then do it. Take a deep breath and take the first step. You can do it. Solo travel takes a leap of faith, but it is the best thing I ever did. It is a rich and rewarding experience and you don’t need any special powers, just a little bit of resolve and self-belief.
What are your thoughts on Solo Travel?