I always travel alone. I go away for a weekend with a friend, and have spent the odd week abroad with my family in the past twelve months, but when I travel for an extended period, I go it alone. And it’s great.
However, this information is generally met with disbelief, and the following questions:
Won’t you get lonely?
I stay in hostels where I am surrounded by other travellers who are generally my age, friendly, and also happy to meet new people. At the bar or at breakfast, people chat to each other. Often I go out for the day with someone I’ve met in a hostel, and if we are heading on the same route, we might travel together for a while. I met a Dutch guy in Havana, with whom I travelled across Cuba for four weeks; in Cusco (Peru) I met a group of French people who I explored Southern Peru with for about two weeks; in Foz Do Iguacu (Brazil) I met a Mexican girl, who I later met up with in Buenos Aires. We travelled north through Argentina together. And on the Salt Flats in Bolivia, I got on well with the girls in my jeep. You just need to be chatty!
The benefit of travelling solo is that you can choose whether to be alone or not. Occasionally if you are tired or jet lagged, it’s nice to be by yourself. Then when you feel like some company, say ‘Hi!’ to the person in the bunk above/below/next to you, and ask them about themselves. People often have great stories, they might be from a country you’ve never been to, and they can be interesting to talk to. Being by myself means I don’t risk leaving my friend out by talking to someone else, and it encourages me to mingle more than I probably otherwise would.
Aren’t you scared? Of going to a new country? Of the unknown?
No, that is why I choose to travel. Things can of course go wrong, so I make sure I am well prepared, but I think it is exciting to set off by myself!
Isn’t (insert South American capital city here) really dangerous, especially for women?
Crime happens all over the world, even at home, and if you read what the Foreign Office says, you will never go anywhere. I am not going to let my gender, or anything else I cannot control, dictate what I do. That said, I use my common sense and do not go out alone late at night, and I try to dress how the local women dress. (How you dress should not effect how people treat you, but most developing countries are sadly yet to have had a feminist movement). Being a victim of crime is one argument against travelling alone, however I am careful and take necessary precautions.
Why don’t you go with a tour group, so they can sort out any problems?
Because I like to do things myself. While solving problems can sometimes be stressful, generally it is very rewarding and I come home from a solo trip feeling like nothing can scare me! (Apart from parallel parking, that always will.) Many a time have I bargained hard with a taxi man, argued with someone that has tried to rip me off, and answered back to sexist heckling in the street. Anybody can. Unlike being part of a tour group, being alone means I can do whatever I feel like. There is always part of a tour that is less interesting to you than the rest; I cut out the parts I don’t want to do, and I don’t have to check if anyone minds.
Travelling solo offers me complete freedom. If I arrive in a new city and I find that I don’t like it, I can book a bus the following day and go somewhere else. If I have a craving for a random food, I can spend all evening strolling, searching for the right restaurant without the other person getting bored. If I want to sleep in, I have nobody telling me that I am wasting their day.
In my view, being solo only presents benefits, and the way I travel offers me plenty of opportunity to be with people. Try it for a short trip first and you will see how brilliant it is.