Back in 2014, I got to travel by myself for the first time. When I first brought up the idea with my parents and my boyfriend, all of them were aghast at the prospect. “Out of the question,” they protested, “it’s dangerous for unmarried young women to travel alone. Besides, who will you talk to and who will carry your stuff?” Being a stubborn introvert, I plunged ahead with my plans anyway, and had a glorious time hopping around London and beyond on my lonesome for ten whole days. And given the chance, I’d do it all over again.
For a lot of Filipinos, especially for women, traveling alone is a daunting task. Many of us are frightened at the thought of having to rely on ourselves for the entire journey. My experience with solo travel, on the other hand, tells me that there are so many wonderful things that could happen when you make that leap of faith and venture on your own, and the following are just a handful of them:
1. You get to go on YOUR dream vacation, and no one else’s.
If you’ve ever traveled with family members or friends, the following scenario is all too familiar: Someone suggests visiting, say, Japan as a group. Once everyone agrees, there’s a mad scramble to figure out if everyone’s free on a certain day, and because it takes so long to confirm everyone’s schedules, the suggested date passes by without anyone making any concrete plans.
Another disadvantage to traveling with someone is that you constantly need to compromise. Not even the closest BFF’s are interested in exactly the same things. So, you may have to eschew trekking all the way to that hole in the wall that serves the most amazing pad thai if your companion is more absorbed in getting the best bargains at Bangkok’s flea markets.
When you fly solo, though, you don’t have to wait for anyone or consider anyone else’s opinion if you feel like spending the day exploring the beautiful ruins of an ancient abbey or ringing in the wee hours shopping in Dongdaemun’s AM/PM malls. For perhaps the first time in your life, your opinion and your wants are the only things that matter.
And that, right there, is why solo travel can be so addictive.
2. It gets easier to make new friends.
If you want to, that is. The beauty of being a solo traveler is that you can be as sociable or as reserved as you want, and you can even be both things throughout the course of your travels.
Traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean traveling lonely. When you go out for meals, you can pick a seat at the bar or with a view of the kitchens so you can chat with the bartender, the cook, or perhaps even your waiter. I had a lovely conversation with mine at a lunch back in England, and he even presented me with a little pastry box afterwards. Most of the time, a friendly smile and bit of small talk is all it takes for them to open up.
You can also sign up for a cooking class or a guided museum tour, and thus meet people who share similar interests. Who knows? You may just come home from the trip with quite a few more additions to your wall of Facebook friends.
Wary of sharing personal details with a complete stranger? Make them up. You might even get a little thrill out of pretending to be someone else with a person whom you’ll probably never meet again.
3. You really connect with a place.
If you’ve always wanted to truly get to know a certain destination the way the locals do, going it alone could be your best option. Since you would be responsible for no one but yourself, you’ll be a lot less inhibited about going into little side streets and discovering a curious new shop or a quaint little eatery that might have escaped your notice if you were traveling with a group or with someone else who isn’t as adventurous.
Being on your own also frees up your observation skills. You won’t have to keep up the endless chatter with your companion/s, so you can simply stand or sit still and let your senses bask in all the strange, natural beauty surrounding you.
4. Staying within your budget gets more manageable.
Even if you travel with your spouse whom you share a joint account with or with a friend who is pretty much within the same tax bracket, money is always a pressure point between travel companions. You will simply have different priorities when it comes to spending your hard-earned bucks. For you, splurging on a nice hotel might be worth it, but your friend or your husband might prefer to spend the same amount on nice meals throughout your trip instead.
The peer pressure effect too, can make you end up spending more than you planned. If your friends all purchase a particular souvenir, you may be inclined to do the same even if you don’t really need or want the said item.
While solo travel can be more expensive since you have no one to split expenses with, it also invests you with sole control over your budget. So, unless you go crazy, you’ll probably be better equipped to stick to your budget and be far happier about what you spend it on to boot.
5. Self-confidence gets quite a boost during solo trips.
The scariest thing about solo travel is also the most rewarding: facing challenges on your own. Having to navigate your way through unfamiliar territory (with no English language signs in sight. Yikes!), attempting to explain an injury to a nurse or doctor in broken French or Mandarin, and even trying to order a meal that doesn’t contain sheep’s lungs or goat innards when you don’t understand half the menu are all instances that a lone traveler can face.
Such events can be terrifying, yes, but you also can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment once you get through them. This is why people who survive traveling alone often come home feeling like they can do just about anything, and who wouldn’t want that?