Just The One Of Us: Solo Travel in 2019
According to an Instagram post of mine from late August 2017, I was flyin solo, flyin solo, solo (thank you Jason Derulo for the inspiration).
But in truth, I wasn’t really travelling ‘solo’. Yes, I was making the six thousand mile journey to Vietnam alone, but on arrival, I would be joining my friend for the last stage of her six-week stint around Southeast Asia. In essence, I was dipping my toes, not taking the plunge.
The time I did spend alone on this trip, notably in Hong Kong International Airport’s departure lounge was far from inspiring, having given myself concussion the previous evening. I was metaphorically and quite literally scarred for life.
I don’t really do ‘alone’ time, even saying the word induces the utmost feeling of dread. Instead, I have become an ameteur level third-wheel and expert planner - my social calendar is fully-booked until May 2021.
This hasn’t always been the case, I can recall times when I have loved nothing more than to be alone, I am a strong proponent of solo excursions to the cinema, I enjoy running for miles on end in absence of company, and revel in train journeys where seldom a word is spoken.
On reflection, all of these activities last no more than a few hours, so like a great cliché coming to fruition, I have resolved to overcome my fear of extended periods of alone time and explore the notion of travelling, just the one of us.
The World is Your Oyster
Whether we are exploring the idea of being alone, or fulfilling our curiosities about the world, travelling on your own can be enriching; a truly life-changing experience.
According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) people are now three times more likely to travel alone than they were in 2011. The flurry of travel blogs and wanderlust inducing Instagram feeds has made it a more feasible undertaking, imbuing would-be travelers with the confidence and knowledge to go it alone.
With technology permanently etched to our fingertips, a masters degree in orienteering is frankly quite unnecessary, and for the lackluster linguists, with translation apps in abundance, venturing out into the big bad world is not nearly as daunting as it once was.
For Charlie Craig, Founder of Paper Plane Travel, the independent, tailor-made travel agency, travelling alone can be a real learning experience, one that gives you the opportunity to understand what makes you tick. Like she says, do you really want to traipse around that art gallery or would you rather spend the afternoon wine tasting? Personally, it would be the latter, but each to their own.
To be truly liberated from the expectations of others is a common theme among those I spoke with, to quote Alain de Botton, “our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.”
To simply have the choice as you whether you whittle away the days engrossed in a book or seek the company of others appears to be the beauty of it all; the freeing sensation of autonomy.
A Learning Curve
To fully engage with the world around you, soaking up the culture and history of each location has been the main take-home for solo explorer and blogger, Dan Flying Solo. But as he and many other experienced travellers take care to note, being able to dictate your own terms without compromise can be liberating, but it can also at be a double-edged sword when tempered by the reality of not having someone to share the special moments with.
And yet, for many the chance to learn a valuable set of life skills tends to outweigh the moments of loneliness that can creep in from time to time. For freelance Graphic Designer Jordan Yates, who spent a month travelling around Thailand last summer, proving he could take the plunge and travel alone was reward enough. Far from being an isolating experience as he had feared, it was quite the opposite as he learnt to embrace his new-found independence.
Similarly, Victoria Holmes, a freelance PR and Marketer, found that travelling alone taught her to trust her instincts and push beyond her comfort zone. From striking up conversations, to putting her problem-solving hat to good use, being alone gave her the chance to grow and test herself on a much deeper level.
Far from being an escape in the woke sense, speaking with Personal Trainer Giulia Fenci, it became apparent that our endless pursuit of fixed ‘life goals’ can leave us feeling disconnected - travelling gives us the permission to re-discover what really sets our soul on fire.
While the decision to travel alone can be impeded by feelings of social anxiety, as travel expert, Nomadic Matt found, the experience enabled him to break out of his introverted shell and taught him how to kick-start social interactions. By diving straight in, he also discovered that with ultimate freedom comes responsibility and for him solo travel is essentially a sink or swim scenario, “solo travel isn’t just about taking a vacation to get away from it all. It’s about learning, growth and discovery.”
So where does this leave me? As I toy with the possibility of taking to Skyscanner to book that once in a lifetime adventure (American road trip here I come) am I anymore convinced that I could embrace the solo travel lifestyle?
While I am nervous to admit it, the judgement of others holds me back. Mention that you’re considering travelling on your own, or for that matter, doing anything alone, and you are met with an outpouring of pity, and the customary, “good for you pet,” (note: no matter how you enunciate this turn of phrase - you will always sound patronising/passive-aggressive).
With that said, I am aware that even the most hardy and experienced of solo travellers experience moments of loneliness and in the spirit of so-called ‘Transformative Travel’ - the global travel trend which is seeing a shift towards self-actualization and personal growth, it may be wise to stop my dallying and embrace the possibilities that come from exploring the world without the expectations and judgments of others, even if it is, just the one of us.
We asked our esteemed panel of travel experts for their recommendations and top tips for surviving solo travel:
Nomadic Matt - Thailand is a great way to test the waters of solo travel. Safe, affordable, well-worn travel trail, delicious food and everything you need in terms of cities, beaches and jungles.
Dan Flying Solo - Indonesia because beyond Bali you’ll find fewer tourists, and it really isn’t as traversed as other Southeast Asian nations. Indonesian people are always welcoming and friendly - a great place to get lost in.
Urban Magpie - Mexico for the culture and diversity, people, amazing food and of course, tequila.
Tips for Solo Travel with Paper Plane Travel
Table for One Please - a good tip for eating alone is booking a restaurant with a bar counter, it can be a good way to chat with others travellers or pass the time reading a book. (*Recommendation* ‘Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a time’ by Anna Hart.)
No Plan, No Problem - it’s great to have a loose plan in place for city destinations, but don’t feel like you need to cram so much in that you have no time to enjoy how great being solo and spontaneous can be.
Two's Company - should you crave human contact, join a group activity, a great way to get involved and avoid feeling like you’re missing out. Hikes, food tours and yoga classes are also good to get yourself out there.
You Only Live Once - Most of all, enjoy it! The opportunity for solo travel may not always be there so have a ball! Try to not be on your phone the whole time (it’s easily done). Traveling solo is one of the most rewarding ways to travel.