People are often in awe when I tell them that I travel solo. They seem bewildered by the fact that I enjoy my own company; that the only travel companion I really need is Google maps.
“But don’t you get lonely?”
No. Actually, I don’t.
The truth is, travelling solo doesn’t mean travelling alone.
It is in fact an incredibly socialising experience. Without a friend by your side, or a familiar face, you are forced to branch out. From chatty locals to the unshaven backpacker in your hostel that looks like he hasn’t showered in about six months, you mingle with all sorts of people that you never would back home.
I’m not a particularly extraverted person, but what most people forget is that it is a normal human tendency to make connections. And so sometimes when you’re travelling alone, you just suck it up and say hello to the stranger sitting next to you on the train.
They’re not going to freak out and think you’re weird for simply saying hi. That simple greeting might just lead you to your very own ‘Before Sunrise’ moment… You know, where you spontaneously decide to hop off the train in Vienna with a stranger, and spend the next 24 hours walking around the city aimlessly until you fall in love.
Or more realistically, it might, lead to a cool new friendship that you would have never made if you were travelling in a pack.
Don’t get me wrong – travelling with people you know is great. I’ve travelled with schoolmates and workmates, my family, boyfriend and other friends on various occasions. You will have undoubtedly have a blast with your mates. You’re just unlikely to forge any new friendships if you’ve already got 8 friends with you.
“But why do you need new friends?
It’s not about needing new friends; it’s about immersing yourself in the culture of a place – a culture that comprises, not only the food, the architecture, the language, but the people!
In all my travels, it’s not the beautiful churches and museums that I remember, but the people. The buildings blur together over time, but it is the faces of the people I met that I will never forget.
Some of my best friends I’ve met travelling alone. And I am constantly surprised by how much these friendships mean to me. It doesn’t matter that we don’t live two streets away from each other; they don’t care where I went to school or who I dated three years ago. These kinds of friendships aren’t just a by-product of my days spent at a private girls school; they aren’t based on mutual friends; they aren’t trivial.
They’re a unique, unexpected and rare gift that life has thrown my way. Because when I think of all the people I trust in my life, it’s not always the people I’ve known the longest. Sometimes it’s people that, in spite of all our differences, just get me.
Their friendship is unconditional. We don’t have to speak everyday or live in close proximity to know that it exists. They’re the kind of friends that I know can’t always physically be there for me, but instead they’ll call someone to come and give me a hug when I need it.
So why do I travel solo?
Because the matter of fact is that despite differences in race and religion, in spite of the wars that are being waged across this world, we’re all in it together. We live in a globalised world, where we simply can’t afford to ignore people that are different to us. You want to be open to new friendships, to new possibilities when you’re in a city that isn’t your own.
And quite simply, I find that easier to do so alone.