I was 22 years old when it first struck me that I could actually, realistically journey to places I’ve never been. I realized I could do this on my own, with my own money, and lead whatever life I wanted to (even if only for a few days at a time). That moment was my tipping point!
I’m borderline commitment phobic – people close to me will corroborate that; so it was as much a surprise to me as to anybody else, when I made a pact with myself to spend my next five birthdays in five different countries. Naturally, this hasn’t been a very popular decision with my social circle! Friends and family alike have regularly lamented and questioned the sanity of my decision!
“But why the fuck are you going alone?” “Why do you want to celebrate your birthday alone?” “Won’t you feel lonely?”
The only response I’ve had over the past three years to these questions is a wry smile and sad, forlorn nod of the head; I’ve let people believe I’m anti-social, and weird and indifferent for far too long. These are people I love, people whose opinions I care about! I think I owe them an explanation, I owe them an answer, so here goes nothing! Here’s why I am recklessly hurtling towards a one-sided affair with solo-travel! I know this probably still doesn’t make it okay for many of you, but I hope it will help understand my perspective better!
Because I’m an Ambivert
It’s tough to place my social intelligence. Sometimes I’m gregarious and the heart of the party, and sometimes I am a social wreck – making all the wrong gestures, saying all the wrong things, reading all the wrong signals. This is why I stick to my pack when I’m with people I know and feel comfortable with. Solo travel doesn’t leave me this option. As a (sometimes) socially awkward, brown man traveling alone, I have to work extra hard at making conversations, keeping them and making friends! This helps me improve my social intuition, and makes me a better man overall! The small wins you make when you charm a group of people with your stories are one of the most rewarding things about solo travel.
Because I Hate Making Sacrifices, and I’m Incredibly Self-Centered (well, sometimes!)
A couple of years ago, I was in Ireland, with two of my best friends. After we reached Ireland, I found out one of them had recently developed a fear of oceans (and we took her to Ireland – geniuses, aren’t we?)! Anyway, a few days of driving around the coast later, we finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher. I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car and start walking one of the most spectacular trails in the world. My other friend, however, had to stay back with my phobic-friend, because there was no way she would have been able to do that walk. My friend didn’t complain about it, but he dearly wanted to do the walk, and he couldn’t!
These are the sort of sacrifices you sometimes have to make if you travel with friends or family – because all of us can’t be the same; our preferences can’t be the same. Me? I’m not sure I’m capable of such selflessness anymore.
Because Solo Travel Helps Me Appreciate Company More
A few days ago, I was at the Zurich Airport for six hours, waiting for a connecting flight. I had no WiFi access, my Kindle was out of juice, and my spare book was in my check-in backpack. I smoked a couple of cigarettes, made unnecessary, lengthy visits to the restroom, munched on a disgusting sandwich, but pretty soon ran out of things to do! It’s times like these on the road, when you really miss company. You’re not tuned in for making conversation with strangers or making new friends. You’re far too tired to explore uncharted territory! You just want a familiar face to look at, smile back at and talk about silly, mundane, familiar things about.
I vividly remember thinking of my mom and wishing she were there to see the rain lash down on the Zurich air-strip that day (smile away, Mother – this is the closest I’m going to come to proclaiming my love for you on public domain! HA).
Because I Love Meeting New People and Making Friends Without The Pressure of ‘Keeping in Touch’
Know what my favorite part about people is? The first few moments and hours when you get to know them! These complex, multi-layered, multi-cultured beings, deciding on an impulse what parts of their multi-dimensional personalities to first reveal to a stranger – think about it; fascinating, isn’t it?
I travel to meet people! I love people – it’s amazing how much they differ from place to place; but deep down inside, they are all led by the same motivations! It’s an amazing oxymoron, and it never ceases to amaze me! Solo travel allows me the leeway to meet more people because I don’t have to worry about spending time with people I already know! I can leave here tomorrow, without the pressure of keeping in touch. I don’t HAVE to worry about adding people on Facebook or exchanging numbers, but I could if I wished! Most times, I don’t even remember the names of the people I meet (I’m pretty sure neither do they), but the memory of the times we spent together, lingers on.
Because I Love Not Having Plans & Getting Lost
When I first started traveling on my own, I was a serial planner! I loved controlling outcomes and planning everything down to the last detail! Gradually, I realized this to be a big constraint! I noticed my experiences started to get more rewarding the more spontaneous I became. Slowly, but surely, I’ve sort of made the transition from meticulous planner to spontaneous wanderer. This doesn’t bode down very well when you have company and each of you have separate agendas that must be honored in the name of social code!
I’m also an expert at getting lost! I love getting lost, and I do it shamelessly even within my own city! I love to find myself in a part of the world I’ve never been. I love discovering a hidden corner in an alley I’ve known all my life. Solo travel offers plenty of opportunities for getting lost – it isn’t an option; despite Google Maps, GPS devices, advanced navigation, and translator apps, it’s an inevitability. For some, this might be the perfect reason to NOT travel solo, but with me it’s pretty much the other way round!
Because It Is Immensely Empowering
Did I tell you about that time in Seychelles when I almost got deported? [Read: Seychelles Immigration – A Backpacker’s Nightmare] Did I tell you about that time when my bus from Budapest to Vienna dropped me off at the wrong terminal, and I had no idea how to find my way to my hostel? Solo travel is dotted by these micro mis-adventures! Overcoming tiny hurdles like these can have life-altering effects on your self-worth!
I still remember the first time I stepped on a flight by myself – I was a nervous wreck! Today I feel calm and confident in my ability to navigate through the trickiest situations, and this confidence spills over in my personal as well as professional life! I didn’t do a lot of personality development classes/workshops as a kid, but I’m pretty sure this is how they must have felt like.
Because It Scares the Fuck Out of Me and Makes Me Uncomfortable
Solo travel can be scary because we all fear the unknown; and not having a familiar face to share in the unknown can make the prospect infinitely scarier! This is a truism; it is also true however, that the only way to really overcome a fear is by constantly facing up to it. Traveling by myself is a constant challenge for me. I find myself pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone all the time, and in doing so, I think I keep discovering that I’m capable of things I never thought I would be! [Suggested Read: Best Places to Travel Au Naturel]
Solo travel takes you places – and I don’t just mean cities, and countries and woods! It takes you places within yourself, you didn’t know existed 🙂
I could go on and on for longer, if I so wished, but I think I’ve sort of made my point! Solo travel is a crazy prospect – full of possibilities, dangers, rewards and the thrill of the unknown. I won’t pretend it’s for everybody, but it could be for you. If you didn’t try, you wouldn’t know – I’d certainly encourage you to give it a shot! If nothing else, at least you’ll come back wiser, if we’re to take John Haltiwanger’s word 😉
There’s nothing quite like waking up by yourself in an unfamiliar place with nothing to do but explore. It’s simultaneously invigorating and unnerving. But the frightening aspects of it are precisely what make it so intoxicating. Adventurous souls are infatuated with uncharted territory. They’re driven by wanderlust, and a perpetual desire to embrace the unfamiliar.