As a woman who chooses to travel alone I find that people I meet broadly fit into two categories: the ones who get why and they ones who don’t get why.
I have a whole plethora of emotions, reasons, feelings associated with setting off alone to explore something new and do it without anyone else. I have tried to put these feelings into words but often words fail to express what I feel. It is just the way I am made, the way my brain is wired. If you don’t understand you will probably never understand. So this article is written for the ones who DO understand first and foremost. I want to try and find those elusive words to describe the feeling of adventuring alone, in another culture, being around no one who knows you for weeks and months at a time. I hope you can relate. If you’re not someone who understands, I hope that this provides you with some insight into the mind of someone who, at worst can seem anti-social and at best can be envied as adventurous and free-spirited.
Firstly, I want to define what I mean by travel. I am referring to all ventures I take alone when others might choose to do them with friends. This is long term trips- a month or several months, holidays, weekend breaks and day trips. Mostly I mean going abroad but sometimes staying local can ignite the same feelings. Secondly, if you’re thinking maybe she doesn’t have friends then you’re wrong. I have swathes of friends. But I don’t want to travel with them.
So, why? Well, you have to be the sort of person who enjoys feeling anxious and doing things anyway. It does take a certain amount of bravery to step into the unknown but for me, that’s where the fun lies. You probably know the phrase that growth happens at the end of your comfort zone and that’s exactly where I like to be. At the end of my comfort zone. When you’re travelling alone even the most mundane things become accomplishments. When I find my way to a bus station, buy a ticket in a language I can barely speak, get on the right bus and arrive at the right destination then I feel like I’ve achieved something. These every day things at home become small victories when you’re travelling alone. And that feeling of overcoming is addictive.
That’s not to mention the many other things you have to negotiate which are perhaps less forgiving than transport systems such as postal systems, laundry, taxis and in one case negotiating buying material in Mexico. Sounds simple enough, believe me it wasn’t. My Canadian friend and I spent the rest of our time together saying ‘if we can buy material in Mexico we can do anything!’. I see groups of people doing these things together, and while admittedly there are the odd occasions I feel like some company wouldn’t go amiss, I actually feel sorry for them not jealous. I think how easy it is for you to do all this when you have company. I’m overcoming a mini challenge all the time and I am growing in confidence by the day because of it.
Lone travellers often talk about loving being able to do what they want when they want. This is true though there is an obvious trade off as at times you may be lonely and I guess it depends on the company you choose. But being able to up and leave as you feel like it, change your direction and plans on a daily basis, eat when you like, not have to discuss plans and negotiate or compromise is a special sort of freedom. This isn’t actually my favourite thing about travelling though. I am a social creature and I love to have a companion to enjoy experiences with. For me there is another reason to go it alone.
When you travel alone you become a magnet for other people who are doing the same. People see you, and of course being female helps, and they feel comfortable approaching you. You make the briefest but most wonderful relationships as you find yourself opening up to a stranger in ways you would never normally dream off. The truth is that while travelling I fell in love with someone new every week. I mean the friendship sort of love and the romantic sort of love. I find that embarrassing to admit. You’re not going through the mundanity of every life and you don’t know if this person would stick around if you got in trouble but for the time you have that connection, it’s an amazing feeling. I think all the time of the amazing people I’ve met travelling and wonder how they are. And as a lone female people are often impressed (or think you’re crazy) and they want to help you out. You have to tread a bit carefully for your safety but your willingness to go it alone can pay off in ways you don’t anticipate.
Finally, you have to learn to have a resilience that can see you through without dwelling too much on negative feelings. There are things that I have tolerated abroad which I would be deeply upset by at home. But you can’t afford to get down in the dumps, you’re your own companion and there’s no one else to lean on. So you get on with things and keep your chin up. In the long term you can become quite cold and I have met my fair share of travellers who seems to have detached altogether from their emotions and normal relationships. But being able to pick yourself up and carry on, rely on yourself first and foremost and be your own best friend is something many of us could do with doing a bit more.
If this all sounds like a bit too much trouble then you are probably not the lone traveller sort. If you are, I’d love to know what your reasons why are.
Keep on adventuring!