For nearly 4 months now, I have been travelling around South East Asia solo.
Although it is my first solo trip, I think 4 continuous months of Solo Travel is enough time to form a solid opinion on the matter so I want to tell the story of what I have enjoyed about Solo Travel.
You never know. Someone who is thinking about Solo Travel might stumble across this post one day and if it helps inspire them to take that brave leap, then it will have been worth writing.
Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – I am not for one minute trying to say there is anything wrong with travelling in a group, with friends or loved ones. I have been doing that for years and will continue to – it is fantastic, great fun and has many positives which could make another great post. Also, I am not trying to say Solo Travel is better then Group travel. I love travelling with other people. I am just giving my opinion on what I have found to be the positives of another type of travel – Solo Travel.
Back story – I am in my mid….ok late…….thirties. About two years ago, a vague ambition started forming inside my head to take a career break and go travelling before I reached the age of 40. I mean who knows if I will have my health and be able to do such a thing when I retire in 30 years.
For a while, I tried to ignore that voice and hoped it would go away but it didn’t and it just became louder and louder as the days passed by so I had to do something about it. Now let me tell you it is not easy to find someone to travel with long-term when you are in your late thirties – most people at that age are either focused on raising a family or developing their career. I myself was focusing on the latter taking professional exams and working my way up the corporate ladder.
When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to find anyone to travel with I briefly considered travelling solo. Almost as soon as the idea came up, I immediately dismissed it. Travel solo? Like on my own? Are you mad? No chance. I would get bored or lonely and it would not be fun on my own. Experiences are for sharing with people. People would think I was weird wondering about like a plonker on my own. It would be strange to eat in a restaurant or go into a bar on my own.. It is dangerous to travel alone. Nobody will have my back if I get in trouble. All sorts of doubts filled my mind and I just got on with my life for another year, still keeping my ears open for anyone else who might be up for a trip.
And then one cold, ordinary night in February 2017 I had an epiphany or a moment of clarity – whatever you want to call it – and in just a few hours took the leap from thinking about Solo Travel to making an absolute decision to do it.
I can’t remember exactly what prompted that dramatic leap. It was either something I saw on TV or an article which inspired me but after 4 months I know it has been a great decision which I will never regret.
Here are my 5 reasons why.
“Where shall we eat?”
“No I don’t like seafood”.
“Ok, we will eat here
“Let’s wake up early tomorrow”
“I wanted a lie in but ok”
“Do you fancy going to sign up to a Muay Thai Training camp for 3 weeks?”
GET ON YOUR BIKE…………
These are the sorts of conversations that you might have on a trip with others. There is nothing wrong with those sorts of conversation, I mean that is what relationships are all about – compromise – but it brings me to a key positive of Solo Travel.
When you travel solo, you are the captain of your own Tuk Tuk (keeping the Asian theme!).
Nobody can tell you what to do or where to go. You don’t have to compromise with anybody. The adventure is yours and yours alone. This is your very own story. Something for yourself.
I mean how often in your life do you experience that sort of total freedom and independence? I think Solo Travel is one of the greatest freedoms in life you can experience. You are literally doing exactly what you want, when you want………
Most of us are born into a world where people are telling us what to do, from day one right out of the womb – whether it is your parents as a child, your friends as a teenager through peer pressure, your boss at work or your spouse as an adult, and even politicians and the media if you want to get a bit deeper about it. Even your kids might be telling you what to do when you reach a certain age. Or at the least you will have to compromise with them.
As I have said a few times now there is nothing wrong with relationships based on mutual compromises but wouldn’t it be nice to have a period in your life where you are completely independent and you don’t have to compromise with anyone? Can you imagine what that is like?
Well, after 4 months I can tell you it’s heaven. At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy it is a level of freedom I have never really experienced in my life before.
For clarity, I am not saying that isolating yourself from others is the thing that is giving me this sense of freedom. I am not some hermit preaching about the freedom of solitude here. That’s not my point. I love people and being around people. I am meeting lots of people on my travels but I am not travelling with people. There is a key difference and this takes me onto my next point.
Take’s you out of your comfort zone.
Some people are shy introverts, others are confident extroverts. Some are confident introverts and others are shy extroverts.
Everyone is different so my first point here could apply only to people like me but in my experience I find that when I am travelling with others, I make less effort to meet new people. That is probably because I am an introvert. For confident extroverts, this section may not apply as much but I think may still have some relevance.
I can go on a holiday with a few mates and not really meet anyone else apart from a few friendly chats here and there at a bar. The friends I am with are enough for me to interact with and enjoy the holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I am friendly and polite to other people but I won’t be going round anyone else’s hotel for dinner and drinks, embarking on a tour or adventure with another group of strangers or eating at a locals home.
Travelling solo, the opposite is true. I am highly motivated to go out and meet new people which opens up a world of new and varied experiences to me. Well, it is either that or sit alone in my hotel room on my tod the whole time and I can tell you if I had chosen that option I would have gone home within the first month.
Solo travel is not about being alone – it is about boarding that plane alone. Once you are out here, it is up to you if you are alone or not. You can enjoy the solitude which I do sometimes, or you can go out and interact with other people. It is totally your choice. I have found that other travellers are a very friendly bunch and there are many solo travellers out here too in the same boat so it is easy to meet people. They even have an app for it which connects other travellers to hangout!
During my solo travel’s, I have dined with an Argentinian couple who were on their honeymoon. I have gone trekking in the hills with a couple of lads from Denmark and Israel. I have had dinner with a Cambodian family in their home and helped teach English at the school he helps support. I have spent the night drinking Vodka shots with some Russians in Nha Trang. I have spent the evening singing Karaoke with a group from 7 different nationalities including German, French, American, British and Israel. I have met two students from Vietnam for a coffee to help them learn English. I have connected with a friend of a friend in Saigon who I had never met before myself and joined him and his wife for lunch. I have gone to an all night jungle party with a bloke from the Isle of Man who I met while sheltering from the rain. I have gone clubbing with a group of Swedish Anarchists whose views were very different to mine. I learnt some great guitar tips from a Brazilian in a hostel in Laos and enjoyed drinks in an Irish Bar with a Canadian the next evening. I have gone out and met people from all nationalities and walks of life including locals and shared real travel experiences with them.
I know that I would have had very few of these unique and varied experiences had I been travelling in a group or with friends. I would have just shared the experiences with that group . Which is great in its own right especially if you are sharing experiences with loved ones but we are not here to talk about group travel.
To summarise, this positive of Solo Travel is that for some, it may motivate you to step outside your comfort zone and interact more with new people making the experience more wholesome and varied.
Instead of smiling politely to other people at dinner, you might just join them for dinner.
It is an emotional rollercoaster.
I know what you are thinking – is being on an emotional rollercoaster a positive thing? Well yes I believe it is as it helps you develop as a person and it means you are having an interesting experience. It means you are alive. When I was home, I didn’t really feel a great range of emotions on a daily basis. No, I am not a psychopath but it is hard for emotions to breathe that much when you are doing the same thing day in, day out. Out here, I have been feeling a whole range of emotions – fear, excitement, joy, loneliness, enjoyment, anxiety, frustration, happiness, confusion, anticipation, intrigue, curiosity. I have felt all these things this week!
Solo Travel seems to be about big highs and big lows. There is not much middle ground. One minute you are down in the dumps and everything is going wrong and next you are on top of the world, having the time of your life. I am learning now more than ever to take the highs with the lows.
Like many men, I don’t usually like to talk about my “feelings” in day-to-day life so I haven’t admitted this to anyone yet but in the purposes of informative blogging I will make an exception. In the very early days of my trip when I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, I checked into a private hostel room. The room was bland and pretty grim. I would almost go as far as to say it was a depressing room and there was absolute chaos on the roads outside. It was as if the traffic was in my room. I had just walked around the town and had been bombarded with sensory overload – people hassling me, noise everywhere, traffic nearly hitting me, congested pavements that were impossible to walk on, angry horns blaring all around me, heat that was stifling…………
I lay on my bed and out of nowhere suddenly felt a deep sense of isolation, panic and maybe for the first time in my life – culture shock. I lay there with all sorts of negative thoughts assaulting me out of nowhere – what the **** had I done? I had quit my job and now I was sitting alone in a hostel room on the other side of the world away from all my friends and family. For what reason? What exactly was I doing here? I had completely forgotten all my reasons I wanted to travel and felt no definable purpose. The streets outside seemed hostile and alien. It was a horrible feeling which came out of nowhere and I almost believed for a moment that was how I was going to feel for the rest of my trip.
That evening, after a shower and some nice dinner I met a lovely couple from London in a nearby bar and my mood gradually started to lift. Two days later, I was trekking in Sapa with some great lads I had met and a few days after that I was on a Halong bay cruise, singing Karaoke with a bunch of other travellers having a great time. Since then, I have rarely felt alone and have been fine when I am. I adapted very quickly to Solo Travel and I now realise those emotions on the first day were just a natural reaction to a big life change – quitting my job to go travelling alone.
Thankfully, I haven’t had a moment as low as I did on that first day in Hanoi but I have felt a whole range of emotions during my travels and this makes me feel more alive or at least awake then I have for a while.
A common spiritual teaching is that clinging or attachment causes suffering in humans. Solo Travel is a great exercise in practicing non-attachment, non-clinging. Things are constantly in flux. People, situations, circumstances and things are constantly coming and going from your life while on the road so you need to learn to not attach. You are the only constant.
It was difficult at first when I would meet some great people or be having a really fun time and the next day our paths split or the good times had ended. I am learning to accept this sort of thing now and move on quickly, living always in the present, which I guess is helping me spiritually.
So what I am trying to say is that Solo Travel is practicing Non-Attachment.
Practicing Non-Attachment is practicing Spirituality
So we can deduce that Solo Travel is SPIRITUAL – have a bit of that for a positive!!!!!!!
Personally rewarding and helpful for confidence
For me, travelling with others is fun. Great fun. I have had so many fantastic memories on such trips. But I would never describe it as personally rewarding or helpful for personal growth and confidence. I can describe Solo Travel that way.
As a solo traveller, every achievement is my own and I am forced to rely completely on myself to live and move around in a foreign environment. Travelling alone is challenging but when I overcome a challenge during travel, I feel a sense of achievement and my own confidence, self reliance and levels of initiative have all developed during my travels. The wins are all mine.
I am more comfortable starting conversations with strangers and have discovered that meeting people is actually very easy, something which I thought was more difficult in the past
Another facet of this is that Solo Travel helps me focus outside of myself and on the world around me, rather than focusing just towards my friends or the other people in a group. I am truly observing and learning about the outside world and the new places I visit whereas in a group, I will just be focused on having fun with the group. I observe and learn more as a solo traveller.
It’s just damn exciting
It’s just me.
Out here roaming around a foreign land completely on my own.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. When I am at home working, I pretty much know what I am going to do in an average day from what I am going to eat for breakfast, who I am going to talk to and what time I am going to go to bed.
Yes, it would be exciting with friends too but I think the adventurous side of it is more sharply in focus when it is just you, having your very own adventure. Writing your own story. Making your own memories.
At the risk of some mockery from any friends that might be reading this I am going to end this post with a quote from the James Cameron 1997 romance film, Titanic, which perfectly sums up Solo Travel for me:
Lady: “And you find that sort of rootless existence appealing do you?”
Jack Dawson: “Well, yes, ma’am, I do… I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you.
To make each…….day…….count”
As always feel free to leave a comment if you have any views on Solo Travel.