In this exclusive extract from Wanderlust’s new book, How to Travel Solo, Lyn Hughes highlights some of the many benefits of heading off on your own
Let’s start by busting some myth-busting. Mention solo travel and many people imagine a young, single backpacker exploring the world.
Yes, there are plenty of solo travellers who fit that profile, and you may well be one of them. But in reality, solo travel doesn’t have an age limit and it’s not about a particular budget or style of travel. You certainly don’t have to be single to travel solo. Indeed, a growing number of people travel without their partners for a whole range of reasons.
So, whether you’re 17 or 70, love camping or luxury, in a relationship or single, here are just a few of the reasons to travel solo.
We’re not always aware of how much we compromise in our everyday life. We are eager to fit in with what our friends, family and colleagues want and expect, so a degree of compromise becomes the norm. Doing what we want to do is considered selfish.
But you may have been on holidays with friends and found that they just want to lie on the beach while you have a yearning to explore the mountains in the distance. Or maybe you have been away with a partner and they want to read a book by a resort pool while you dream of shopping in the souks of Marrakech, taking a tuk-tuk through the streets of Chiang Mai or riding with gauchos in Argentina.
It could even be you who wants to sit by a pool reading a good book, and you’re not getting the opportunity. So, going alone can give you that freedom without feeling guilty for being selfish. You can make the call on where to go and when. You can decide whether to get up pre-dawn to watch the sunrise or whether to snuggle down under the duvet until lunchtime. You can visit as many temples as you want or decide you’d rather chill out in a beachside bar instead.
This is one of the few opportunities in life to do what you want each day.
Does the thought of travelling solo terrify you? Don’t worry if it does; that’s completely normal.
Start gently with mini local adventures or take a group tour for at least the start of your trip.
But just making the decision to go is a huge step in itself, and once you set the wheels in motion you will probably feel a weight lift off you.
Now, imagine when you are back from your solo trip. Just the fact that you actually went through with it will have improved your self-confidence. What’s more, the fact that you had only yourself to rely on throughout will have given you confidence. The fact that you wrangled strange transport, menus you didn’t understand, unforeseen situations and various niggles will have given you confidence. The fact that you met new people, whether locals or fellow travellers, will have given you confidence. And if things went wrong at any point and you dealt with it… well that will give you massive self-confidence too. You’ll take that confidence home with you too.
We love our circle of friends, but they are often people who came into our life through circumstance. We met them at school or on the first day of college. They’re our neighbours or we work with them. We may have grown and developed in a way that they haven’t. Or we may have interests or a world view that they don’t share.
We may even feel that we know people but have no close friends. Or we may be going through a life change of some sort, whether coming out of a relationship, leaving education or a job, a bereavement or considering a change of career. Some people even start their travelling, their real travelling, when they retire.
Travelling solo opens you up to meeting more people. If you’re on your own, you are far more approachable than if you’re with a friend or in a couple. As a solo stranger you’re interesting to people. You’ll also find that psychologically you are more interested in meeting people and will be more proactive in making it happen.
What’s more, if you’re travelling solo, you’re more likely to be open to the strangers you meet. You’ll come across people confiding things that they would never tell a friend – and you may find yourselves doing the same. It can be very cathartic.
You won’t just be confined to your usual “sort” of people either. You’ll almost certainly find yourself mixing with a much broader range of people than normal. And if you do have particular interests, then, with a bit of planning, you can find yourself among like-minded people.
Life has a way of hurtling along and often we don’t think too much about who we really are and how we feel about things. About what our values are and what is important to us. This is a chance to really get to know and understand yourself.
In our daily lives we are a reflection of other people and how they see us. Someone’s child, sibling, partner, parent. Someone’s work colleague, boss, employee.
Without realising it, we fit into a certain role. How would your friends, family or colleagues describe you? You might be the quiet one, the studious one, the over-the-top one, the funny one, the caring one, the sarcastic one. As time goes on, these personas of ours are reinforced and we rarely break out of them.
You might already feel comfortable as you are, but travel can give us a chance to shrug off our personas, experiment and break that mould. The people you meet will have no preconceptions about you, so you are starting with a blank page.
You might find that you have always been the responsible one, and this is the opportunity to let your hair down. People at home may see you as a planner, but now you can be as spontaneous as you like, even leave things to chance. Or have you always been the easy going one who fits in with everyone else? Now, this is your time.
Trying on a different skin can be disorientating. But it’s liberating too, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself.
We lead busy lives in which we are constantly juggling, whether career, education, family, friends, relationships or hobbies. As a result, we rarely have enough time, whether for ourselves or to question the life we are living. We may have emotional baggage to deal with, we may be in a job we don’t love, we may be uncertain whether we are on the right path in life.
Stepping outside of the everyday can give you space to think at last. With no pressure or demands, we have the time to consider anything and everything. Of course, you may decide that nothing needs to change when you’re back from travel. But just having the mental time and space is the opportunity to recharge and reboot.
When we’re with others, we’re in a bubble. Visit any great tourist site and you will overhear visitors gossiping about someone back home or talking about where they went for dinner last night. They’re insulated from the environment they are in and are looking in rather than out. They’re thinking about yesterday, last month, tomorrow, next month, instead of thinking about the present.
Travelling solo takes you outside of that. Without the distractions of others, you can give your full attention to what is in front of you. You can focus on the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the colours, the atmosphere. You can truly live in the moment. Savour it.
This extract is from How to Travel Solo (£10/$14.95, Welbeck). For further details, check prices on Amazon.
Wanderlust's new book, How to Travel Solo: Essential tips for independent adventures, is paced with tips to help you take the plunge and travel solo
Published by Welbeck it is onsale from 4 March 2021 from all good booksellersBuy now
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