8 Reasons to Travel Alone
People often ask me if it is not too difficult to travel alone, and how I have managed to find the courage to do it. So I decided to dedicate an article to this topic in order to reassure people and convince them to take the leap.
To begin with: No, travelling alone is not difficult at all, and I encourage everyone to go solo! People say that they dream of doing it but that they don’t dare. They are afraid of getting lost, not being able to handle the situation or having no one to share the memories with. Honestly, I have tested all the possible travel configurations; as a couple, with a friend, as a group, with family, and travelling alone. The last one being by far the most interesting way to travel, and the one I prefer the most. Why?
1 – Travel Alone for the encounters
I often hear people say that they prefer to travel with someone else because they are afraid of having anyone to share their memories with. They couldn’t be more wrong. The most incredible thing about traveling alone is that you are never really alone!
First of all, I would advise you to prepare your trip a little in advance. Make good use of your contacts and social networks. You will always find a friend of a friend who lives in the country you want to visit and who can host you or guide you. Think of sites like couchsurfing.com which were created for this purpose. Here you can find accommodation, but also people willing to be tour guides. This way you get to meet locals or expats who live in the area and know the country well.
Secondly, when you are walking around by yourself, you arouse a certain curiosity, especially as it indicates that you are not from the area. As a result, locals are often interested in meeting you. It has happened to me many times that I was sitting by myself in a café or a park, and a group sitting next to me started up a conversation with me out of curiosity. Eventually these people were impressed with me travelling alone, and they always offered me their help. I even ended up keeping in touch with many of them. In general, the locals are always ready to help you if you are lost. To date, I have only had positive experiences with the locals (not necessarily with the expats…).
Finally, it’s with these people that you meet during your travels that you will share your memories with. This will create a very strong bond between you. Because people are willing to help you a lot more than you expected. I have met people I didn’t know at all doing amazing things for me to help me. It’s amazing and touching, and you can’t wait to return the favor the day they come to visit you.
At the end of the day, we go to Thailand to meet Thai people, and to Peru to meet Peruvians, its logical no? Make it your mission to make at least 5 new Facebook friends in every country you visit.
2- The accommodation
Like I mentioned before, have a look through your contacts and social networks. You will always find someone who will be able to accommodate you during at least one of the stages of your trip. It’s always easier to accommodate just one person than a group of two or three.
Don’t hesitate to use the website of Couchsurfing. You can even choose to only be hosted by girls or couples if that makes you feel safer. You can also use Airbnb to book just a room instead of an entire apartment. This can be a good middle way, because meeting people can be tiring, and sometimes you just want to spend one or two relaxing days by yourself. With Airbnb, the hosts will not accompany you anywhere, they will leave you alone, but there will always be someone to talk to or whom you can ask for advice.
Avoid the world of hostels! I know they can seem reassuring, as they allow you to meet other tourists. You exchange tips on your itineraries. You feel less lost. And hostels are usually located in convenient neighborhoods. But believe me, even if it can serve as a kind of “safe haven”, especially for you first trip alone, it can very quickly turn into a nightmare.
Ultimately, you will be surrounded by “backpackers” and you don’t encounter locals. They will always all have the exact same stories and the same routes. They have all visited the same places. Those people all take the same tourist shuttle to go from one place to another instead of local transportation. They eat at the same restaurants. And they all return home with the same photos. So, if you want to discover a country, avoid them! There are plenty of locals to meet wherever you go.
Don’t plan your trip to thoroughly in advance. Have a general idea of the cities you want to visit, but let yourself be guided by the encounters you are going to have. Because when you are alone, people will always have a couch at their place to accommodate you. Every time I travel, there will always be places for which I don’t have accommodation booked, but thanks to people I meet in the previous places, these things always end up working themselves out.
When you are with locals, you are safer than if you were travelling with your best friend. The locals know the neighborhoods that you should avoid. They live in residential neighborhoods which tend to be less risky than the areas where hotels are often located. Furthermore, the areas with all the hostels and hotels are perfect for tourist traps, where you end up paying more for transportation or food than you usually would.
The locals want to protect you, especially if you are a girl. During my trip to Brazil, for example, I was never alone. I felt like I was 12 years old, with babysitters following me every step of the way. I was picked up from every airport and accompanied throughout almost my entire trip.
So yes, if you travel alone, you will be with local people and you will be safer.
4- Discovering local culture
The main advantage of traveling alone is that you can throw your lonely Planet guide in the trash and follow the locals that you meet. You will discover incredible and magical places. You will go to where they spend their weekends or their holidays. This way I found myself spending a few days in an incredible cottage by a lake in Canada, or in a Mexican village where only Mexican tourists go.
Try to avoid the most popular places. Obviously, in each country there are places that are unavoidable. But be aware that you will never be able to see everything. You have to make choices. It’s better to spend several days in the same place to really soak up the local culture, rather than spending most of your time on buses trying to see all the “postcard sights”. In the end, the most precious memories you will keep are the times shared with people, not the hours lost on buses.
Traveling is also tiresome, so it is necessary to spend at least 3 nights in one place in order to enjoy it. If you can stay longer, that’s great. This will allow you to create a small routine in that place, befriend locals and still have time for unexpected discoveries.
One of my most treasured memories from travelling is, without a doubt, the last week spent in Cuiaba in Brazil. Almost nobody goes to Cuiaba because it is less glamorous than Rio. Yet, I stayed there for a week, and I loved it. I was couchsurfing with a student. I met a lot of friendly people, all willing to give up their free time to make me discover the region. We visited the student bars, spent a few days in Chapada dos Guimaraes…it was great!
5 – The food
One should also not forget the culinary aspect. Who is in a better position to make you discover the food of their country? Even though you might find a list of typical dishes in your guide, you yourself may not dare to order some of them. Or you might not know what is being prepared in front of you due to the language barrier, so you end up not eating it while it may taste delicious. When accompanied by a local, this problem will not present itself. You will not be afraid to try the street food, and you will discover their favorite restaurant which may not be listed in any guide. With a bit of luck, you may be invited to an event or a family dinner, in which case the food might be even better!
6- The element of surprise
When travelling alone, you should always leave some room for improvisations. When accompanied by locals, you don’t know in advance what you are going to discover. But as result, your trip will not be identical to that of all the other backpackers! You will discover magical places that are not in any guide. You will be invited to traditional events, because if a local has a place on their couch for you to stay, they will often also have a free place in their car.
As a result, I have been invited to a traditional Khmer wedding in Cambodia, or a Mexican Christmas party, and many other events.
So, follow the locals that you meet!
7- Complete freedom
What I love about travelling alone is the feeling of complete freedom. You alone are the master of your journey, and no one can spoil it! Because finding a good travelling companion is not easy. Your best friend is not necessarily a good traveler. Most people have trouble getting out of their comfort zone when travelling. They need to eat in restaurants for tourists because it reassures them, even if the food is less good and more expensive than the street food. They do not dare to visit a village that is not mentioned in their travel guide because they are afraid of being attacked by cannibals. Or they do not talk to the locals because they think the locals are mentally impaired (locals tell me this all the time…).
If you travel in a group, you have to take everyone’s desires into account. You can’t take the street to the right if the other one wants to go left. You constantly have to give in to the wishes of the others. Sometimes this can work out well if you all want the same things, but sometimes it doesn’t. I remember a situation like that in Saigon/Vietnam with a friend who was very difficult with food while for me, everything goes as long as its street food. We were walking around the streets, and this girl had no desire for noodles, rice or soup, which didn’t leave us with a lot choice in this kind of country. We lost a lot of time trying to find something that she wanted to eat.
So, travel alone and do as you like. That way, you will have no regrets!
8- The financial aspect
This is not a reason why I like to travel alone, but it is an aspect that should not go unmentioned. When travelling alone, you spend less than when travelling together! We always think that as a group, we spend less because we share all the costs, but in fact this is not the case. Actually, when travelling alone, you are often accommodated, you are invited to family dinners, you get taken on trips, to restaurants, you enjoy free transportation etc. So you end up saving a lot of money.
This money can be used in case of an emergency or something unexpected. It will allow you to take a plane instead of a multi-hour bus ride. It also allows for a couple of “luxury” expenses, like visiting a football match during the World Cup, or flying over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.
Of course, when your host comes to visit you, it will be your turn to invite them and return the favor.
Now you know why you should not hesitate to travel alone, and that it will be an incredible adventure.
When travelling in a group, you experience classic tourism, hotels and sightseeing.
When travelling alone, you experience local culture, and that’s the real magic.
Now that you are ready to travel alone, check my tips to prepare your luggage here.