This is a love letter to solo travel, dedicated to anyone who has ever abandoned a plan to do something they really wanted to do, simply because they had nobody to go and do it with them. It's a fairly common excuse for not doing something, that, but it’s also one which holds up about as well as a sand castle in a bathtub - because solo travel and exploring the world alone really does embody all that is great about travel.
We know the scene well. You've dreamed up the dream, looked up the accommodation options and train or flight times, only to present your perfectly plotted-out plan to the usual suspects in your What’s App group and find out they don’t have the annual leave, money or - occasionally - the desire to climb up that particularly niche mountain you’ve decided you want to summit in remote Georgia.
If I waited to have a travel buddy to go do all the things I wanted to do, I would never do them.
Things is, if you’ve really got your heart set on something, then it’s unlikely the thought of it is going to leave your head in a hurry. So, regardless of what others say, let us let you in on a secret: flying solo and doing things on your own, or indeed with a small group of complete strangers, can actually be… pretty amazing.
That may seem obvious to you. We hope that it is. But for a lot of people, it’s not.
There are still stigmas around doing things alone in many social circles. If you tell people you went to out for dinner or to the cinema by yourself, a lot of people will still raise an eyebrow. I've always found the latter a particularly odd one. The cinema is hardly the most social environment, anyway. It’s the same with concerts. You don’t go to see Metallica to catch up with your bestie. Sure, if you love the same music it can enrich the experience, but a lot of people completely give up on a gig if they can’t get a mate to go with them; missing out on an experience they would loved when really, they could have had a great time by themselves.
When asked why people don’t do these sort of things alone, the answer is often (via a mumble and an awkward glance or four) something along the lines of: “It’s just… weird, isn't it?” I could not disagree with this statement any more.
The same stigma is still alive in travel. Solo travel is widely embraced in the travel community, sure, but a lot of people still don’t feel comfortable with taking an adventure alone. That’s partly because of the social stigma that it attracts from colleagues, family and friends. The most common views about solo travel is that it's dangerous and unnecessarily risky, but most who would levy that charge that would say the same about long-distance hikes, kayaking or adventure in general.
That's fair enough, of course. Each to their own. But it does mean solo travel is less common than it might be.
The root of the stigma against solo travel can perhaps be found in the difference between what you might consider an adventure, and what the average person on the high street considers a holiday. Even the word ‘holiday’ conjures up images of an all-inclusive beach resort; of a bit of time away from work to relax in a warm climate, with familiar people. It doesn’t involve exerting yourself, seeking out new cultures, challenges or mountain climbs. It doesn’t usually involve an adventure.
As such, those who stigmatise solo travel are often a little baffled by the concept of backpacking or travel in itself, never mind the idea of solo travel adventures or going on holiday alone. Not everyone has that curiosity that drives a need for travel. So it’s not unusual if you’re speaking to someone of that mould to hear the usual questions:
- Oh, you’re going alone?
- Off soul searching are we?
- Won’t that be tough to organise/expensive/dangerous/lonely?
The answer to all of these questions is usually – with a good bit of research – no.
Solo travel is often confused with absolute solitude by some people. At the thought of being a single traveller, or of taking an ‘adventure alone’, some people's heads automatically jump to ‘doing yoga in a monastery for a month’.
Naturally, that's not usually the case. There’s no easier time to meet new people than when you travel alone. Whether that’s at a bar, a hostel, on a train, a walking tour or a group excursion. Solo travel is still incredibly powerful even if it means you’re just booking solo to join a bunch of like-minded strangers on a proper wild group adventure.
Actually it’s usually significantly easier to organise an adventure if it’s just for yourself. It means you don’t have to keep nagging Clare for her passport number or wondering if the hostel is good enough for David with the fancy shirt collection.
In terms of danger, the average person tends to think leaving their home nation is more dangerous than it actually is. There are many prejudices about many different countries, usually based on very little. Of course, safety differs from place to place and travelling with someone else is always going to be safer. But that doesn’t make solo travel, or a particular place, inherently unsafe.
Did you know that Iceland, Czech Republic and Slovenia are all amongst the safest countries in the world according to the Global Peace Index 2019 (measured using the level of “Societal Safety and Security”; the extent of “Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict” and the degree of militarisation per country), for example? The United Kingdom is joint in 45th place along with Laos, for comparison, and the USA is back in 128th position on the list.
Now, I am a white male, which I appreciate affords me certain privileges in terms of safety. But author Gale Straub, who has spoken to over 300 adventure-seeking women on her She Explores podcast, has written a great piece for Vox on the topic, with a particular focus on women’s solo travel. Straub highlights a quote from an interviewee saying: “If I waited to have a travel buddy to go do all the things I wanted to do, I would never do them”.
To reel off the obvious benefits: if you travel alone, you get to pick the itinerary yourself. You don’t have to go to that weird overcrowded tourist trap which everyone knows is overpriced, but still goes to anyway. You don’t have to wait for other people to book, or to leave your room, or to wake up. The world is your oyster. Or your plate of chips, if you don’t like oysters. Or your bowl of pasta. You get the idea.
Travel, and in particular adventure travel, is bound to throw up challenges, but solving them gives you those stories and that power and self-fulfilment that can only come from travelling. Just the act of making a plan yourself and following through on it can be incredibly liberating. Particularly when the alternative is staying at home, feeling like you’re at a bit of a loose end.
If you want to spend your days worrying about if Douglas in HR thinks you’re weird for going to Sri Lanka by yourself – or with a bunch of strangers – then, of course, you could do that. Or you could just go to Sri Lanka. After all, life is short, and on your deathbed it is unlikely you will say: “I wish I had spent more time worrying about what my work colleagues thought of my travel choices.”
The world is waiting, and all you need to see it is yourself.
Inspired? Book solo on our adventure holidays and meet like-minded people on a wild trip. Come on. It’ll be fun.