The art of travel is an ironic one. In reality, it’s a remarkable commodity that is available to each and every one in some form or fashion, be it pleasure and leisure, work or bare necessity. It pertains to human nature and as a result, people tend to spend a significant amount of their lives traveling; or perhaps, as the developed world likes to put it: “in commute.” Globally, humans embark on a large number of these trips accompanied – friends, family, colleagues and significant others provide company during trips to work and journeys to exotic corners of the world alike. And as a species that is intricately wired to be impressively social, society likes this because it instills a sense of comfort, protection and connection.
But when was the last time that you hopped on some mode of transportation to take on a new destination solo? Taking it a step further, what were the benefits of that experience – or those of the future experiences that await? Perhaps you belong to the hefty group of individuals that hasn’t adventured by themselves, and this is completely acceptable and understandable. However, there are a plethora of reasons why you should change that and give exploring the world on your own a shot. A compilation of the top ten, below:
1. You receive the opportunity to be independent – and embrace it.
Many people’s day-to-day experiences (especially in the western world) are chock full of human interaction, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. However, constantly maintaining contact with others means that your thoughts and opinions, emotions, decisions and actions are consistently influenced by them. This directly transfers to the world of travel and coincidentally, taking a trip by yourself allows for the liberation factor to come into play.
This means that you have more independence in choosing what you want to do and when, as well as how to do so – forget the “why!” For many, this sensation is a new one and as a result, traveling solo serves as the ideal chance to develop a sense of confidence in personal endeavors and independence – in trying a completely unheard-of dish at a place that catches your eye on a whim, or in getting lost among beautifully winding side streets just because. You’ll find the newfound freedom to act as you want when you want (in moderation, of course) quite enjoyable.
2. You make your own schedule.
This goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned independence factor. While traveling alone, keeping in mind that some external variables like that of your lodging situation (ahem, 16-person-room hostels, for example) may have an influence, your schedule is up to you. Naturally, this corresponds with your sleep and rest schedules, the times and frequency of snacking and meals, the way in which you fill your days and the amount of time that you dedicate to these activities. There’s nothing quite like organizing your day exactly as you wish and not having to take others’ opinions into account, no matter how expert or intriguing they may be.
3. You interact with people that you might never have had the chance to meet otherwise.
Whether it be the newfound friends you meet through accommodation, people you interact with at a local event or cultural activity, or the stranger you consult for directions, you’ll find that solo travel brings new faces. And not only this, but also the chance to develop new friendships, share opinions and experiences, as well as create new, memorable ones. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that there are many individuals trotting the globe just as you are, which makes for a promising common point of interest and guarantees the broadening of horizons.
4. You learn how to eat alone and savor it.
There’s no doubt that mealtimes are generally a largely social experience, so when adventuring on your own, know that there will be (dining) moments in which you’ll have to adjust to the “me, myself and I” feeling. Try to face the potential discomfort head-on and analyze why it is that you aren’t 100% comfortable sitting at a table and enjoying a nice dinner sans extra company. You may find that you rather enjoy the experience, especially because you’re more keen to the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of the plate that’s directly in front of you, as well as of your surrounding environment. Savoring a meal solo allows for you to gather your thoughts, observe in a more pointed manner, relax and relish in this alone time. And just like riding a bike, the more you practice, the better it gets.
5. You try new activities based on your own personal interests.
Maybe it’s surfing, climbing, a cooking or dance class, or an art exhibition. It could be a language exchange, international meet-up or even (gasp!) a bar crawl. Regardless of the form, due to the independence that comes with solo travel, you’ll find that you’re more disposed towards trying new and/or different activities. And the good news is that, thanks to the freedom you have with regard to scheduling and decision-making, you can fully take advantage of this! In addition, engaging in local events, festivals and activities is an incredible way to get an authentic taste of the culture surrounding you, and to understand it on a more profound level.
6. You see your destination (and the world) in a different light.
Going along with a few points made prior, observing and exploring a place by yourself allows for you to digest it in a more authentic sense – sans the distractions that come with accompaniment. This is not to say that trips made with friends and family are not worthwhile or that they are of an inferior quality. However, taking in a destination through your eyes and your eyes only allows for raw absorption. Not only this, but you will most likely be exposed to new views, sites and/or experiences that you wouldn’t have noted or lived while venturing with (a) travel partner(s). This in turn allows for you to reflect on your place in the world – on the very minute, yet significant, spot that you occupy on this vast, thriving, buzzing planet. Insert that token moment to take a step back here.
7. You feel uncomfortable; and deal with it.
A component of this idea was touched on in #4 above, but the truth is that the discomfort that inevitably accompanies solo travel extends beyond meals. And this isn’t to say that adventuring by yourself will be extremely tough or constantly uncomfortable. However, the truth of the matter is that loneliness strikes once in a while and this proves to be the case when you decide to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Travel requires courage and patience regardless, especially considering that nothing ever goes completely according to plan. So, it’s natural to assume that embarking on a journey unaccompanied means that you’ll have to push yourself. But the payoff is rich and worth it. Eventually, the things that first surprised you, bothered you or scared you fade and become much less intimidating as you realize the strength that lies within, gain patience and develop comfort, not to mention curiosity.
8. You have the chance to better experience and understand the culture that pertains to the destination you’re visiting.
This one is logical, but subjective considering it greatly depends on the goals you have for your trip. For example, if you have selected a tropical destination in the hopes of decompressing and disconnecting for a week, you may not identify as many methods to expose yourself to local culture. But in theory, embarking on a trip by yourself births a sense of vulnerability, which contributes to viewing a place through “virgin eyes.”
The destinations you select, activities you participate in and disposition to new experiences that you ideally develop when globetrotting sans company vary greatly compared to those made or practiced when accompanied. As a simple example, think of the restaurants or cafes you might select while traveling solo compared to those you might choose when visiting with friends or family. Taking it a step further, consider how you might view a destination while accompanied by those of your same culture. Traveling without these individuals provides you with an opportunity to observe and accept other cultural traditions and practices while reducing (even if minimally) the inevitable cultural bias that characterizes group movement.
9. You learn yourself.
Having time to yourself is healthy. You can process your thoughts, emotions, desires and actions. You can analyze what makes you feel good, happy and satisfied versus what leaves you feeling lonely, hurt, scared or sad. And you can do the exact opposite – practice not analyzing or processing; practice taking a break. This is another benefit of traveling alone – learning more about yourself, what makes you tick, what motivates you and what you enjoy.
Exposing yourself to the various ways in which the world works and goes about their day-to-day processes also serves as a great unit of comparison. And the best part about this is that you can apply this newfound knowledge to future endeavors – both related to travel and outside of it.
10. You develop an appreciation for different forms of travel and find yourself wanting to travel solo again.
After adventuring on your own, pushing yourself to new limits, opening up to new cultures and realizing its benefits, you will develop an appreciation for your experiences, as well as those that await you via other forms of travel. Having realized that venturing around the world solo is not only feasible, but also enjoyable and recommendable, you’ll find yourself wanting to explore more and more – together with others, as well as unaccompanied. This wonderful unit of comparison serves as a reminder of the value that lies in seeing the world through your own eyes, no matter who’s by your side. And so, journey on!