Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh wait, are you one of the many people who don’t have a Valentine this year? Is this day, in fact, an annoying reminder of your single status? Well, don’t fret! There are many times when being single actually trumps being in a relationship, and traveling is definitely in the top 5 here. Some people are still wary of traveling solo, but if you ask me there are definitely pros to embracing your singledom (or just ditching the friends or main squeeze) and venturing out on your own. So next time you are throwing a pity party about how you wish you had someone to go away with, put down the glass of wine and start planning your next adventurous solo getaway. Here are some reasons why sometimes one’s a party and two’s a crowd:
1) Freedom to choose your destination (and to change your mind)
Before I backpacked through Europe, I made a rough outline of the cities I wanted to visit and about how many days I would stay in each place. However, once I hit Prague, I realized that I wanted to change gears by skipping Budapest and exploring Kraków instead. If I was traveling with someone else, they might not have wanted to leave the confines of our Eurail pass or take the 10 hour train into Poland, and then I never would have seen Kraków, the Jewel of the Nation, or been silenced in awe by overwhelming Auschwitz.
Traveling solo also gives you the flexibility to plan your days how you want them. When I was recently in Paris I was so happy to skip the crowded tourist lines and instead enjoyed relaxing at the Luxembourg Gardens or having a lazy day with a baguette on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I slept in when I wanted, and other days I got up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train. Not having to worry about what someone else’s ideal itinerary is makes the journey a lot less stressful.
2) Being forced outside of your comfort zone
The number of times I had to eat at a restaurant by myself when backpacking in a month is probably more than the number of times I’ve eaten alone over a span of years here in the city. And I’m not talking about hiding behind a book or magazine either. Sitting at a café with coffee or a glass of wine became one of my favorite parts of the day when traveling, and I soon grew to love the time I had to myself to sit outside and people watch. Sometimes this even led to interesting conversations with people around me who I probably would have ignored had I been eating with a friend. Eating solo is obviously just a small way to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but when traveling alone you often find yourself in situations where you need to be a little fearless and striking up conversations with people is just one part of it. Which leads me into my next reason…
3) Meeting awesome people!
I can’t tell you the number of amazing conversations I had with people I had just met, and how easy it was to meet people when I was traveling on my own. I remember first arriving into Madrid, Friday morning at 7am. I was exhausted, looked pretty scary, and was in desperate need of a shower. The hostel I had just arrived at was serving breakfast so I went over and grabbed some cereal and snagged a corner table. Within a few minutes, I was chatting with a kid from London, and that night I ended up going out with him and several other hostelmates around Madrid. If I can meet people in zombie-mode (note: I am NOT a morning person), then I think it’s safe to say that you can too.
It’s natural that most people are nervous of traveling alone – one of my biggest worries about traveling by myself is not having someone there in case something goes wrong. I’ve mentioned this before on here but I think it’s worth repeating: when I was traveling I was so impressed at how people in the hostel all watched out for each other. I think in our daily lives we get so wrapped up in our own circle of friends that we often overlook the kindness and friendliness of random strangers. It was so interesting to see how people that are from all different corners of the world can really come together so effortlessly when we are outside of our normal lives. They do say strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
Hostelmates out in Barcelona. Justin (to my right) and I hung out more in San Sebastian, and Şenay (left) and I had a fun day out in Amsterdam a week later.
I just wrote about this in more depth in my latest post, but I think self-reflection is one of the most impacting parts of the solo traveling experience. And it really encompasses all of the above things I mentioned. I didn’t anticipate how much I would learn about myself by putting myself in unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, situations each day. It wasn’t always easy, and I had a few days where I did feel really lonely (especially in romantic Paris, ::shakes fist::) but in the end I was grateful to be able to have had this journey on my own.
If you have never done a solo journey, I highly encourage you to put it on your to-do list. It doesn’t even have to be a long-term trip either, you would probably feel rejuvenated just by taking a long weekend away somewhere closeby or a week off during Spring Break to volunteer abroad. And no, this isn’t something that is only for college kids or for those who are taking a gap year after graduating (why should they have all the fun?) so don’t limit yourself because you fear you are too old to be backpacking on your own. Enjoy, and make sure to tell me about your experiences!
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