Solo Travel: You Don’t Have to Love It to Do It


saralogoC-4My faithful readers will know that awhile back, I published a post outlining a travel goal of mine: 30 Before 30.

Yes, I want to visit (and no, airport connections don’t count) 30 countries before my 30th birthday. Luckily I’m approximately 27 years close and yet still 27 months away from that milestone. My tally? I’ve visited 25 countries thus far, with the 26th (Hungary) scheduled for later this month. I’m fairly confident I’ll get there, and that’s a pretty good feeling. (By “get there” I mean achieve my goal. I have complete faith that Ryanair will get me to Hungary).

And like any good goal, setting this one for myself has caused me to step outside my comfort zone in a couple of ways.

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Eel in Poland. They told me we were getting cod.

30 Before 30 hasn’t just challenged me with regards to where I travel, but also how I travel. My earliest international travel was done within the warm and protective folds of my family. From there, my travel experiences grew gradually to include more and more independence, between school trips, study abroad programs, and trips with friends, both within organized groups and self-directed. It’s all been wonderful.

Then, around age 25, I got on to this 30 before 30 kick and had to up my country intake per year if I wanted to make my goal. This meant a bit more planning had to go into my overall travel strategy. Namely, I had to start visiting new places, not just my old favourites. As I talked about all this with friends and family, I realized that not many of the people in my life had the same goal as me.

More precisely, none of them did.

Sure, I have friends and family members who have already surpassed the 30 country mark, and they’re inspiring. I have friends who like to travel, but are eager to visit places that stamped my passport long ago, which doesn’t really help me with my goal. I have friends who don’t have the desire to travel at all, and that’s just fine too – no judgement here. I have certain friends with whom I’ve traveled before and who are always up for a trip, but the logistics of life sometimes get in the way of making more travel together a reality.

That leaves me, myself, and I.

Now please, hold your pity. That’s not what this post is about.

30 Before 30 has propelled me into the world in general, but also into the world of solo travel. I think the first new country I visited solo was Singapore, although I did meet up with an acquaintance for dinner while I was there. Then came a trip to Switzerland, and although it was a work trip, I didn’t go with anyone. Last month, I made a solo sortie to Romania, where I knew and met up with no one, and then Malta, where I did exactly the same thing. Next up is Hungary, where yet again I’ll only have my iPod and my Kobo for travel companions.

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Enjoying Malta.

People comment all the time about my solo travel, remarking that I must be really fearless or adventurous to do it. And while fearless and adventurous both seem like really good qualities, I don’t think I quite possess them to the degree people might think.

“Fearless” would mean having no fear. Well, let me tell you about the terrifying (but amazing) hot air balloon ride I took in Turkey, or the two nights I spent (not) sleeping under the stars in the Australian Outback because of the sheer terror I felt about potentially being eaten by a snake. (You read that right: not just bitten. Eaten.)

“Adventurous” to me means a thrill seeker. Sure, I went white-water rafting in New Zealand, but only because I didn’t want to be the odd one out in my group of travel companions. I quickly opted out of the bungee jumping and skydiving though.

Otherwise, people think that I just really like spending time alone. You read articles and blog posts about other solo travelers who love to meet new people at hostels and who are great at making friends on the road. I’m not necessarily one of them. Sure, I’m chatty. I’ll talk to strangers, share a meal, be friendly – whatever – but I don’t love being alone and putting myself out there. It takes effort, and frankly, sometimes I’m just not into it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, right there, is the point of this post. I’ll say it here for the entire Internet to see: I don’t particularly love solo travel.

But I do it anyways.

Because when weighing my travel options, I realized that if I had to wait for my friends/family/boyfriend to be in the right economic/career/personal situation to do all my country hopping with me, I could end up waiting forever. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to lots of “mainstream” destinations, but now I’m on to some obscure ones that don’t quite tickle other people’s fancy. (I mean, Romania? Really?) I also figured that I couldn’t reasonably expect other people to take responsibility for helping me meet a goal I had set for myself.

And, most importantly, I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror on my 30th birthday and expect my future self to accept that I hadn’t visited my 30 countries because “I had no one to go with.”

Yes, I get lonely sometimes. Yes, I’ve been uncomfortable. Yes, I’d love to have someone else to blame or lean on when I take a wrong turn, or don’t get to that museum before it closes, or end up eating rabbit gizzards instead of chicken wings.

But the positives I get from visiting new places and getting closer to my goal far outweigh the negatives of going solo.

The moral of the story is this, and I wish I’d realized sooner: You don’t have to be some fiercely independent and fearless travel adventurer to have a worthwhile solo travel experience. You don’t even have to love the idea of solo travel to make a good go of it. But if you’re toying with the idea, try it once. It only gets easier from there.

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Yes, that really is me.

[Readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on solo travel. Please comment below!]

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6 thoughts on “Solo Travel: You Don’t Have to Love It to Do It

  1. There’s nothing I love more than solo travel, I have done it only once (Florence and Venice, 10 days) and I am about to do it again (from Rome to Venice, then Paris, 3 weeks), I feel I am in paradise, no schedule, no husband, so I can go to my own rythm, eat where and when I want, get up at 5:00 to do yoga in my room if I wish, stay in front of a wonderful painting and admire it for 5 minutes… The only down side is that I don’t like to have dinner alone in restaurant, so I usually have a huge lunch and eat in my little studio or apartment at night, so I don’t have to go out alone when it is late. AirBnB offers really affordable and neat apartments.
    I wish I could leave and be alone at least 2 weeks every year, it’s so rejuvenating.

  2. Although I am much older than you, I was faced with the same dilemma; Wait for friends to go with me, and possibly miss out, or travel alone. Travelling alone certainly has its benefits but I would rather not have more than a few days at a time alone. So, I try now to meet up with people. But, having said that, I still go it alone rather than miss out. So, go for it. You look like and sound like you are doing just fine.

  3. È vero! You may miss out on a lot of opportunities if you are always waiting for someone to go with. Traveling solo is a great way to make new friends. I don’t love the ‘alone’ part but am glad I’ve travelled on my own. Ciao, Cristina

  4. Thank you for this. I’m reading your post while spending a month alone in Padova. I initially sought companions, but since my goal was language learning, I gradually moved to the idea of a solo trip. I appreciate your saying that you don’t have to enjoy being alone to do this. I find it hard to be alone this much, but halfway through, I’m starting to see the results. My Italian is improving dramatically and a few delightful Italians have taken me under their wing and are taking me out occasionally and checking up on me. I’m also going to cultural events I would not usually pursue at home. I’ll be glad to see friends and family when I return, but this is a huge growth experience, akin to the exchange program I did as a teenager. Although I’m certainly more capable now than I was as a teen, I’m strangely less confident. It’s all turning out well and I’d recommend it to anyone, but it’s good to know that it won’t be easy.

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