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