There are so many reasons why I love to travel alone and so many ways in which solo backpacking changed my life. Travelling alone is not just a holiday and it’s certainly not a bunch of pictures of people smiling in front of random buildings and backgrounds.
Backpacking is an experience, a lifestyle and an education. In this article I have tried to identify the most valuable things I have gained from travelling solo and I hope to inspire you to take the leap and experience the benefits of travelling alone for yourself!
The Top 8 Benefits of Travelling Alone
1: The freedom of the road
Once you take that step and embark on a one-way voyage to a distant land you will begin to feel a profound sense of freedom and clarity. It may not happen immediately and it can be a subtle transition as your mind slowly lets go of all the superfluous worries and baggage that we accumulate in our day to day lives.
We’re often so busy at home worrying about possessions, debts and responsibilities that we don’t have time to ‘feel’ or just be present.
If you can break away from this and reduce everything you own to what fits in a backpack then you may just experience a sense of ‘waking up’ and realising just how little you’ve lost and how much you stand to gain. This is probably one of the most valuable benefits of travelling alone!
You will truly never feel a sense of freedom so acute as that of being on the road, just you and your backpack, having let go of the past and having no responsibilities in the immediate future. This is being present and this is the freedom of the road.
2: Lose yourself
The oft used travel cliché of ‘finding yourself’ is one that I must admit was initially a strong reason for my global travel escapades. What I began to find on my travels however is that the opposite is far more beneficial and important. The ‘self’ we identify with is a collection of stories, labels, titles, objects and expectations that we have accumulated over the years.
This swirl of words and concepts influences how we interact with others and how they interact with us and the urge to preserve the overarching story of the ‘self’ is a strong one. If you are like me you may have felt a strong sense of no longer identifying with that story and then encountered enormous resistance from friends, family and colleagues to any changes you try to make.
“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” – Erol Ozan
The great thing about backpacking is that no one knows your ‘story’! You are free to lose any of those aspects of your story up until now that you no longer identify with. You can dump all of the conceptual baggage that surrounded you at home and speak the truth about how you feel and what you think.
Try on a different personality for a day! If you have been seen as shy back home then go out and talk to everyone for a day, if you are the life of the party back home then try and spend some time alone. If it doesn’t work out then hey, you will never have to see any of those people again!
Try it out and you never know, you might come out the other end renewed or you might realise that you are actually perfectly happy with the way you are.
3: Make loads of new friends!
There is a great big global travel community out there and you will find that on the road no one is truly a stranger. It is so easy to make connections with new people, it’s as simple as asking ‘where are you from?’
When you stay in a backpacker hostel you can walk in alone and a few hours later be out on the town with half the other guests having crazy nights out which so often leads to many days of adventures with people you’ve met.
It is hard to imagine before you travel because back home everyone is in their pre-established social circles where everyone shares stories about their identity and expected behaviour (see above), it would be very hard to walk up to a table of strangers in a bar and make new friends.
On the road it is different, everyone is equal, one of the best things is being able to sit down at a table with people from a huge variety of backgrounds and realise you have so much more in common that you would have guessed.
You will likely come home with a Facebook friends list overwhelmed with contacts from all over the world and you will get to experience the joys of travel reunions for many years to come.
4: Truly connect with others
In this modern world many countries are experiencing what has been called an ‘epidemic of loneliness’. We are so connected via all sorts of social media yet so disconnected on a real level. How often do we allow ourselves to just sit in conversation with another person, no distractions, no time constraints, no barriers?
Long term travel inevitably involves the occasional rained in day and not so occasional long bus/train rides. Some find these days vexing but I found them to sometimes be truly eye opening and some of the best experiences of my travels.
Those days are an opportunity to be stuck with another person, a ‘stranger’, for a long period of time with nothing to do but talk (and drink). I have had some truly deep conversations with people I had only just met or just happened to be sat next to on a bus.
The best thing about a stranger on a bus is there are no preconceived ideas about the other person, no appearances to maintain and no worries about secrets being shared to others. I have told strangers on buses things I have told very few others on Earth and I have also had the privilege of having others open up to me.
You may never see these people again, or they may just become some of the closest friends you have. Either way, try getting lost in conversation with a stranger and see what happens!
5: Open your mind!
No matter where you live in the world, there is only so much you can experience in one place. We tend to become surrounded by people who share our lifestyle and opinions and this can sometimes close us off from new ideas and experiences. We can’t know whether we will like something if we never try it and we can’t know if our opinions and ideas are correct if we never seek to test them.
“Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
You will delve far more deeply into other cultures and realise that they all have something to offer, and none are perfect. You will meet a lot of very interesting and intelligent people, if you are willing to listen you may hear ideas and opinions which make a lot of sense to you.
The humility to admit your opinions may have been built on less than solid ground and adopt new ones is a sign of wisdom. Alternatively you may find that openly discussing your opinions with others serves to solidify them, or you may modify them only a little.
You will also have the opportunity to experience a vast range of new foods, activities, feelings, landscapes and lifestyles. Some would argue that the essence of life is movement and experience. So go and move, go and experience!
6: Find love
Back at home we tend to cast our romantic net in quite a limited pond, bounded by geography and convenience. Well imagine endless hostels, night after night, full of single guys and girls from all over the world! Solo travel not only gives you the opportunity, it almost forces you to meet dozens of new people every day.
Coming together during such an intense experience as travel can forge strong bonds between people and as previously mentioned you can have the opportunity to truly connect with someone prior to signing yourself up to a relationship. I met a lot of people (this includes myself) who met their partners while travelling and who never would have found each other if they didn’t take the leap to go and solo backpack!
You can read the full story of how Ann and I met one crazy night in Bangkok here.
7: Travel for the moments you never see
With social media platforms like Instagram we are constantly bombarded by pictures of exotic places. While it can be amazing and awe inspiring to see some of the great natural and man-made wonders in the world, when you have travelled for long enough you begin to realise that seeing these places is not the most fulfilling part of world travel.
In between these pictures is the real story, the part of travelling you never see unless you go. Attempting to interact with locals that don’t speak your language, looking down an alley and seeing some crumbling ancient shrine, watching the shenanigans from your bed on an Indian sleeper train or the sudden and overwhelming realization of how crazy your life is right now that makes you just stop and laugh.
In between the pictures are countless small experiences every day that make travelling alone what it is, in the end you might just find that these are the things that keep you coming back for more.
As well as this, we all know that a photo can never quite convey the true sense of wonder inherent in a place. What you see in a picture is only a small part of being there; the sounds, smells, the journey, the company and the emotions you feel form a rich tapestry that can never be conveyed in photos.
8: Have a shitload of fun!
I have to admit that in the end, one of the biggest reasons I love to travel alone is that you can party like you never have to go to work! Because you don’t.
You can dance all night on a beach with thousands of others, covered in glow paint and drinking booze from a bucket under a full moon in Thailand. Get your rave on inside an ancient castle in Croatia before watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean. Dance your way through a Brazilian street festival surrounded by locals in the most amazing costumes. Explore the dark underground of the Berlin club scene and see some of the world’s best DJs in their element. Or experience a truly crazy party without ever leaving your hostel.
The opportunities to party are endless and you will find that the hardest part is actually finding a way to have a night off!
I hope that this article inspires you to solo travel for the first time or to get back on the road if it’s been awhile. These 8 benefits of travelling alone are truly too valuable to miss out on and I think everyone should experience them at some stage in their lives!
I’ll leave you with some last words from one of the greatest adventurers of all time:
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown.” – Freya Stark
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