Taking a holiday alone is a topic that sits in the hall of fame of the weird, yet wonderful activities that defy our social norms. Unfortunately, the topic is more heavily associated with the "weird" kind, by the majority of our society. Anyone who has ever ventured abroad alone would be able to relate to being heckled with questions such as a bemused "why?" "don't you have any friends?" and "would you not you be lonely and bored?" Often this is shortly followed by a never-ending list of safety precautions and stories of terror paying testimony to the downside of solo travel.
However, I'm here to convince you otherwise...
Working, volunteering or gap years abroad are amongst the socially acceptable reasons for solo travel. However, picture the following scenarios:
1. What if you had a pre-planned romantic trip to Paris and unfortunately found out Prince Charming was actually and always going to be just a frog? Do you go to the city of love alone?
2. What if your annual leave entitlement needs to be used up, but none of your friends and family can get their leave to coincide with your Caribbean dream, or maybe they just haven't got the funds? Would you isolate yourself in an island paradise?
3.Or more simply, suppose your dream is to go backpacking across Mexico but your friend's interests don't reach far beyond eating burritos at Chipotle. Would you pack your bags and go it solo?
We live in a society that worships independence yet deeply fears isolation, so it is important to note that doing things alone is not synonymous with loneliness. Choosing to spend time with one's self is rather a state of solitude. Solitude is a positive and constructive state of engagement with one's self which can be used for reflection, inner searching, growth or enjoyment of some kind. Researchers have found that many everyday activities entail the practise of solitude such as reading, experiencing nature and undertaking various creative tasks. Such activities are opportunities to cultivate our development and replenish our minds. So imagine the benefits of experiencing solitude in a new environment, containing a meadow of new opportunities.
Here are some of the reasons why I think solo travel can maximise the benefits of solitude...
1. You learn to trust yourself and your own judgement.
From finding your flight, navigating your way to the hotel and around your new environment, solo travel means that you learn to be able to depend solely on yourself. If you get lost, it's just you and you alone. The perceived extra security of having travelling companions can often mean you can become a bit careless and less concerned with the logistics of planning your routes, charging your phone and general safety, because we know we have others to rely upon should the crisis of say a low battery arise. When you are completely on your own you have to learn to take chances - but well thought out ones. You will find that you may scrutinise that taxi driver's license just that little bit more, you may discreetly scan his windscreen for MOT and insurance stickers and you constantly refer to your SAT NAV app to ensure he really is driving you to the beach and not a backstreet alley. In the words of our parents... we have become more responsible!
2. You begin to recognise your personal attributes.
People will tell you who you are! Now I know I've written a previous post about not caring about people's opinions of you, but sometimes a good opinion can be self-affirming, a reflection or realisation of one of your good attributes. Whilst travelling in Africa, there were times when I was just being me, but some of my acts were met with comments like"you are such a kind and good person" when purchasing a bundle of arts from local designers; tipping the one-in-a-million trustworthy cabbie or donating hundreds of pounds to help a psychiatric unit, run by a nurse that became my substitute mother, a caring friend and incredible mentor. Oh and my protector, confidante and estate agent; when I ran away in the middle of the night from my volunteer abroad organisation and was homeless for 4.5 hours.
Ultimately, despite the number of past slanging matches with friends where I have been accused of being a "selfish bitch"; I began to actually view my kindness as a reflection of my personality and the bitch in me was gone. On my travels, I have found that the helpfulness and kindness of humanity invokes the expression of my gratitude and generosity. When you rely on the faith and goodwill of an orphaned child to take you by the hand and direct you home (in a country where street names and addresses more or less do not exist), you cannot help but feel a natural appreciation and a desire to walk down the only named two-way street called kindness, and return a favour.
3. You learn to accept yourself.
As I mentioned above, people will tell you who you are and most often these people are usually men. As a woman, subconsciously, rightly or wrongly, our identity is often defined the opposite sex. When travelling abroad as a solo female, men are more likely to openly marvel at your body because your instantly assumed to be a single and available woman. I'm not saying this doesn't happen when travelling with companions, but let's say when you are alone you engage with more local people and thus have more unusual encounters.
It is no secret that many women struggle with their image, but what I learnt is that Western beauty standards are exactly that - Western. Travel beyond the borders of Britain and you will find that natural hair, make-up free faces, extra weight and cultural fashion are amongst the many things about you that are admired abroad by other women, children and men alike. Your portrait need not be a photo-shopped image and along with this, other examples of authenticity are also appreciated such as your personality, language, accent or opinions. Recognising that people respect aspects of the real you can help you put away those damaging ideals that are incompatible with who you are. Thus, you develop self-acceptance and positive self-esteem.
4. There is nobody to influence your views, beliefs and experiences.
Some people travel with a confined mind and subsequently confine themselves to all-inclusive retreats where they dare not venture beyond the four walls of the hotel. Travelling challenges your mind, but most scarily it challenges your opinions on your upbringing, culture, family and friends. I have to admit. We are all prejudice. I have arrived in a country with suitcase, passport and prejudice all in hand. I've looked at people praying in foreign languages, visited mysterious natural medicine centres, watched children dance around a fire and have sometimes wondered if behind the cultivating expressions of culture; I was in danger of being taken hostage, poisoned or a subject of witchcraft. This is the unconscious effect of prejudice as a result of too much media consumption on behalf of myself, some family members and friends. However, solo travel has the benefit of the absence of these people and their media-derived opinions. There is no one acting like the devil on your shoulder spurting out inaccurate comments about how oppressed the women are, the likelihood of contracting malaria or how fortunate we are to be British born.
The absence of someone reinforcing improbable beliefs has allowed me to have the most memorable personal experiences and to develop a network of friends stretched across every ocean. Instead of being convinced by travel companions that every other nation was racist, sexist or terrorist, I learnt that the majority of human kind are actually rather - just ordinarily nice people.
5. You do less foolish things.
Related to becoming more responsible, in comparison to solo travel, I have found that when travelling with peers it's easy to get coerced into activities that you rather would not like to engage in e.g. crawling to lewd bars and clubs, spending money on items that you cannot afford (and subsequently, running out of money), getting into boats, cars, (name your transport here) with other travellers you just met, but who insist on showing you a place where you can have an awful - oops I mean good - time. As our responsibility increases as solo travellers, our ability to freely choose also maximises. Our choices in part determine who we are and on your own you will find that maybe your choice to visit museums and monuments means that you are more inclined to increase your cultural intelligence rather than increase your blood pressure from extreme activities and partying.
6. You learn to defend yourself.
It is true that there is protection in numbers and when you are part of a group you are less likely to be a target of an altercation. I guess I'm not making the case for solo travel seem very appealing right now, but let's just say that solo travel introduced me to my alter ego. A unlikely cross between Tamar Braxton, the Incredible Hulk and Michelle Obama; my alter ego is a combination of feistiness, inner strength and intelligence. Before I travelled alone, I had never been in a situation where I had to be my own bodyguard, punch and threaten - I mean warn off- guys that seemed to mistake my bottom for a stress ball. I've also smartly argued my way through conflicts with other volunteers and when you don't have anyone to come to your defence, standing up for what you believe in can be very difficult. Let's just say that you learn to become mentally and physically tougher.
7. You learn languages faster.
You may not have the company of the friend that is fluent in French to do all the translating of the local language for you. When stuck on your own, you find innovative ways to communicate in a foreign language. I've often made strange sitting demonstrations to ask where the toilet is or mispronounced words to find that simple twists on an accent can give new meaning to a word I would assume was not a homophone. Why do you learn languages faster? Because you will never forget some of the funny memories attached to the learning of these words. Psychological research on our ability to use "flashbulb" memories (i.e. exceptionally vivid 'snapshot' of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of information was acquired) shows that we can retain this information for decades without rehearsal. That's probably why I've learnt more Spanish from spending 4 days in Tenerife than from 3 years worth of Spanish lessons in high school.
8. You will learn that people secretly admire you.
I always like to blog daily on my social media accounts about the things I learn everyday whilst travelling. Whilst doing this, I have often received a greater volume of comments and messages from people who wish they were doing what I was doing on my holidays. Some messages have even occurred from people who I haven't heard from in years and even those naysayers that swore that I'd be kidnapped abroad. At this point, I realized that solo travel actually lies in the wonderful rather than weird category of things that defy social norms. Sharing my experiences online resulted with many people expressing and discussing their travel wishes and my evenings were spent responding to comments and giving general advice to those people. Doing so felt empowering, and to be just a regular girl inspiring people unintentionally was something that inspired the premise of this blog.
9. You get offered unique opportunities.
When you travel solo, people are inquisitive. Sometimes you are not just viewed as one of a bunch of tourists in for a two week break and then jetting off back home. Whilst volunteering abroad, I have been offered opportunities to give presentations and was invited to consider returning for full time employment. This is where the number's game enters again. Think about it, people most likely have one spare ticket, one job position that needs filling, one spare seat in the car etc and when the spare number is just "one" people are more likely to give it away for free or offer it up to you because unfortunately, the world of travel operates on the assumption that travelers come in pairs or more. Whilst travel companies may rip you off with single supplements, here's some of the things I have encountered as a result of being the magical number "one" - An invitation to a traditional African wedding, taxi waiting - without extra charges, shadowing nurses during live surgery, free wifi, free bracelets, jewelry, lipstick, road trips, reduced rate horse rides etc the list goes on. People rarely give out free things to 2 people let alone say 3,4 or 5 companions.
10. You might fall in love.
You won't fall in love if you travel with others. Friends and family will convince you that it's a holiday romance, you're crazy and you need counseling because your desperate, lover-boy wants your money, your kitty or citizenship in a first world country. I'm not saying there are not people out there waiting to capitalize off a vulnerable heart, but as I mentioned before, when there is nobody there to offer up unwanted opinions, you become open to meeting more people and more unusual people that you might not ordinarily socialize with. As a solo traveler, only you have had an encounter with the person of interest so there is no opportunity for other people to give their judgment or "impression" of the person. Assuming you are smart and sensible you should be able to successfully vet a person's character and you will worry less about if your friends will think he is cute or if your parents will approve, because they are physically and socially absent from the backdrop to your relationship. You may find that for once in your life you become solely focused on just the bond developed, words and behaviour exhibited by the actual person and not the cloud of intangible gossip, opinions and forecasts that you gathered from people who are not actually in your relationship; but just happen to know a friend that knows some shit about your lover.
So there you have it my 10 reasons why travelling solo may benefit you.
Let me know what you have gained from solo travel.