Let me guess, you’ve been dreaming about leaving the rat race for years. Your Pinterest board and Instagram feed are full of wanderlust-inducing destinations. Your Facebook is full of everyone else’s exotic airport check-ins and sickening selfies. So now, enough is enough, you’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and go on a solo travel adventure of your own.
Or in other words, you’ve finally seized the reigns and saved the money, carved out the time, and booked those flights (fist pump). However, reality is settling in. Those doubts and fears about solo travel are creeping in, no matter how hard you try to stop them.
Well, guess what? This is 100% normal.
Over the years I’ve lived in the South of France, Madrid and Chile. I’ve taken long-term expeditions, impulse holidays and what-the-hell-am-I-doing trips. I’ve travelled extensively alone, and will champion solo travel to everyone (or anyone) who’ll listen.
At first, all I can think about is jetting off, meeting interesting characters, having deep discussions about the meaning of life and dancing the night away at a spontaneous street party with said new friends. The excitement is intoxicating.
But do you know what? I still get those butterflies in my stomach as the solo travel trip gets nearer and nearer. The same fears resurface, and still manage to take me by surprise. The key to owning those fears is to not let them stop you. Here are some of the most common, and how I handle them.
1. “I’ll be really lonely”
Ok, so unless you’re a seasoned socialite, it can feel a bit bold walking up to random strangers and sparking a conversation. What if they think I’m weird? What if I come across too forward? What if they can tell I haven’t showered in two days? (You’re travelling. I’m not judging).
With the fear of sounding like a hippy guru, it’s really all about your mind-set during solo travel. You don’t have to corner everyone you see for a chat, but try to approachable and open. Be interested in others. People love to talk about themselves – so a simple “where have you been so far?” is an easy opener that can trigger some awesome travel tales.
There are so many people travelling solo who, just like you, are craving the same kind of meaningful interaction. Plus, you’re likely to have loads in common – every solo traveller has at least one hilarious hostel story, trust me. Who knows what amazing discussions you’re going to end up having over a bottle of Malbec? Forget dating sites, how about a cosy campsite with a bunch of adventurous solo travellers?
If you’re not staying in hostels, it can feel hard to meet people. Yet there are some amazing tours, activities or courses you can do to connect with others. Meet-up lists local groups and events, and there’s tons to choose from. While travelling for work in New York, I was bored in my hotel room and signed up for a Supper Club. I was the only non-local and everyone was surprised I was there, but they were so intrigued to talk to me. It was one of the most fun evenings of my life and I still message some of the people I met that night. You just have to throw yourself in, head first.
2. “But I’ll get bored on my own”
This is a big one for us busy professionals who are used to being bombarded with information, noise and deadlines all day.
I have two words for you: let go. Trust me, solo travel gives you the space and freedom to choose what you do with your time and energy, and it’s liberating. There isn’t much Wi-Fi on top of Machu Picchu, and you’re not likely to understand the Thai TV programmes, so fill up your time with something meaningful and self-improving instead.
If you have some juicy books and audiobooks, new friends to make and local culture to explore, there’s no way you could get bored. Why not use this time to brush up on your photography skills or start a travel blog?
I’ve done some weird and wonderful courses on my solo travels, which I’d never have had time for in London. I signed up to a Reiki master course in Santiago, I made sushi in Rio, I crafted chocolate truffles in Mendoza and learnt how to build a bridge and renovate a 16th century house in La Camargue (because you never know when that might come in handy…). Nothing is too “random” or “wacky”. If some small part of you fancies giving it a go, do it – and the more out of your comfort zone, the better.
3. “I’ll get homesick”
I’ll be honest – yes, you might. You may miss your friends and family (or even just a good cup of tea and a roast dinner).
Sadly Skype and FaceTime haven’t quite mastered the virtual cuppa, yet they are amazing at helping you stay in touch during solo travel. When I was living in Chile, there were times when I felt so disconnected that I forgot I had a family. There were times when all I wanted was a cup of chai with my mum.
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How did I get through that? I made sure I got in touch with the person I was missing and just had a long and well needed catch-up with them. In fact, I became so much closer to some members of my family during this time – due to the distance, we opened up so much more and didn’t take each other for granted.
When you do go home, you’ll be stronger as a result of your experiences. You’ll have so many stories to tell, whether it’s the time you spontaneously hiked up a mountain at sunrise, or when you left your passport in the hotel (you’ll see the funny side one day…)
4.“What if I hate solo travel?”
So what? At least you tried! If your adventure isn’t what you wanted it to be, you can come home whenever. You haven’t failed – you just haven’t found what’s right for you yet. Mountain trekking in Peru might not be your bag, yet a safari in South Africa could be just the thing you’ve always dreamed of. The world is a big place – keep exploring.
I really can’t say if you’ll hate the experience (although it’s very unlikely), because your experience is exactly that: yours. But if you never go, you’ll never know!
5. “I’m not sure I’m brave enough to travel solo”
Let’s pretend I’m some overpriced therapist for a minute. Why don’t you ask yourself: what is it that I’m really afraid of? Is it safety? Crime? Homesickness? Do you have visions of getting stranded in airports, getting food poisoning from dodgy street food or ripped off for tuk tuk rides? (Tick, tick and tick to all of the above).
When you really think about it, there’s a way around each of these fears. Visit countries with lower crime rates, take precautions, travel for shorter periods, or just go with a hearty dose of common sense. I’ll get real with you for a moment: when you look at these fears, they’re probably just excuses. The unfamiliar is scary to all of us, it’s all in how you handle it – and that means no more waiting around for things to happen, and grabbing them by the (proverbial) balls instead.
There’s no fear squashing solution, no shortcuts, no remedy. The way around this is to book those solo travel tickets, pack that bag, and just go for it – you’ll be so glad you did.
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Photos: Flash Pack/Lee Thompson, Shutterstock