We all have a mental image of what solo travel looks like. It’s a phrase that evokes confidence. We imagine a man suavely charming strangers in a Dominican Republic bar. A woman breezily strolling through Beijing airport, ready to take on the world. Explorers swaggering up mountains or down beaches, oozing serenity and self-belief.
These people don’t stumble over their words, fumble around for their passports, or generally act lost and confused. They don’t worry about what people think about them, or feel a burning sense of self-consciousness for venturing out alone. They’re not paralysed by questions such as, “what if I don’t make friends?” or “what the hell am I even doing?”
These people are the definition of togetherness.
Such travellers do exist, and it’s easy to resent their self-assurance. But, just like everyone, they had to start somewhere. Their confidence is a skill that has been practised over time. And they’d never have got anywhere without taking that first, crucial jump into the unknown.
Let your fear fuel you
Developing confidence over solo travel is a bit like learning to drive. You can rehearse all the theory back-to-front, but you don’t really know anything until you get behind the wheel.
Travelling alone is exactly the same. Everyone feels the same fear the first time they do it. But while some people are frozen by it, others use it as a propelling force. It’s a fact universally acknowledged that your fear will never go away until you do whatever it is you’re afraid of. So, instead of avoiding fear – why not step into it instead?
“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it,” writes Susan Jeffers, in her bestselling tome, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. “Every time you encounter something that forces you to ‘handle it’, your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.”
Confidence breeds confidence
Sadly, confidence isn’t something that will be served up to you on a plate. There’s no point in waiting around for it to “happen” to you. You have to force yourself into the situation that makes you uncomfortable in the first place.
The beauty of solo travel is that, while it may make you feel insecure to begin with, you’ll develop quickly resilience with every small move and decision that you make alone. This, in turn, will bolster your self-esteem far more than if you just did nothing to begin with.
“There is a really wonderful circular relationship between self-esteem and travelling,” psychologist Dr. Chloe Carmichael Peet tells NBC News. “Travelling in itself is an act of confidence. The fact that you went somewhere by yourself demonstrates strength.
“If you do something that requires a certain amount of strength or independence, you then see yourself as a stronger and more independent person,” she adds. “Your behaviour is reinforcing a positive self-esteem. As your self-esteem grows, you start engaging in more independent, self-serving behaviours.”
If you hold yourself back from solo travel because of a lack of confidence, you inoculate yourself from risk. But you also miss out on a huge reward. Remember, fortune favours the brave.
Fake it ’til you make it
So, let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve taken the plunge of travelling solo. The confidence doesn’t all come at once. But you can build it up, bit by bit, and play-act until you have it nailed.
“Learning to act confidently while roaming your destination can go a long way to keeping you safe and, in turn, help you boost your confidence as well,” reads advice from the travel magazine Wanderlust.
The publication recommends walking tall and purposefully, making eye contact and learning a few basic phrases for the places you’re in. It also suggests stopping in shops to chat, and asking locals for directions (even if you don’t need them) as a means of building a sense of security within yourself.
Easy does it
You don’t have to plunge into a three-month trip around Papua New Guinea to prove your soloist credentials. Lots of people break solo travel up to make it less daunting.
You could begin by taking flights and a few hotel nights here and there alone, meeting people in-between. Or mix up a holiday with friends by venturing out solo for a weekend by yourself.
Read more: How I learnt to embrace solo travel as a man
Alternatively, you could join a group trip of like-minded solo travellers – like us folk here at Flash Pack – as a means of kick-starting your solo adventure. Not only will you it give you a flavour of travelling with strangers, you can also dip your toe in a particular destination without committing to it outright.
Once you get into the rhythm of solo travel, you’ll find that your self-esteem quickly skyrockets. All those barriers you put up for yourself? They get blitzed one by once.
You might think you’re terrible at meeting new people: but then you do, and that belief gets blown out the water. You may say to yourself, “I just can’t be alone in a new city without knowing anyone, I’d go to pieces”. And yet – there you are, handling it like a pro. Bye-bye, self-doubt. Hello, a fresh new wave of confidence.
“Travelling has brought out a confidence I never knew I had within me,” says travel blogger Absolutely Lucy. “… I’ve met so many people who have spoken of the exact same feeling – that feeling of a sudden strength and confidence, that undeniable capability.
Read more: The one travel talent of people in their 30s
“So many are heading out on these enormous trips by themselves, carrying their life in a bag and visiting all kinds of places alone. Relying completely and totally on themselves is no small thing. It is a huge life-altering experience, particularly if, like me, you’ve never done anything like this before,” she adds.
“I’ve already learnt so much by relying totally on myself to get from A to B, and then on to C, I’ve had to find my way home from the middle of nowhere by trying to communicate with those who don’t speak English, I’ve had to look after myself when I’m sick. But I’ve done it all and done it well.”
Would-be solo travellers: your adventure starts here.
Photos: Shutterstock, Flash Pack