In a world that values connectivity, choosing to disconnect – to be on your own and do things by yourself – strikes many as being rather strange. Not surprisingly, single travellers are often viewed with wary eyes, for who – except the very lonely – would prefer to holiday by themselves?
Why go solo?
In reality, solo travel is hardly the domain of the loner or the anti-social, and is increasingly popular among savvy travellers who relish the freedom it affords.
As Kelly Clarkson croons in her chart-topping single Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You), “Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.” You could travel with a group and still feel lonely, if the interests and activities of your companions are not to your taste. As a solo traveller, on the other hand, you’re free to customise your itinerary and mingle with like-minded people, thus making new friends in a more meaningful way.
That’s how it is for Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook and a blogger at Solo Travel. Her best memories as a single traveller always involve people. She says, “In Chile I was travelling on the Navimag ferry on my way to Patagonia to hike in Torres del Paine National Park. I met a fellow traveller Noemie, who is French, on the ferry. We became friends and I ended up cancelling my accommodation in the park and camping with her for four days. On another trip, this time in India, I met Penny from the UK at an ashram. Again, we had a connection and ended up travelling together for two weeks.”
Still feeling hesitant?
The first solo adventure is usually the most unnerving. Evelyn Hannon, founder of Journeywoman, an online travel resource for women, started travelling by herself after a divorce. Just before her first solo trip, she was filled with trepidation and fears of the unknown.
“At that point,” she recalls, “I had to ask myself: Do I really want to have this particular experience? My answer was yes. So I made a promise to myself: Remember that you have a return plane ticket. If you don’t like the destination, or the situation becomes too much to bear, just turn around and come home.”
With every new adventure, Hannon has renewed that promise. “Knowing that you can change your mind and go home makes you brave enough to step out the door. And, of course, few travellers ever come home early,” she notes.
Taking the first step
Another frequent solo traveller, Oneika Raymond is a self-styled “travel junkie” whose adventures around the world can be read at her blog, Oneika the Traveller. She advises solo travellers to “be prepared and well informed”. A well-planned itinerary is of the utmost importance as it will give you a sense of security. Be sure to keep yourself occupied for the first day or two of your trip, as you adjust to being on your own.
“Always keep yourself open to having amazing experiences during your trip,” adds Raymond. Of course, you must “exercise caution and stay vigilant”, but don’t let this stop you from engaging with strangers or new people as “solo travel is a great way to meet interesting people on your own terms”.
Meeting new people
Solo travel can offer the best of both worlds: quality time with yourself as well as opportunities to meet people. Strike a balance between independence and interaction by punctuating your solo journey with social activities:
- Stay at a cosy bed and breakfast rather than a large, impersonal hotel. You’ll have more opportunities to mingle with other occupants and meet solo travellers like yourself.
- Take up a short course in something that interests you. Culinary courses and introductory sessions to sporting activities like kayaking and mountain climbing are very popular and widely available.
- Join a day tour, especially when your destination is far away and difficult to access by public transport. Relax and let your tour operator settle food and transport arrangements for that day.
- Look out for free walking tours. You get to exercise, save money and learn about the local culture – all in less than a day.
- Include train trips in your itinerary. The dining and observation cars are excellent places to meet people.
Be spontaneous and adventurous. Sometimes, conversations with people you’re unlikely to meet again can be unexpectedly honest and meaningful. As Waugh puts it, “Time, place, your traveller’s energy and the fact that the information exchanged will never reach home, all conspire for really free conversation – as well as insights you might not expect about the place and life.”
– TEXT BY ERIKA LIM
PHOTO GETTY IMAGES
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.