Traveling Alone

TRAVELING ALONE
          The two main reasons for traveling solo are that your good friend might not be a good travel friend and the energy stays mainly between you two. You will be less likely to meet new people and try to speak another language. I get it that traveling solo sounds lonely, you’ll have no one to immediately share your experiences with, but traveling as a twosome is more isolating and you can more easily talk each other out of doing something rather than putting yourself out there and going for it. Even if you are traveling with a friend, split up for a week and go alone. Loneliness is inevitable, but you learn to entertain yourself, be more comfortable in your own skin.
          The exception to traveling alone is if you are getting serious in a relationship with someone or are already engaged. (In other words, take the honeymoon first!) You don’t know someone until you have traveled with them 24/7, and don’t you want to know the other’s true personality before it is too late? The Japanese even have a word for when they honeymoon abroad and then see it isn’t going to work out: “narikon”, which is a mix of “Narita” (Tokyo airport) and “rikon” (divorce). By the time they arrive back in Japan the couple has realized that they are incompatible, or more to the point, the woman has discovered that the man is completely inept and once they have landed at the airport it is decided they will get divorced.
          Traveling independently teaches you to stand up for yourself. All too often I hear a variation of: “Well, we didn’t want to make a scene, so we just gave him what he wanted.” When alone you develop a better sense of reading situations. In a Kiev, Ukraine metro station I asked three policemen for directions and was hauled off into an empty apartment building and shaken down for $100 because of some supposed irregularity in my passport, but I stood my ground, stayed positive, and they got bored and gave up. (It was the one and only time and place in the world where I wrote my friend’s cell phone number on the inside of my belt in case I got hauled away because I got hassled every day in Kiev.)          Being alone allows you to travel in a serendipitous way at your and only your pace without a rigorous schedule. It is hard to find a travel friend on exactly the same wavelength as you and the endless compromising that ensues can be a drag. Do what you want to do. Be impulsive. I am always in disbelief when I go to Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree section and see people showing their three week itinerary planned out virtually to the hour, every night’s accommodation booked. There are so many things that can occur on a trip. Your moods and desires or things out of your control can change your best laid plans. When you are alone you have maximum flexibility and are more open to what can come up.

A note about female travelers
          Look, I know it is a slippery slope for me to talk about the female travel experience since I’ve been a man for most of my life. Plus, you might take my encouragement with some skepticism vis-a-vis your personal safety. Just allow me to say that women who travel solo are impressive, memorable, mentally strong, self-assured, confident, independent, invulnerable, they don’t take crap from anyone and even though they can be magnets for shysters, they don’t live in a shell. I can’t say if these women were preternaturally like that or it developed on the road, but they are almost uniformly heroic.
          Japanese women might be the most common nationality that travels alone. They have to deal with so much grief from people trying to take advantage of them as they hit the top of all the meters of desirability: they are perceived to be rich, pushovers, available, and won’t retaliate or make a scene. I don’t know how they manage. If I ever understand the Japanese psyche, it will be a miracle.
          I digress.

          I don’t know how convincing I am with this argument, and there is one instance I can think of where it is better to have traveled with someone: when you come home after your trip. Traveling abroad is such an intense experience; so much has happened, so much has challenged the way you think, you are full of impressions and ideas and finally back at home you discover that no one cares about your trip, just the tabloid-worthy highlights and lowlights. It’s jarring. The person you traveled with forms a bond in a way you couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. Even a small, otherwise forgettable moment like passing an Indian restaurant back home, after you two had been in India, will bring back a flood of memories and stories no one else will understand.


Comments

Traveling Alone — 31 Comments

  1. I’m a solo female traveler and I’ve been to eight countries in Europe the past three months, including Turkey (reputed to have aggressive antics). I am in my late 20s but look in my low 20s (I’m petite). You know how many people have taken advantage of me on this trip? Zero. And I’ve slept in many strangers’ homes, walked around at night, etc. If you use common sense and listen to your gut and don’t take crap off the bat, you will be fine. We women travelers can fend for ourselves just fine :) So thanks for pointing that out in your article. The type of woman to travel alone in the first place is not the type to be a vulnerable sucker.

  2. “there is one instance I can think of where it is better to have traveled with someone: when you come home after your trip. Traveling abroad is such an intense experience; so much has happened, so much has challenged the way you think, you are full of impressions and ideas and finally back at home you discover that no one cares about your trip, just the tabloid-worthy highlights and lowlights. It’s jarring. The person you traveled with forms a bond in a way you couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. ”

    I couldn’t have wrote it better. It’s like people back home can’t (or don’t want to) understand the impact of your trip, the people you met abroad or the cultural changes you adapted to. If you were in Paris, they want to see your Eiffel Tower photos, or in China, your Forbidden city pics. But they seem completely unaffected or interested by any of the small things, places, encounters or unexpected events that made your trip unique to you and not another prepackaged Contiki tour…

  3. Hey,
    first off I love your sight, think I have read every page! I am from Scotland currently in Germany and about to set off on a couple of weeks couchsurfing, hostels and hitchhiking in Europe. I think its great to travel alone as a woman but I suppose it depends on the type of person you are. I was interested to see that here you encourage solo travel but on your hitchhiking page you suggest that women travel with a man the first time? I hope I am not being naive by wanting to go alone and I didn’t really even think about it until I started reading up on some travel stuff that told me I should be cautious as a woman, on your hitchhiking page you refer to a woman who signed up to the couchsurfing group for women to find a travel partner saying: “I don’t want to be kept from hitchhiking just because society keeps being oppressive against women." I can’t help but feel it is her who is keeping herself from hitchhiking by deciding society is going to oppress her before she even sets off.
    Anyway I am inspired by yours and Lexi’s words and I enjoy solo traveling because you are able to think for yourself (if you go to a country with someone who is constantly pointing out their view of the place it’s hard to form an independent opinion form theirs) so in response to William Alexis’ comment I would never expect my friends at home to want to listen to every tiny little detail of my trip, it’s far more interesting experiencing it for yourself independently!

  4. hi! thx so much for your article, a beauty!
    since i’m a female solo traveller i perfectly understand what you’re talking about and it feels good that men, too, realise that some of us really are made of concrete :)).
    please keep up your great posts, you’re an asset to the travellingworld!
    grtz

  5. I love this blog, referred to me by a friend and had a such good laugh reading it.

    I am a lone female traveler and particularly enjoyed this part. I think India was where I had the most problems as a lone, black, female traveler- the middle east was a walk in the park and Africa I’m just starting on.

    Currently in Somaliland, great place- found a job for a few months to fund my next leg of my Africa trip.

    Please keep up your great posts! its gem.

  6. I’m a 23 year old from India. I am planning on traveling alone, to Goa. I have never traveled alone anywhere and the reason I am taking the plunge now is cause there’s no one else to give me company, lol. The only thing that scares me is from getting raped (to put it bluntly), I don’t rate India as a safe place for women. But I know how to trust my guts and apply common sense. So, I guess I should be fine :) I will update here soon when I come back.

  7. Hi, I hope you have a safe trip! Did you find me via a Couchsurfing group? If so, maybe you can post an ad and find a partner if you are worried about it. If you are already Indian, hopefully your antenna will be stronger and you can avoid unpleasant situations. I think if you stay where travelers stay, you can hang out with them for company. Have fun!

  8. Dear Kent,

    I just stumbled upon your blog by random searching. You know, just googled “travel alone to Goa” one click led to another, and that’s that. I’m not going to Goa immediately. I’m planning on my favorite month, October. I should be done researching for places to hang out there and staying options. I’ve been to quite a few interesting places up in North, since they are closer to New Delhi where I live. Been to Ranthambore, Kasol, Khirganga, Rishikesh, Simla, Sri Nagar, Agra… but never alone. Goa, I think is a good try for a single traveler. If at all I am jittery about traveling alone, may be I’ll look for a Couchsurfer. But that’s what I need to overcome, right :)

    iturhs=shruti

  9. “Look, I know it is a slippery slope for me to talk about the female travel experience since I’ve been a man for most of my life.”

    ;)

  10. Thanks Kent. I am a lady..your article is a true inspiritation! I am going to travel alone for the first time- take the plunge :-D

  11. This is a great read Kent. I were alone at most of my travel, and I couldn’t be more agree with you. Next May, I will be traveling with a friend. I’m curious about how I feel then….

  12. I’m 20, and traveling alone has been a huge dream of mine since a long time ago.The thrill of being able to go wherever I please, and take as much time as I like is just so…. GREAT. However, my parents are a big obstacle for me. Every time I bring up the idea, we just get into a huge argument that can turn out really ugly – especially for my dad because he’s one of those people who don’t get angry often, but when he does… it’s scary. While I understand their point of view, it’s always really disappointing when they say no. I don’t want to sneak off (although I have thought about it at times when I was really upset) because I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself if I knew I did not have their support. If anyone has any ideas on how I can convince them, that’d be great.

  13. It’s a tough situation. What country are you in? Will things change when you are 21 or when you move out? Maybe you can take a short trip to a “safe” place and see how it goes as a test.

  14. I am so envious of your life Kent!! I am a female and I want to travel indefinitely but i just cant seem to afford it. It seems as though it would be fairly pricey and that is my issue. I want to go so bad!!

  15. Inspirational, informative site Kent – thanks! I am a female solo traveler (27 countries so far, longest solo trip was 15 months) and I appreciate your encouraging words to women. However, I have to say that at the time that I was planning my first big trip, I didn’t feel or think that I embodied any of the attributes you listed. People commented that I must be very brave to be planning such a trip, but brave was the last thing I felt. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night in a blind panic thinking ‘I must be crazy, I can’t do this!’. Then, a wise woman paraphrased Aristotle and said “Sue, we aren’t born with courage but we become brave by doing things that require us to be brave." So gals listen to Kent and pack your bags. You may discover that the most meaningful souvenirs of your trip are not the kind that you can buy in a shop.

  16. 15 months?! I can’t do that without my head exploding.
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s one thing for me to talk about it and another for your validation as a woman.

  17. Pingback: The pre-trip, round-the-world Dromomaniac Q & A mailbag | TheDromomaniac.com

  18. Hey, thanks a lot for the article, agree with every word. I’m a female traveler and the first time I went backpacking I didn’t have the guts to do it alone, so I took a good female friend of mine. I thought we were completely on the same wavelength, however I realized on the way it we weren’t. We had different expectations and didn’t even bother to voice them beforehand, thinking that we were great friends and everything will be alright. At first everything was okay, but then you realize the person next to you doesn’t understand travelling the way you do. You want to go out there, meet locals and other travelers and be flexible, the other wants to stick to the plan and has no need to meet other people. And an even worse thing – the other person doesn’t want to let go of you because it’s cheaper to stay in double rooms rather than single ones since dormitories are not available everywhere.. it was so bad I felt trapped and wanted to get out.
    The good way, as the article suggests, is to meet friends and relatives on the way and perhaps to travel with them for a couple of weeks. Then joy of being in a good company doesn’t turn into disappointment and everybody’s happy.
    I once had a bf who I went on holiday with. Just two weeks 24/7 together and we broke up when we landed at our home airport:) Thanks god!

    So author – my respect, very well written and I’ll be recommending your article to people who hesitate whether to travel alone or with not.

  19. Hello, Ken;)
    I aas a solo female traveller for many years- even when friends suggested going somewhere altogether i prefered to go on my own, mostly ‘ cause i took part in international volunteer projects. I absolutely agree that when alone you are more eager to communicate with ppl around. I still remember those feelings- you go wherever you want and make your own decisions. At the moment i travel with my bf so it’ s another type of feelings. We match each other in a way of travelling we like so it’ s always cool though i admit that we meet fewer ppl but we enjoy each other’s company for sure ;)

    PS after i ve read your cool article, i ve realized that we ve met about two years ago in Budapest on a bus going fromthe airport to the city center;) we talked all the way there and i remember you gave me your card. It turned out then that we both were from couchsurfing. So you see, if i were travelling with a companion thattime, perhaps i would never meet you in person! In any case was great to Read you. Lana

  20. A thousand thanks for your awsome site and wise advices !!!
    Be always greatful for this great job !
    World tour starting officially next end of March :) Hope to make it the right way , keep my guts and will read the all Dromaniac gyuide again and again ! Just in case…:D
    Steffie-FRANCE (44 Years old)

  21. Hi Kent,

    So dromomaniac is my new found favourite word!! I love this website and it’s inspiring to know that there are so many solo women travellers out there! I haven’t done too many countries just yet, but my goal is to hit 198 countries by 2029 when I’m 40 :) this averages out to about 11-12countries a year to finish :) I did 5 new countries in 2012 while still a full time student at university in a foreign country, so I reckon I can finish my list while working in the travelling world after graduation.

    Keep updating this, I really enjoy reading what you write and the comments too! I’ll start one of my own too to document my travels so my memories don’t fade away with my poor memory!

    My fav part of this piece was definitely this :” there is one instance I can think of where it is better to have traveled with someone: when you come home after your trip. Traveling abroad is such an intense experience; so much has happened, so much has challenged the way you think, you are full of impressions and ideas and finally back at home you discover that no one cares about your trip, just the tabloid-worthy highlights and lowlights. It’s jarring. The person you traveled with forms a bond in a way you couldn’t have anticipated beforehand. Even a small, otherwise forgettable moment like passing an Indian restaurant back home, after you two had been in India, will bring back a flood of memories and stories no one else will understand.”

    Could not have put that any better myself! I find it so hard to talk about my travelling with people who weren’t with me, now I get why!

    Keep up the great work!

    Regards
    Fellow dromomaniac :-)

  22. Another solo female traveller here – I found your website when my BF referred to me as a dromomaniac. Um…yes!

    My scariest trip was going through the Middle East solo, when I was 31. Quite a few unpleasant incidents happened, but I didn’t get raped, yay! That’s probably the one region I would advise travelling with a male, or failing that, wear a fake wedding ring, tell everyone your husband is meeting you soon, and cover yourself head to toe. DO NOT take solo tours with male guides, no matter how reputable the company may seem!

  23. Hi Kent,

    I love your blog very much. This blog helps me made up my mind to travel solo to Bali despite the obstacles i got from friends and families. Yes, it was interesting and fun. I found the purest joy by talking and mixing with the locals than visiting the main tourist attractions. Anyway, great blog Kent!
    Moreover, I’m going to South Korea next year so are there any tips or tricks while staying there?

  24. Hi May, Thanks for saying that.
    My first tip for South Korea is to take me with you!
    It has been a long time since I was there and I only stayed a week or so. I just hope you can overcome the obstacles from your friends and family again, though they should have less issues with South Korea, a pretty safe place for women alone, I would think.
    My favorite thing about Korea is the corn dogs with potato chunks in the batter. Thank me later for that tip unless you are vegetarian!

  25. Thank you for this website, as I am female traveler going to goa for the first time to meet my bf over there as he is coming from doing a research in india. I will be leaving from USA i am nervous been though i we will meet in the airport. Any suggestions?????

  26. Kent it is a great article, and it is true that maybe sometimes it is better to travel with someone, but what about those who simply can’t a friend for the trip (all friends are busy, nobody want to go to Benin etc etc ) And what about all those ladies that want to go alone, cos they want to prove sth to themselves, or they want to understand the world and themselves better? I’m a solo traveller and a woman, I didn’t choose it as my niche and not going to. But I do travel alone, enjoy it and recommend it every woman once in a while! And oh I have been traveling in Africa, Central Asia, Middle East and Arabic Peninsula alone, stayed at strangers houses and I never had really serious bad experience! I think common sense which I always keep in my pocket helps a lot :)

  27. Kent,
    I realized I must leave a comment since I have been in a blissful trance reading practically every page, no scratch that, nearly every word on your site for the last 4+ hours. It is now dark for goodness sake…where did my day go?!

    Anyhoo, I am a soon-to-be-female-solo-traveler embarking on a multi-year around the world trip. Although I’ve traveled solo before, it’s great to be reminded about how doable it really is even when I have people telling me I’m crazy. I leave in May for Cancun to swim with the whale sharks and then off to Brazil for the glorious month-long World Cup. No, I’m not riding a whale shark to Brazil, but I will be the one chanting U-S-A or Viva Espana, depending on which game I am at! Then…to wherever I desire at that moment and for however long.

    Thank you, Obrigada, Merci, Gracias, Danke, Salamat Po, Dziękuję, Terima Kasih, Grazie for the informative, witty, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious website (I had to include that word so when people google “Mary Poppins” your website will show up on the first page…just doing my part.) I have learned so much and wanted to send a bit of gratitude for “TheDromomaniac.com PhD” you have bestowed upon me. I almost feel like you have knighted me in my very own living room, “I dub thee Solo Traveler Knight…arise…go forth…Travel!!” You have provided oodles of traveling tips (I had NO IDEA about the fake onward ticket thingy) and thank goodness I was near a bathroom because I nearly peed my pants after laughing so hard from reading your “Another 100 Word Story.” I will enjoy reading more as you write about your adventures. Thanks again and perhaps we will cross paths in this small world of ours.

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