The Joy of Solo Travel

By Nomadic Matt | Published February 10th, 2011

Female backpacker hitchhiking on the road overseasThis is a guest post by Laura, our resident expert on female travel.

Solo travel isn’t always easy. It tests my patience, courage, and willingness to adapt to situations outside of my comfort zone. But, despite the challenges, because of solo travel, I’ve met people and had adventures I don’t think would have had otherwise. Traveling alone has taught me many things and opened up many great doors. Some of my favorite memories are:


Come Stay with Me

While laying by a pool in Aqaba, Jordan, I was approached by two women who were teaching in Amman. One of them had seen me running that morning and informed me that she was also running in the Dead Sea races. She graciously invited me to stay with her in Amman. Although we had less than a five-minute conversation, I contacted her on my way to Amman and ended up staying five nights with her. I could have been cynical and suspicious but instead decided to take this stranger up on her offer and go with my intuition. Because of that, I had a great time making new friends and getting to know both the local and expat community. Had I been in a group of three or four, this offer might not have come my way.

You Need a Ride?
Big purple truck in Jordan
A hotel worker in Dana had a friend going to Amman who offered to drop me off in Madaba on the way. It was a bit out of his way, and I wasn’t sure about getting a ride from a random guy. But I also knew how seriously Jordanians in the hospitality industry value reputation. My hotel worker wouldn’t send me with someone he didn’t trust. His friend had a small pickup truck, so there was only room for one passenger. I took him up on the ride, and he even called later in the day to make sure I had found my way around in Madaba. It turned out the friend was a geologist, and during the ride, he gave me a science lesson about the surrounding environment and showed me his lab when we stopped to drop off samples.

Come to Dinner
Fancy family style dinner in Namibia
After making it to Namibia, I went skydiving for my birthday in Swakopmund. It was here that I met three people from Ireland who were intrigued that I was a female traveling alone. They were doing consultant work for the government back in the capital city Windhoek and invited me to come to dinner with them when I got back to Windhoek. They wanted to know all about my trip. I took them up on the dinner, and since they’re Irish, they also insisted I have multiple drinks! I had a lot of fun making new friends simply because I was alone.

The Kindness of Strangers
Black and white photo of people on a bus in Africa
In many places I traveled, it wasn’t common to see a woman traveling alone. As a result, I often had people looking out for me, whether it was catching the right bus or finding my guesthouse. On a bus to Monkey Bay in Malawi, my seat buddy was getting off before me. He gave me his cell number and asked that I please text him when I got there safely so he wouldn’t worry. And no, he wasn’t some creepy guy; he was in his forties, had kids, and was genuinely looking out for me. In Malaysia, I met an older gentleman on a bus who offered to take me sightseeing around Penang, because he and his wife love to show people around. And in Italy, I had so many people graciously give me directions when I had the lost, glazed-over look on my face. These are all opportunities that occurred because I was alone and not with a group.

While people have been more than willing to help me out even when I have a travel partner, I like knowing that as a solo traveler, I’m bound to have interesting and unexpected adventures and meet some really great people as a result of being alone. And it’s because of this that I’ll probably travel alone again and why I think that everyone should travel solo at some point, if only for a little while.

Laura Walker runs the website A Wandering Sole. She’s backpacked the world by herself and is not afraid just because she’s a girl. You can get more travel tips from her website or check back here every other Thursday for more of her stories from the road.

comments 30 Comments

So true! I had some similar stories as well … mostly was invited for a dinner/drinks just because I travel solo quite often (or because I’m a girl?). Wish you many adventures to come!
PS: I did skydiving for my bday, too :)

Everything said is absolutely true.
Although I am a guy, I am a petit guy! Standing at 5’2″ and just about 100 lbs, slim guy and (apparently) blessed with a young feature (people mistake me as a teenager) as a 27 years old adult man, I have friends, co workers, relatives and strangers worry that because of my “appearance” I would be mistaken for a young, novice and juvenile traveler. However, I explain to them that all those fear I turn into faith in people that someone will eventually will be nice to me. It’s all about trust. Nobody in their mind would want to ruin the reputation of their city/country to be a “bad place to visit” so generally, people would act extremely nice to travelers to get rid of that stigma.
And I quote “Strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet”

truly inspiring, i dreamed to travel solo since long ago, perhaps it’s just not the time yet. though i doubt if i am strong enough to go solo, and yes i’m a guy but in this case, i must expect some great challenges. or should i just put aside my worries, pack my bag and go?

NomadicMatt

Pack your bag and just go is my philosophy!

Paul

Solo traveling is the way to do it. I actually prefer it to traveling with friends because you get absolute freedom and you meet so many great people along the way.

I wrote about this very topic a few months ago. (See link in my name)

Like the examples you’ve mentioned above, traveling also makes you realize that people around the world are generally friendly. Sure there may be a rotten apple here and there, but by and large, humanity is good.

And sometimes, especially in this day and age, you need that to remind yourself that there is still hope in humanity.

I love solo traveling! I find the experience so much better and it’s so easy to make friends along the way! Actually, even though I start out most of my travels solo, I’m hardly ever by myself once I’m on the road…

I wrote a similar post on this before which is one of my most popular posts to date. (See link in my name!)

Guess it’s something a lot of first time travelers worry about…definitely worth it though!

Life Exceptional

The thing I love most about solo travel are the way other people behave towards you. It gave me real faith in humankind to see how kind and helpful people were :)

But also, travelling with friends can also be fun, even if local people are less likely to approach and talk to you.

Love love love this post!!! It always saddens me how fearful people are of others while traveling! I’m glad that you have shown people to trust kindness and to be open to meeting new people and experiences and that solo travel is safe and fun!

Exactly! I took my first two backpacking trips alone, but the last two have been with friends tagging along, I cannot wait til next year when I get back to backpacking alone!

NomadicMatt

Once you go alone, you never go back. I backpacked with some people for over a month recently and, after about 3 weeks, I couldn’t wait until I got alone again.

Travel Blog

I actually love to travel SOLO but nobody will take my picturessss……..

NomadicMatt

You have to learn the art of the arm out self pic!

That, or offer to take someone else’s picture first. They’ll usually reciprocate ;)

Or set the selftimer! I have one that takes 3 pics in 10 sec and at least one is always great!

I completely agree with you, there are so many things you can do or can happen when you are traveling alone. Even I had a similar experience recently when I ended up staying with locals at a new place after a quick chat after the bus journey…I guess its always better to go with intuition in such cases…

Siddhartha,
Completely agree. I like to throw caution to the wind but you’ve got to ultimately follow your intuition!

Darrin

Laura, thanks for this post. I think most solo travelers are a special breed (myself included). We place our complete trust in the strangers we meet everyday; people we may not have had the pleasure to meet if we were in a group. It is easy for many people to be skeptical of the motives of these people. But, we solo travelers generally assume the “good” in their intentions.

What do these complete strangers receive from us? Are their motives purely altruistic? Often, it is very simple. They get the opportunity to share a little of themselves in return for a moment to learn a little about us.

While I always appreciate my experience with these people while I am traveling, I wonder how many opportunities I have missed with travelers here in the States.

NomadicMatt

I too find that traveling solo has opened me up to many great experiences I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Jeannette

I love travel period. Solo travel, group travel it’s all good to me. I’ve gone to India, Italy, France, New York and California solo and what blows my mind each time is all the people you meet along the way. Expect the unexpected. It’s funny now when I plan a solo trip the next thing you know others want to come along too. I’m leaving for Sicily February 17th, I’ll have a couple of days in Paris first than head to Syracusa. What started off as my solo-trip is now going to be almost five of us. A friend is meeting me in Paris from Ireland, another from the UK is meeting me in Sicily and two people from the states as well, one East Coast and one West Coast. My motto still is…… no I am not going to wait to travel and live my life waiting for others to be able to come along. I choose now.

Jeannette,
I love the motto! You definitely can’t live your life waiting for someone else. I love to travel with friends as well. Group travel is equally rewarding but for very different reasons. I like to strike a balance between the two :)

Laura, thanks for such a great post!! I first started traveling solo early on in my career and even though the trips weren’t frequent, I realized how much I LOVED the “alone time.” And now I am COMPLETELY hooked! It’s not that I’m totally antisocial — I just want to be bothered with other folks only when I feel like being bothered.

This sounds terrible, but when I’ve booked yet another great international solo trip, I make sure not to tell anyone until right before I leave — knowing that no one will have the vacation days or last-minute airfare to jump up and go with me. I’ve had trips hijacked by other less adventurous folks, and I’m sorry — I’m not signing up to play tour guide.

But since I’ve had great experiences and met so many memorable people all around the world on solo trips, I do try to encourage others — and especially women — to travel this way through my blog (http://bit.ly/90d8ur). Who knows — maybe I’ll win some new converts!

Maureen/UrbanTravelGirl

Maureen,
It’s funny because I hate to be alone but when I travel I actually don’t mind the alone time. And yes, if you know people that try to jump on with your plans, I guess it’s best to keep them a secret!

Solo traveling is indeed conducive to meeting people but also for following one’s own desired path (whether known or unknown). There is so much to be said for not having to negotiate or compromise for others.

After spending 8 months traveling alone several years ago, I can identify with and appreciate the points you offer. Now I am on the other side, married and traveling with a partner. I love it, but I know there are certain things you miss out on when traveling with someone else. I find that my husband and I can go a whole trip without making any real connections with the people around us because we have each other to talk to. I miss all the people I met because I was tired of talking to myself. I don’t miss the loneliness of the days and weeks where I didn’t meet anyone I really connected with. Thankfully, he is the kind of man that would be happy for me to go on a trip alone if that’s what I wanted, so I don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other.
Thanks for encouraging people not to wait until they have a travel companion and showing everyone that there are some real joys to traveling alone.

Great article Laura! I travelled solo for the first time a few years ago, to Mexico and Guatemala. The people I met (both locals and other travellers) very much enriched my whole experience in those countries – and I definitely would never have met those people had I been travelling with someone else.

Well I just love this post. There are a lot of heartwarming stories here and its a great reminder to be hospitable when we are the ones at home and we see travelers in need of a hand or a warm welcome!

Hi, thank you for this post.
I’m going to Thailand alone tomorrow, and is feeling abit doubtful and worried about what would happen, .. haha. Your post as given me a new motivation, and reason why I should travel alone.

Thanks!

I love traveling solo because you are more likely to meet new people and have new experiences that you may not get to have otherwise. Also, solo traveling gives you the self confidence to do anything because you have to figure things out on your own, which makes you feel accomplished.

For last 5 years I travel solo and I tell you it was a sort of religious experience. Sharing is a natural tendency of humans and traveling is also not an exception but once you are alone and traveling through strange lands, you find ample people to share your experience, and trust me, they listen to you more enthusiastically than your friends and family.

Solo traveling is indeed fun but obviously it requires a special mentality; to be with yourself and happy.

Great article anyway, nice photographs as well. Cheers!!!

Well said! Traveling Solo is probably my favorite way to travel. You get so much more out of it, and it really forces you to immerse yourself, which makes travel truly beautiful <3

Thanks for the post! Have a beautiful day

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