Two summers ago I was sitting on my bunk at the Garden Backpacker hostel in Sevilla, in the middle of an animated discussion with my hostel roommates about solo travel. We were all traveling alone, and it was my first time actually meeting a large number of solo travelers. Up until that point I was starting to feel like a total weirdo. “You came alone?” was a common response, as well as, “Where are your friends?” That last one made me think that the questioner was doubting that I had any.
“Some people back home thought I was weird for going alone,” I had said to my roommates. “Others said it was a really brave thing to do. But I don’t think it really is. It hasn’t been that scary.”
“I don’t know if it’s really about that,” my roommate said. “I think the scary part is the possibility of not meeting anyone, of having your trip ruined by being lonely.”
I had never thought of it that way. And still now, his comment makes me think. Have there been places that were “ruined” for me because I was lonely?
London. My first backpacking trip started there, and it was kind of an awful beginning. Things picked up when I met my roommates the first night, but they left and I spent the next few days alone. I can’t really say it was all bad–I spent all day walking around in disbelief of what I was seeing, loving this new found freedom. There was a certain kind of contentment that came with being alone and being able to do anything I wanted. But nights didn’t feel the same way; nights back at the hostel I would e-mail my family and friends back home and count down the days till I could go back.
Hvar. There were a few nights there where I didn’t click with the people I had met. I spent my days on the rocky beaches, alone. I would come back to my room and my roommates would invite me out with them, but they were a close-knit group of friends and I couldn’t help but feel like an intruder. I started to miss my own friends. After being on the road for more than two months, I just felt homesick.
Ios. I had a blast there, but there were two days where I didn’t meet anyone. At all. I read hundreds of pages of a Ken Follett novel while listening to people tell stories of how much fun they had had the night before. (Come to think of it, I did the same thing in Hvar. Ken Follett = loneliness.) Ios is a very social place–when you’re alone, you feel it. I spent the first part of it at Far Out Camping, which was inundated with tour groups and friend groups. It’s not impossible, but it’s pretty difficult to meet people while you’re staying there, since everyone already has their own clique. My tentmate left because of this, and so did the only other guy I knew there (another solo traveler). Otherwise it’s a great place to go hang out. So I moved to Francesco’s and–with the new friends I met there–went down to Far Out during the day.
But then again–there were places where I had wished I had gone alone. This past summer I was in Rome with a boy I had met while traveling (one of those “travel boyfriends”) and things had soured. We had gotten in a huge fight one of the first nights there. Even though we had made up, we were still a little pissed off and frustrated with each other. On top of that, I was exhausted of having to confirm every decision with him, such as where to eat and where to go next. In a way, Rome was kind of tainted because when I think about my time there, I think about how upset I had been with him.
So for me anyway, there have been a few times where being alone (or rather, being lonely) did have a negative affect on my time in a certain city. But this wasn’t the case in the vast majority of places I’ve been. Most of the time, being alone enabled me to meet amazing people because I was more outgoing and friendly than if I was already with a group of friends. I find it’s harder to meet people if I’m already traveling with someone.
Also, when I’m traveling with someone, I tend to think about what they want to do, where they want to go, if they’re having fun, etc. When I’m traveling alone, I’m worrying about no one but myself. And things in my head are just…calmer. Quieter. There’s a sense of being free. The most incredible feeling I’ve ever had was looking at a map and realizing that I could go anywhere I wanted. This feeling is tempered a bit when I have to double check with my travel companion first.
So I’ll keep making solo trips, even if that means I’ll be lonely sometimes. And I wouldn’t say that these cities were really “ruined” for me; I’d say that they give me an even bigger incentive to go back and try again.
What do you think is scary about solo travel?