Have you ever considered traveling solo? Do you think the idea is great, but that you could never do it yourself?
I think everyone should travel solo at least once in their lives. Traveling by yourself has a dimension that traveling with a friend, partner or group doesn’t. It has its own challenges for sure, but the experience can be so much richer.
People can be intimidated by heading into unknown territory by themselves and that’s understandable. Really though, you CAN do this! If I can manage it then you can too, promise!
My first solo adventure to South Africa was about eight months in the making and it took a lot of saving, research and planning to put together. Was it worth the hard work? Absolutely yes! The experience gave me back so much more than it cost. It helped me develop a greater sense of confidence and self assurance. It helped me to better understand what I want to accomplish in my career and how I want to prioritize my day to day life.
A Couple Highlights From My Trip
// The first layover on the way to Cape Town was in Paris, France. I selected my flights so I landed first thing in the morning but didn’t fly on to Africa until that evening. I wanted to get out of the airport and explore a bit so I booked a downtown walking tour. I love walking tours because you don’t have to worry about navigating, you can just relax and soak in the sights, sounds and feel of the city’s hot spots. I’m a huge fan of ‘off the beaten path’ travel but since I was on the ground for such a short amount of time the quick, touristy option felt like the way to go.
// Favorite experience in Cape Town? Climbing the iconic Table Mountain. There are easier marked routes to the top that can be hiked on your own, but I hired a guide to take me up a more challenging, remote and rarely used part of the mountain.
// The whole reason I was in South Africa in the first place? To see and cage dive with Great White Sharks in Gansbaai. This tiny spot in the world boasts the largest year round concentration of Great White Sharks and is where many of the Discovery Channel and Nat Geo documentaries about the animals are filmed. My fascination with them turned to passion for their conservation, as well as public education about them, the second I saw one in person.
So enough about my trip, why should YOU try travelling solo?
Why Solo Travel is Different
// You’re more introspective and mindful when traveling alone. You have more time to process and reflect on your experiences as they happen.
// You get to travel on your terms. No compromising on where to eat, what to do or when to get started in the morning. You are the Captain of your own ship. Want to change the itinerary at the last minute? Awesome! Your choice! Aaah, freedom.
// You tend to forge deeper connections with the people you meet on the road. When you travel with others it’s easy to limit your social experience to just the people you came with. You can stay in your own little bubble to a certain degree. When solo you’re forced to reach out to others if you want to interact with anyone at all.
// You can’t defer tasks or responsibilities to your travel buddies. You may be able to avoid things you don’t like when you’re with someone else (like navigating or bargaining over price at the market) but you have no choice other than stepping up when you’re solo. You’re on your own, no backup, baby! The most terrifying thing I did on my trip was rent a car to leave Cape Town. It seemed easy enough when I was planning it, but I was NOT feeling confident on the actual day. It wasn’t just the tight, busy streets and my poor navigating skills that worried me, it was the fact that I’d never driven on the left side of the road before. If I had been with someone else willing to do it I wouldn’t have challenged myself. And I would have missed out on the major sense of accomplishment that came with successfully getting to my next destination.
Why People Think They Can’t Travel Solo
// That “you’re on your own, no backup” thing I just said… it’s not just a benefit, but a serious deterrent. It’s hard to take a big leap into the unknown but I’m sure you’ll discover that you’re more capable than you think. Educate yourself, have a plan, have a back up plan and go DO IT! Even if things don’t go perfectly that’s OK. Sometimes the best experiences come from a hiccup you didn’t expect. Just go with it, at the end of the day, it’s going to be another great story to tell.
// There’s a perceived lack of safety about solo travel, especially if you’re a woman. Here’s the reality though. We get a distorted picture of the “scariness” of the outside world painted for us by what we hear in the media. We tend to attribute an overinflated sense of danger to the unknown, simply because it’s the unknown. All travelers should observe some basic, common sense rules to stay safe, whether you’re alone or in company. But please know, every place you go the vast majority of people are good. That’s the true way of the world and you’ll learn that the moment you start exploring it.
// People worry it will be too lonely. Even if you’re leery at first, trust me, it is so easy to meet people on the road. Prime ways to (safely) make a new friend or two? Staying in a hostel tops the list, but there are all kinds of ways to meet people on the road. Take a boat tour, sign up for a guided group hike or wildlife adventure. Take a city walking or bus tour, great low key ways to meet other travellers. A shared experience is always a potent conversation starter!
// People worry that they don’t have the skill set to go it alone. Since when does “I’ve never done it before” mean “It’s impossible for me to do it now?” Those two sentences are not the same! You can do a lot more than you give yourself credit for. Trust me, I’ve been there.
// It’s scary to go outside your comfort zone. That’s OK. It’s a new experience and all the responsibility for making things go right is on you. Of course it’s nerve wracking! It’s not about being without fear, its about doing the thing that scares you in spite of the fear. If we only ever do things that don’t scare us, that don’t challenge us, how will we ever grow? I was a nervous wreck on the way to the bus station for the first leg of my trip. I seriously questioned whether I should actually go through with my plans but I am SO glad that I did! You will be too.
The planning phase is important and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There is so much information out there it can be hard to separate the quality stuff from all the noise. Here are my hands down favourite resources for solo travel.
// Nomadic Matt : This hard core traveller has probably forgotten more places than I’ve been! His website should be your first stop for organized, relevant and specific solo travel information.
// Solo Traveler Blog : Another great resource with an active and engaged online community.
// The Blonde Abroad : Lot’s of high quality and inspiring posts for the solo traveller.
How about you dear readers? Have you ever travelled solo? Where’d you go? If you haven’t tried it, what’s holding you back? We love hearing from you!