Travel is a wonderful way to broaden your mind, change your perception on the world, and meet amazing people from diverse places. Yet there are a number of different ways of experiencing the magic of travel: hostels or hotels? Planes or buses? And, for me, the big one, solo or group? The way you choose to travel can have a massive impact on your enjoyment of the trip and the memories you take from it. I have been lucky enough to travel extensively in my (relatively) short life and have traveled as part of a group and alone, and, I have to say, alone wins for me every time…
It’s a statement that often sees people confused, or accusing me of being an antisocial person. Far from it; in fact, one of the reasons that I’m such an advocate of solo travel is that it has allowed me the freedom to interact with whoever I choose, without having to consider the tastes and needs of other people in a group before my own. It’s a truly liberating sensation to walk into a hostel alone and have to come out of your shell and instantly interact with new people in order to have someone to have a drink with that night. Shy people may say that this would be impossible for them; however, I used to be pretty shy around new people myself, but traveling solo has put paid to that in a hurry!
Another bonus is how much traveling by yourself offers you the freedom to make choices. I should clarify at this point: when I say traveling solo, I mean that no-one accompanied you on your trip, and that you have no pre-planned intention to travel with an acquaintance. There have been many times when I have met amazing people along the way, and have ended up sharing a part of my journey with them. The big difference and advantage of this system is that you get to spend some time traveling with an exciting new person, but the moment your interests or intentions diverge you just head off on your own way, guilt-free and with no acrimonious departure. You’re not ditching anyone: you’ve had your fun traveling together and now you’re off to follow your own path.
The bonus that comes with this level of freedom is that you are no longer limited by worrying about the concerns of a travel partner: if they aren’t interested in visiting the national park you’re desperate to see you no longer have to choose between leaving them alone or dragging them somewhere they don’t want to visit. Not only that, but your solo status arguably makes you more approachable in a hostel environment (that’s hostel, not hostile; although sometimes that can be interchangeable). We’ve all met that hostel group who came together and seem inaccessible and unapproachable; they’re sitting in a tight circle, laughing about a private joke…you know the ones. The fact is that when you are already with some friends, the temptation and urge to seek out new people can be diminished: “Why would I bother wasting time trying to meet loads of new people, my mates are here already!?”
So, unless you’re the odd guy in the corner talking to himself and sharpening a penknife, traveling alone you are generally much more approachable and less intimidating to your fellow travelers. It just makes sense: if someone is a bit shy, they’re more likely to approach the person by themselves than the large group. Traveling alone forces you to learn how to interact with strangers and become more confident in a short space of time. During my time living and traveling in Colombia I have undertaken many trips by myself that were simply more enjoyable for the freedom of being alone: Aracataca, Mompos, El Choco, Santander, Cali, Capurgana…the list goes on!
The other key advantage of solo travel for me is the ability to learn how to appreciate moments and places for what they are, rather than who you’re with when you enjoy them. I believe that our society places too much influence on group mentality, and not enough on the joy of being alone. To clarify, I don’t mean alone for life or for significant periods of time, but the kind of solitude that can be so beautiful and peaceful when enjoyed from time to time. Solitude doesn’t have to be alienating, provided you approach it with the right attitude. There’s nothing like wandering along a wooded path, or swimming in the sea without a crowd of people around; knowing that the moment is yours, and yours alone. it’s a special feeling. As much as I love interacting with people, some of my most special moments in life and travel have come when I have been completely alone in a magical place. People always say a moment is better when shared; sometimes that’s true but sometimes the only person you need to share it with is yourself.
Plus, don’t forget…there’s always a seat on the bus for a solo traveler!