Solo travel is something that is always being preached about – ‘do it while you’re young,’ they say. ‘It’ll change your life and teach you to only rely on yourself and your instincts,’ they say. And well, ‘they’ are totally right. My first solo trip was to Indonesia, only it wasn’t entirely solo. I had friends I met up with in different places for a couple days here and there, but aside from that there was a week or so that I was completely alone and my travel dates and schedule were entirely my own. I’d say though that my first completely entirely solo travel was this summer when I bounced through the Balkans – a bunch of countries that were plagued by war 20 or so years ago. I found myself in Greece for the summer, and with a need and the means to head out and explore some more of that part of the world.
My rendezvous with the Balkans was completely amazing and enriching, and when I set out, I really only had a rough idea of the route I was going to take. I ‘planned’ it for one week prior to leaving, and it evolved over the course of three weeks on the road, and instantly became my favorite holiday I’ve ever been on for some reasons I would like to illustrate to you here – reasons why solo traveling is one of the most wonderful experiences you can give yourself. So, without further ado, here are my top three reasons why solo traveling is a must.
WINGING IT IS EXHILIRATING
I admit that completely winging it seems daunting and scary, and really not for everyone. When I set out I had a brief idea of the countries I’d be hitting along the way, and when I look back, I was completing short- sighting myself, neglecting so many other beautiful countries in the region. Well, that list was about three countries deep, and as time progressed, my hopping hit six countries thanks to some hitchhikers I met in Thessaloniki. They turned me on to so many different cities that I hadn’t even heard about until meeting them. They gave me tips on must-see places, hostel accommodations, and activities that I absolutely could not miss.
With that, my suggestion is to wing it, but with a rough plan that you can add or subtract from – something adjustable. Book a couple nights to get you started and go from there. Research as you go – looking up train times, how to get from A to B, and places you’ve got to see, but don’t be too rigid with your schedule. It’s more fun that way.
BEING ALONE DOESN’T EQUAL BEING LONELY
I should preface that I am a person who really values my ‘me’ time, and I love being alone. I’m more prone to want my own hotel room to retire to at the end of the day than a dorm room full of youngins. I admit, before heading out I was over staying in hostels, and I still think I am. There’s very little that’s appealing about paying for a twin bed in an 8-bed dorm where people snore out of their minds, and where you’re maybe 10 years older than everyone else. However, when traveling solo, hostels are the ideal way to stay, get the most bang for your buck, and meet some interesting (and annoying) people along the way to contribute to the fullness of your holiday. Many (not all) have very helpful front desk staff eager to meet and help you see their country as cost-effectively as possible. There’s also a great sense of community as many offer pub-crawls, tour info, transfers to other popular destinations, and common areas with lots of basic cozy necessities like coffee and tea, and places to cook your own meal.
I stayed at a couple excellent hostels in the Balkans, and perhaps my favorite aspect of staying in one was that I had the freedom to spend the day by myself, exploring on my own schedule, or to pop off on a five hour fortress hike with someone I just met. I could cook my own dinner, head out for a solo meal (something I thoroughly enjoy), or partake in a meal in the company of another. It’s completely up to you, and being alone affords you the ability to be alone, or not by your lonesome when loneliness rears its head. It’s a magnificent balance and entitles you the freedom to do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it.
THAT SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
One of my favorite aspects of traveling solo is that as you go and when you’re finished, you have the opportunity to look back and think how you did it all on your own. How you traveled through 3 border crossings during the middle of the night on a bus with a bunch of creepy men and you survived. That is super cliché I know, but it really is true. Navigating unknown waters is a skill that not everyone can hang with or is down for, so when you actually think about it, it’s a huge round of applause to yourself. I do also believe that some of my favorite travel stories are because I was alone, and I’m certain that these experiences have afforded me to become a more interesting person.
Often times while traveling with others it’s easy to become closed off from meeting other travelers since you’re happy with your people, and this is not the case when you’re solo. It’s almost crucial to be a more open version of yourself if you want to actually open your mouth and have any type of meaningful conversation with another human being. And well, these are the interactions that make the experience so significant and rewarding when you look back, write about it, realize that you’ve got friends in all corners of the globe, and re-count your tales to people following along with you from afar.
Most importantly, you know you’re capable. Capable of figuring things out when all you see and hear are things in a foreign language, capable of making conversation with anyone, capable of making decisions for yourself, and capable of growth.
With that being said, there are countless other reasons why traveling solo is an experience that everyone should indulge themselves in at least once. Perhaps my favorite reason to give it a go can be said best by Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know, and you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”