As early as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of exploring the world — as a kid, I’d keep a scrapbook with newspaper and magazine clippings of interesting places I’d hope to one day visit — but it was always something that was not quite attainable because of cost. So when I was in my second year of university at Ryerson and won a scholarship that covered my tuition (that I had already saved up and paid for), I knew instantly that I was going to take that money to travel around Europe. I was so on cloud nine and consumed with planning my trip that I didn’t even have time to panic or worry that I was going to be travelling for the first time all on my own. It ended up being the most thrilling/nerve-wrecking experience of my life at that point, and it kickstarted my love for solo trips.
Solo travel is no longer for the select few. Expert tour operator G Adventures has seen an increase of 134 per cent in single travelers (65 per cent of which are women) since 2008 and I’m not surprised, because there really is no other life-changing experience quite like travelling alone. Unsure if you can do it? Here are six reasons why you need to travel solo at least once in your lifetime.
You can eat wherever you want, see whatever you want, wake up whenever you want and answer to no one about any and all choices you make. The freedom to travel at your own pace and experience the exact trip that you envisioned is a glorious thing. When you think about the arguments that happen even between the best of friends on trips, it usually boils down to the lack of freedom in decision-making. So save your friendships and leave your pals at home.
TIP: As a single female, the freedom of travelling alone comes with the concern of safety. To ease into solo travel when I was a student, I joined a two-week Contiki tour to kickstart my first European adventure and met a bunch of other girls from around the world who were also travelling alone and wanted a sense of security. Signing up with a reputable tour operator that fits your travel style is a great way to travel alone but not feel lonely, as you’ll be surrounded by others who are in the same boat and you can choose when and if you want to engage with other members of the tour and not feel like you’re offending a friend when you need some quiet time.
When you’re on your own, you won’t feel embarrassed for being a thrifty traveller, or guilty for loving the finer things in life. Money issues can be a huge stress factor when your travel buddy’s budget doesn’t quite match up with your own, but when the onus is just on you to stick to your personal budget and where you want to spend it, it makes the trip much easier.
The enormous self-confidence and inner strength that is built after finishing a solo journey not only results in incredible stories to look back on when you’re old and grey, but also gives you hard evidence that you can succeed at anything you put your mind to in life. There will be difficult moments on your trip, like lugging heavy suitcases up flights of stairs, getting lost or losing money, but knowing that you never gave up or let any hiccups ruin your experience, and that you accomplished everything on your own, is the most empowering feeling.
There’s a reason why there are endless articles and self-help books about why it’s so important to get outside your comfort zone in order to evolve. By being on your own, in a foreign place, you’re forced to really use your intuition and social skills in order to survive and have fun. Maybe back at home you’re a bit shy and would never be the one to initiate a conversation with a potential new friend, but on vacation, where no one knows you, maybe you suck it up, strike a conversation with the local patron beside you at the sushi bar and realize that you in fact didn’t actually die from humiliation, but instead made an awesome new friend and learned local details of the city you never would have discovered otherwise.
For a lot of us, silence is rare — we’re always either in the presence of co-workers, friends or family and because of that, it can be hard to get a moment of peace and reflection. When you travel solo, you have all the time to focus and assess your feelings and thoughts, which can be scary but also very necessary. It’s hard to gain the same, if any, level of awareness when you’re travelling with a bunch of friends and constantly engaged in conversation. You’ll also notice more of your new surroundings when you’re exploring solo.
When you’re on your own, you’re basically forced to talk to new people, whereas if you’re travelling with a friend there’s the comfort of relying on said friend for socializing. When I lived in London one summer, because I was on my own, I couldn’t afford a private flat or hotel room, so I rented a room in a house with five other travellers (something that wouldn’t have happened if I had come with friends from home and we'd been able to get our own place). We ended up bonding instantly, learning about each other’s backgrounds and spending time with one another whenever we needed company. That was 12 years ago and I still keep in touch and visit my wonderful flatmates from Madrid who have since become great lifelong friends.
If you’re itching to go away but feel like you need to wait for someone to go with you first, honestly, you could be waiting forever. Take the leap, do the research and plan yourself a memorable trip where you’ll not only discover a new place but get to know yourself a lot better as well.
Previously published at W Dish.