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Loneliness as a fear of Solo Travel?
Travelling alone like learning to surf is hard work and exhausting, yet just when you're about to pack it all in, something happens and suddenly you're back up on your feet again ready to go. And just like surfing there are certain techniques to learn and perfect in order to get the most out of a solo traveller experience.
Loneliness is naturally one of the biggest fears of first time go-it-aloners. Scroll through Lonely Planet's chat forum, the Thorn Tree and it's apparent that people want to know that they'll meet others en route. But what this quick search through the forum also reveals is just how many people there are out there willing to give travelling alone a shot.
In fact, as a single traveller Lady Luck is on your side because with more and more people opting to travel solo, being alone and not part of an impenetrable, self assured group or supposedly contented pair the chances are you'll get to meet far more people than either that group or that couple (who are quite likely envious of your freedom and opportunities anyway). So, walk down into the hostel courtyard, kitchen or TV room armed with a big smile, say hello and get sharing travel tips.
Going to bed each night with a plan for the next day is an effective technique to adopt. Having an objective means you've something to keep yourself busy should that sense of isolation set in. But one of the best things about travelling on your ownsome is that you have the freedom to adapt as you go along so should a better opportunity crop up over breakfast you can be flexible without the danger or upsetting any long term travelling companion or partner.
A book, diary or blank postcard should be carried on you at all times. They save you the embarrassment of sitting at a coffee shop or park bench alone trying to avoid the curious gaze of Indians, Bolivians or, just like at home, the neighbourhood weirdoes. But you can always put these ‘tools' to one side should an interesting local come up for a chat or a lost tourist ask you for directions.
Getting from one place to another can be particularly daunting when you're doing it on your own: no one to share decisions with, no one you can rely on to share the burden should things get a little bumpy but despite cultural and linguistic differences people throughout the world aren't all that dissimilar when it comes to wanting to help you out. In fact they're even more likely to offer you assistance if you're clearly alone which could be an excellent introduction to some locals.
Wherever you are in the world and whoever you're arriving with, be it the proverbial Mr ‘Jack Jones' or a massive group your essential needs are going to be the same: a place to sleep and a place to eat. If you are going to be reaching your destination alone, particularly later in the day, it's well worth booking ahead, at least for that night, to save yourself the stress of not knowing whether you'll be back on that park bench to sleep or not. And if you aren't happy where you are, change!
There are many styles of hostel and each tend to attract a different type of traveller – younger/older, groups/'soloists' – with so much of travelling being to do with the people that you meet it's well worth checking out the options to find a place that matches your personality. It could even be as simple as changing dorms. And while in places like Australia most backpackers sleep in dorms which makes other people instantly accessible, in other countries like Thailand dorm options rarely exist so it's important to find a guest house where there's an enticing communal area to enable you to meet others.
When it comes to eating, this very much depends on the country you're in. Backpacking around more expensive countries means you'll be cooking in the often overcrowded yet sociable hostel or camp kitchen and not having to face the sometimes scary prospect of sitting down at a food stall on your tod (with a book!), trying to get to grips with the local dishes in those parts of the world where eating out is very cheap and usually the only option available. But because that's the way it's done you'll notice that you aren't the only person eating alone and chances are you'll end up eating your Pad Thai with people you bump into anyway.
It's important to realise however, that no one's alone when it comes to feeling lonely! Those moments when you are having a bad time, feeling homesick, nervous or as if you've not had a normal conversation with anyone in 24 hours, are simply part of travelling and shared by seasoned backpackers, individuals and groups alike. And let's be honest, even when you're back at home, it's usual to have good and bad days.
Undoubtedly, travelling on your own exposes you to all sorts of new situations that in many cases you've never had to encounter in the ‘safe' environment of home yet the sense of achievement you feel when you realise that you can go it alone is no less exhilarating than the day you manage to stand up on that surfboard.
But like surfing not everyone takes to travelling alone and hey, no dramas, dude, if you do decide to sit the next big wave out. The main thing is to take the plunge and at least give it a go. After all, it might just turn out to be the ride of your life and before you know it, you, like 1000s of others, are totally hooked!