Thinking of travelling abroad alone? Read my arguments for the advantages and disadvantages plus some tips if you do decide to travel solo.
‘What the hell am I doing?’ I asked myself, looking out of the airplane window as we began to depart for Rome, by myself.
So you’re thinking of travelling solo. I had the same thought just before my 21st birthday. With five solo trips under my belt I can say I made the right decision. But these journeys haven’t all been plain sailing by any means.
You’ve probably landed on this page because you had the same doubts as I had. Will I enjoy travelling alone? What problems might I come across? And most importantly, is it safe? While I won’t be able to give you a guaranteed answer to these questions, I can tell you about my experience of travelling alone, the advantages, disadvantages and tips for exploring this world by yourself.
Why do you want to travel alone?
Ask yourself this first. While I’m an advocate of going on holiday alone, I would still recommend going with at least another person – reasons which I’ll cover when discussing the disadvantages of solo travel later in this post.
Why did I decide it was the right thing to do? My friends were going on the usual lad’s holidays to destinations such as Ibiza and the like – and that’s just not me.
Previous family holidays have included Hong Kong and a coach tour across the US – both had me hooked on seeing famous landmarks and taking photographs at every opportunity. I wanted to explore more of the world, experience different cultures, sample local cuisines and take more photos of tourist attractions. And the only way this seemed possible was to travel by myself.
If you’re in a similar situation where there is not another soul who will be your travel companion, try it once at least – it would be a great shame if you didn’t explore or missed out. In hindsight, it would have been a tragedy for me as these experiences have helped me grow as a person too.
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Advantages of Solo Travel
Silence is golden… or can drive you insane
I love being a lone explorer, but that’s perhaps more to do with my personality and nature. As someone who is naturally quiet, spending a week with only myself to talk to doesn’t bother me in the slightest – but I’m sure that sounds like other people’s worst nightmare. So if you can stand the silence, you may just enjoy travelling alone.
Of course, those who aren’t shy and mute like myself will probably meet people along the journey – so it won’t always be the case you feel like a ghost or invisible. You’ll find plenty of travellers who can tell stories of the time they meet a group of people in a bar which led to one of the craziest and best nights ever! Alas, this experience has never happened to this traveller.
I also like doing what I want, when I want and travelling solo offers that. There’s no need to compromise, you can eat and have breaks when you please and you can stay just that little bit longer until you get that perfect picture which you’ll remember and keep forever.
I must have spent ten minutes spinning this viewfinder every which way, taking about fifty photos in the process just so I could go away happy – wouldn’t that drive you mad being my travel partner? Well, this happens to be one, if not, my favourite photos I have ever taken. A friend would have surely pulled me away after the first minute of constant snapping!
A holiday that revolves around you
Just think; an itinerary created for you and you alone! No need to worry about dragging your companion(s) around a boring art museum or waiting in line for hours to visit a museum (I’m looking at you Vatican Museum in Rome).
In Barcelona, I bought an ARTicket which gives you access to seven art museums (I thoroughly recommend this by the way if you’re in this wonderful city). In fact, one of the exhibitions I attended is still my favoruite ever art exhibition. Again, I’m sure this sounds like a nightmare! But I loved each of those seven museums which I might have missed out on visiting travelling with others.
Whilst creating your perfect holiday, you also get to choose your perfect destination, your perfect accommodation and perfect itinerary. Perfect.
So if you get to pick everything you do on holiday and tailor everything to your interests and needs, surely travellers the world over should be converted (I’m making it sound like a cult now aren’t I?!)! Not quite, there are a number of things to take into consideration…
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Disadvantages of Solo Travel
‘Isn’t this grea… oh’
You have no one else to share moments with.
I realise how cheesy and corny this sounds, but you know those funny and unbelievable moments that you reminisce with friends? Whether it was something that happened at school or meeting Michael Buble (I can dream can’t I?!), there is a rather sad feeling you experience when you’re grinning from ear to ear, only to turn to either side and realise it’s only you who sees this wonderful sight in front of you.
On the other hand, you may never have had the chance to see it if you didn’t travel alone – and isn’t this why cameras where invented? To capture a moment you want to remember forever? Although you do have to ask a stranger to take your photo – a big regret as I’m not in any of my photos! I don’t like the idea of selfie sticks.
Be safe, be aware
Another major aspect of travelling solo to consider is safety. It may be different for girls I don’t know, but always be alert and err on the side of caution. I’m a quite fast runner so I can do the whole ‘look over there’ and run play ha! I’m pleased to say I’ve never been subjected to any real danger (touch wood). The only thing I did see, didn’t happen to me.
Walking down the stairs to the Metro in Barcelona, out of the corner of my eye, I saw pickpockets at work on two girls. My instinct kicked in and led me to jump around with arms flailing like they were independent from my body and yelp ‘hey’ dozens of times, not really knowing what else to do at the sight of this injustice. They obviously retreated seeing this mad man reacting in such a way, while laughing which really angered me. And while it didn’t happen to me, this left a bitter taste in my mouth. It also reminded me to be alert to my surroundings. Yes, have fun, enjoy yourself, but be aware there are dangers too.
Another minor incident happened when I was atop the Spanish Steps in Rome. Some guy decided to have a chat with me; and then he tried to give me a bracelet for free. I instantly refused with a smile but he was rather insistent. That’s when I remembered reading about scammers on Tripadvisor who tie bracelets on you and demand you pay them! I ran away.
I rarely stay out past 1’oclock at night on holiday and I always make sure to walk along the main roads back to the hotel. Side streets with no lights are a no no! Backpacks also just invite pickpockets – you may as well be wearing a sign which says ‘please pickpocket me!’ Instead I opt for a shoulder bag.
Go and Get Lost
Getting lost can fall into either the advantage or disadvantage category for me. Getting lost has helped me find places and see things I might not have seen if I kept to the guide book and map.
I’ll always remember the moment I laid eyes on the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I was walking along a cobbled street, eating gelato (as you do in Italy) minding my own business where, passing the corner, the Trevi Fountain and all of its beauty came into full view. Wow. The noise of rushing water would have been a big clue had I not had my headphones in! The Trevi Fountain is actually the very reason why I decided to make Rome my first destination as a solo traveller.
But before I could see the Trevi Fountain, a couple of days earlier in the trip, I struggled to get to the hotel! After arriving by bus at the bus/train station from Ciampino Airport, I couldn’t figure out where to buy a ticket to get a local bus. After panicking for an hour and asking three people who spoke limited to no English, I finally found the ticket machine. This is a perfect example of when having a travel companion would be of great benefit!
Table for one please
I’m not sure why but I can eat in cafes and fast food joints alone fine, but having a proper sit down meal in a restaurant I can find awkward sometimes. Just something to consider I guess whether you feel the same too. My advice is go out and eat alone in a restaurant where you live and see how you feel.
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Tips and preparation for Travelling Solo
Research, research and when you think you’ve researched enough, research some more. While I’m advocating being a free spirit and seeing where the holiday takes you, make sure you have some information to make the holiday go smoothly.
Things like your mode of transport to the hotel once you’ve landed, where this transport can be boarded, where your hotel is, the street or stop you need to take and what you hotel looks like. This information is available on Tripadvisor and Google Maps. All of this information which help you have a stress free start to your holiday and ensure you get to your hotel without a hitch, which didn’t happen on my first three trips incidentally…
You’ve read how an elusive ticket machine hindered me in Rome. In Barcelona I got off the bus too early and wandered around Barcelona looking for Las Ramblas and then my hotel for an hour or two. While in Nice I missed my stop and wandered around looking for my apartment. All three times whilst wheeling around luggage! Not fun at all.
It’s also worth finding out how transport systems work too, or you may end up paying the penalty – literally.
With little else to see or do in Milan last summer, I decided a spontaneous trip to Lake Como would be a good idea. As I hadn’t planned it, I hadn’t researched how the over ground train system worked. So it was to my surprise when the ticket officer told me I had to pay a €5 fine for not stamping my ticket before boarding! Luckily it was only €5 as it was the last day of my holiday and I was quickly running out of money. The trip to Lake Como was well worth it anyway.
Always carry a map. Always.
Getting lost is fun, – up to a point. There have been many times when I have somehow strayed further than I intentionally meant to. I once ended up in an area of Milan which I read was a bad neighbourhood late at night! Funny how in this situation you always think someone is following you or someone is waiting to jump you just around the corner. Yes, if you do take a companion with you, make sure it’s a map.
But I’m not an independent person!
I wasn’t the most independent person when I took my first steps as a solo traveller (far from it and I’m still not all that together!). And even just checking-in and finding the right gate at the airport was nerve wracking! But I genuinely think if I can do it with some relative success, anyone can – as long as you research.
Keep Calm and Don’t Panic
And the final piece of advice I leave you is with is this, don’t panic. While I’m sick to death of seeing those ‘Keep Calm’ posters everywhere, it’s not bad advice to not panic. Panicking is the worst thing you can do I feel. If you should find yourself on the verge of a breakdown, take a deep breath and plan your next sensible steps.
Final words to convince you
I look back on my photos, relive those memories of what I’ve seen and done and smile. I hope you do the same after reading this.
Have any questions? What are your experiences or tips for travelling solo? Let me know in the comments section below!