This is a guest post by long time contributor, Teh Chin Liang.
When I tell people I am going on a long solo trip, often eyebrows are raised followed by a barrage of questions such as: ‘are you out of your mind?’ – ‘what are you going to do being alone in a foreign country?’ – ‘won’t you feel lonely?’ – ‘are you sure it is going to be safe for you?’ and ‘isn’t it weird doing things alone all the time?” The questions persist and at times I feel like in a military video game on the defensive – holding a bullet proof shield to protect myself.
In today’s society – most people nurture a belief that whatever it is we are doing, we should always be accompanied by someone. From dining in a restaurant, grocery shopping, working out at a park, to even driving a car, someone (even sometimes a person you may not like) has to be there to keep you company. If you are living the solo life, you might be branded as a person leading a sad and pathetic existence.
And this goes without saying when it comes to traveling. Most people I know feel that you always have to travel with someone, or in a group. The more the merrier – the reason being to avoid potentially becoming overwhelmed by loneliness, at the same time, to protect yourself from any harm caused by the outside world.
I agree that humans are gregarious creatures and we thrive and survive in community living. However, when it comes to traveling, I still prefer going solo – here are my reasons:
Firstly, traveling solo does not necessarily mean wallowing in self-pity and loneliness all the time …
In fact, I have never felt left out or lonely at any time during my travels. After all, I am not launching myself into space! There is always a living soul in every nook and corner of the world (well, unless one is lost in a vast expanse of desert/unchartered forest or set adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean – but you get my point). From the moment I land my butt on an airplane seat, to the point I crash in a bunkbed at a hostel, I have always found pleasant and interesting people to make conversation with. As the saying goes, “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet”.
Freedom and flexibility in many respects
I get to choose when and where I want to travel. There are times when I wake up in a proper and exuberant mood and decide to go on a vacation at the drop of a hat. This kind of flexibility is hard to come by when traveling with others. Not everyone is up for a last-minute trip. Often a group of people will attempt to plan a trip together – but because of everyone’s busy schedule, chances are some of them will bail at the very last moment due to work or personal reasons. And then often the trip is canceled; what a downer for those who already committed to the trip.
Freedom experienced on solo trips is one of the primary reasons why I travel alone. I make all decisions myself; what time to wake up every morning, how long I want to spend in a place I fall in love with, which attractions I would rather skip, which local delicacies I plan on binge eating, etc.
Pay more attention to what I see and take in the surroundings.
When traveling with a friend or in a group, we tend to find ourselves falling into repeated and scripted conversations – gossiping about office politics or talking about the season finale of Game of Thrones. Sometimes we become too indulged that we miss out on being in the moment – a scene that would make a great photo or some other relevant piece of knowledge or history which would have enhanced our appreciation for the places that we visit. Traveling solo provides me with a chance to devote my full attention to everything in my surroundings, enabling me to better experience the local culture, foods and ways of living.
Be bold and adventurous in trying new things without fear of making a fool out of myself.
Being in a place where nobody knows me makes me bolder and confident to try anything new that comes my way. From eating exotic foods, trying my hands at local sports, learning to communicate in a local language or winding up on a nude beach – these are my best times for living a life of adventure. If I embarrass myself – SCREW IT! None of my friends will ever find out! What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. I have nothing to lose but a secret that I will carry to my grave.
But let me reveal one secret. During a trip to San Luis Obispo, California with the owner of this website, we rode bicycles to a nearby farm. While skidding down a slope, I lost control of the bike and brutally plowed my way through a path caked in thick mud. What happened next was a roller-coaster disaster. Bits and chunks of dried mud flew all over and at a high velocity, like an eruption of a geyser, launching themselves high in the air, before succumbing to the force of gravity and raining down on top of me. I still can’t live down that incident down to this day.
A sense of accomplishment and a lasting memory to be cherished for many years to come
There is always a sense of pride and satisfaction when looking back at what I achieved during a one-month solo backpacking trip early in my travels, with all the research, planning and booking done by myself. Not only did I come back with unforgettable memories and a renewed zest for life, I realized I was able to blaze my own trail and hopefully inspire others to embark on their own trip of a lifetime!
Undeniably, traveling solo can be miserable and distressing if you choose to isolate yourself from others. There is a quote from the movie The Nanny Diaries – “you must immerse yourself in an unfamiliar world in order to truly understand your own”. When you keep an open mind and heart, your trip will be filled with numerous surprises and excitable moments.
And chances are, it may turn out to be a life-altering journey.