Here we go again.
Here I go again.
There is no we, there is no us; I am not part of them, they’re not part of me and possessively it will never be theirs. I shall always be am, often referred to as is, never are, because there is only one, there is only me: a solo traveller on a journey for one, another solitary experience, all alone, until alone becomes one still slightly more than none.
Here I go again.
A little tick at the box of single supplement, a surprise 1 pax surcharge and a discovery that less is in fact more and that more for less just can’t be missed.
At the guesthouse, curled up on a couch in reach of the wifi and coffee, I’m armed with a notebook, a netbook or just a book when questions from the opposite side of the room are fired in the direction of the silent single empty seat next to me.
“Are you travelling alone?”
I see the stares, I notice the glares as I shake my head yes on the question, “Table for one?” and no on the question, “But are you not afraid?” while my lone wandering sanity is under the magnifying glass of a very social society travelling together.
Eyes are filled with a hint of pity, a sprinkle of sympathy and a dash of “ag shame”; hypothetical scenarios, what ifs and inane questions lead the way as ears listen to answers skeptically, with a head-tilt to the left and another dash of “ag shame”.
The murmurings echo all the way from a place I used to call home to the reality of not being here or there; “Will she ever settle? This phase has been going on for more than a decade.”
While a handful understand my choice to choose an independent journey, the social society choir trumpet in one voice “But it is just you; don’t you have any friends or perhaps family to join? Do you really want to go alone?”
And then the celebrity question puts its best foot forward, “Don’t you get lonely?”
Here I go again…
Truth be told and simply put, in a one word one sentence answer: no.
But allow me to explain, address a few of the uncertainties and put the “ag shame” head tilt to rest with a few truths and lessons about solo travelling.
Lesson 1: It is okay to be selfish
Henry David Thoreau said, “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travel with another must wait until that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off” and the best thing about a solo trip is the fact that one can be selfish…
Selfish with your time, selfish with your journey and selfish with your wallet.
Don’t want to visit that temple, dine here, pay for that experience or travel with someone?
Lesson 2: It is okay to NOT be afraid
The world is not a big scary place; solo travel pushes you to rely on your own instincts and teaches you how to hone your instincts over time. Not everything/everyone/everywhere is dangerous; it is okay to be careful and it is okay to trust strangers. The one who travels alone is tough, street smart and through a few trips, hits and misses solo travellers learnt a few things along the way.
Lesson 3: It is okay to be afraid
I’ve moved chairs and tables in front of doors just for some peace of mind; your mind does weird things when you travel alone and hear noises in the dark. It is okay – and completely natural – to be scared from time to time.
Lesson 4: It is okay to lie
Sometimes it is necessary. You will know when.
Lesson 5: It is okay to dine alone
It baffles me why sitting alone in a restaurant or café is so often frowned upon, especially in countries where couple culture is quite big (like South Korea). Dining alone is quite okay; the alone time around that “table for one” can score you some insider-information about the place you are visiting, you can catch-up on a book, a travel journal or just do some people-watching.
Lesson 6: It is okay that you are not an extrovert
You don’t have to be an extrovert to travel alone; being shy, quiet and a bit of a loner does not mean that group travel is your only choice. The beauty of being a solo travel introvert is that the connections you make will most likely not be forced, but deep and meaningful while you can still enjoy your alone time.
Lesson 7: It is okay to travel with confidence
Solo travel is empowering; you navigate your way through unfamiliar territory, realise what you are capable of doing, and you know your strengths (and weaknesses).
Lesson 8: It is okay to change your mind
Travelling alone means that all choices rely only on you but it is okay to change your mind; nothing is set in stone – you have nothing to prove, you are not responsible for anyone else and your purpose, priorities and passions are allowed to affect your choices.
Lesson 9: It is okay that I’m alone and that I’m not lonely
Travelling alone does not mean that you are lonely, unhappy or sad; it means that you are embracing an experience, indulging in your own curiosity and making time for yourself; and that is okay! It is okay if you don’t feel like always talking to strangers or meeting new people. To be alone is not lonely.
Lesson 10: It is okay that this is not a phase
If you Google, “Reasons to travel alone,” about 6 million results effortlessly pop up; some would say it is a fad, but is it really if solo travel is on the rise year after year?
My first solo trip was a no-brainer; I was living in a foreign country for less than 2 months, had no close friends there yet and my vacation dates did not match the dates of my friendly acquaintances. But I had a desire to explore, and so I did.
That was about 10 years ago and I survived not only to tell the tale but to continue the tale of going solo.
Travel in general– whether you are alone or in a group – is not a phase or something you get out of your system.
Lesson 11: It is also okay if you don’t want to travel alone anymore
I love travelling solo now – be it on a road trip in South Africa or to a foreign county with a backpack – but maybe one day I will change my mind and feel the need to experience it with someone. And that’s okay too.
Lesson 12: It is okay to ask for help
The independence of solo travel is awesome, but since we are all human, one often needs help; be it with luggage, directions or information. Asking for help does not deprecate your independence, it strengthens it.
Lesson 13: It is okay to be out of your comfort zone
To be out of my comfort zone and to be exposed to the unknown has showed me how to thrive outside of my comfort zone.
Lesson 14: It is okay to feel defeated
There will come a time when you might feel defeated. Feel it, that’s okay and know that it shall pass.
Lesson 15: It’s okay to take a selfie
Personally, I don’t like having my photo taken or like taking one myself, but if a moment is big, if you are visiting a place you’ve been dreaming about for years or if you just want to remember something for eternity, take that damn selfie! Or ask someone to take your photo. Screw the others around you – who are probably travelling with a partner that is taking their photo – and forget about those eyes that turn into Judge Judy when you raise your camera/phone in front of your face and make the moment last forever. But remember to put the camera down and enjoy whatever is around you as well.
Lesson 16: It is okay to find yourself more than once
Whenever someone travels alone there is always the running joke that said person is out there to find themselves or, if you are a female that you are on a Eat, Pray, Love journey. So what if you are and so what if you have “found yourself” a previous time and is out there trying to find yourself again? What is wrong with continuing to explore who you are as a human being? It should be encouraged.
Lesson 17: It is okay to be older than other solo travellers
Gone are the days when the typical solo traveller was a 20-something fresh out of university or high school, sporting baggy elephant pants, Asian whiskey buckets and a backpack covered in tiny little flags from the Banana Pancake Trail. The same survey of Solitair Holidays showed that more than 84% of people who go solo on holiday are between the ages of 51 and 70 and only 4% are under 30. Yes, older women (and men) can travel alone as well, whether they’re single or married, wearing baggy elephant pants or designer jeans, going away for a week or a year. Did you hear about the South African woman who travelled in her Toyota Conquest through Africa to London? She’s a granny, 80 years old and did it all by herself. Now that’s awesome!
Lesson 18: It is okay if others don’t understand it
Solo travel is not for everyone.
And that is okay.
Solo travel is however for some.
And that’s okay too.
* Parts of this post are from an article I wrote for Traveller24.