The way that you travel dictates your travel experiences.
As someone who has travelled in groups as well as with family and completely solo, each experience has been completely different.
While it is amazing to share your travel experiences with friends, family or partners, for me I find solo travel the most fulfilling.
Travelling solo has shown me how capable I am. It has shown me that I can achieve so much if I just put my mind to it. It has taught me to be open and willing to get to know new people.
Travelling solo has also turned me into my own biggest cheerleader. Now there is no accomplishment too small. If I manage to go on a tour on my own, walk up to a stranger and make a new friend or even just manage to get on the right bus to the right destination with all of my possessions intact, this is an achievement (and a cause for celebration).
It is amazing just how much you can learn about yourself by meeting new people. When you travel in a group, it is easy to just stick to what you know and stay in the cosy familiarity of your companions.
As a solo traveller, you really have no excuse but to suck it up and go and sit down with a group of total strangers. More often than not, the outcome is more than rewarding.
These are all the positives to solo travel but of course, as with anything, there are drawbacks. You feel compelled to be doubly prepared and are always looking over your shoulder. You want to be open to new people but always feel the need to have a guard up. You, ultimately, have to have your own back.
Whether you experiences of solo travel have been good or bad, here are seven common realities of travelling alone.
1 – You prepare twice as hard
When travelling in a group, it is possible to rely on other people. Someone will always have the address of the new hostel and a map downloaded. Someone will always have cash on them. And someone will always have your back.
However, as a solo traveller, you have to have your own back. I am forever running through a mental checklist of everything I need to get from one place to the other safely.
I find myself triple checking times and locations, making sure I arrive places in daytime and doing everything I can to make sure I don’t get stranded or left in a sticky situation. In a group, it is possible to be complacent and still be okay. Travelling solo, this is simply not an option as you are compromising on your safety.
2 – You have to be a bit shameless
One thing I learned pretty quickly when left to travel by myself was that there is no point hiding out in your bedroom and hoping someone will strike up a conversation with you.
You have to get out there and make friends. No one is going to do it for you. And this requires a bit of shamelessness that I honestly did not know that I had.
You have to be able to walk into a tour group, a bar or a hostel common area and just plonk yourself down with a bunch of people. There is no other way to go about it but to feign total confidence and to be a bit shameless.
3 – Every little thing is an achievement
One thing I did not expect was a sense of inner achievement when travelling solo. Everything became cause for celebration.
As you start to get through weeks and then months of relatively seamless and extremely fun solo travel, you start to believe that you are capable of literally anything. If you managed to successfully travel through Ecuador without major trauma, meeting loads of people and having a great time, you feel like you are capable of absolutely anything (and you probably are!).
That is the beauty of solo travel, the sheer sense of accomplishment. Nothing is as fulfilling as realising through travel just what you are made of.
4 – There are inevitable lonely periods
Honestly, I found my first few weeks of travelling solo were really hard. I found it difficult to make friends and began to feel lonely for companionship.
While this feeling quickly dissipated, there is always going to be a few rough patches and some times where you do feel lonely. However, I can promise that these moments become less frequent the more you get out there and travel.
Remember that you are human and that it is totally normal to feel lonely from time to time. I mean you are thousands of miles from home, in a strange country and completely by yourself! Cut yourself some slack.
5 – You will meet twice as many people
Travelling solo makes you are fly-trap for new acquaintances. You meet new people everywhere; on tours, in your hostel dorms, on nights out, even a fellow gringo in the queue at the local supermarket.
People find you much easier to approach when you are by yourself rather than sitting in a group and this bodes extremely well for solo travellers. And everywhere you go, you will find other travellers going it alone and in the exact same position as you. And, inevitably, they also want to meet new people.
As you continue on your journey, you also begin to bump into the same people along the way. They have also probably made new friends and your group of acquaintances will continue to grow organically. There is not greater feeling than meeting new people and making endless new friends.
6 – You will be able to talk to anyone about anything
Even if you would not describe yourself as a talker, when you travel solo you begin to realise that you can literally talk to a brick wall.
The best part about meeting people while travelling is that you have loads in common! You are travellers. Every single person you meet has either been to the same places you have, have plans to go there or are simply interested in sharing experiences.
This provides you with hours of fodder for conversation and you will find you will never run out of things to talk about.
7 – You will probably end up in a group anyway
As you continue to travel, it is only inevitable that you begin to bump into the same people as they travel similar routes to you.
Before you know it, you may have amassed a group of a dozen people that you are hopping from place to place with. While it is nice to travel in a group from time to time, it is also nice to have flexibility.
When you travel with friends, you feel obliged to stick together and this inevitably means you compromise on your itinerary to suit other people.
Travelling with a group of new acquaintances means you can come and go as you please. You are entitled to spend a few extra days somewhere you really like just as you are able to catch up with friends in other destinations.
This is the beauty of solo travel, the absolute freedom of it. Ultimately, you are your own boss and you get to decide what you want to do, where you want to go and how you are going to do it.