It has been just over a week that I’ve been in Thailand; the beginning of my solo, three-month backpacking stint around Southeast Asia that will eventually take me to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
1. You are hardly ever actually alone.
Sometimes it feels like you have to fight to spend time on your own. With all the new people you’ll meet because a) you are easy to approach when you’re alone and b) you will force yourself to approach others, it often takes putting your foot down and telling others that you’d like to do something on your own, or you need some time to do something, or so on. People think you’d get lonely when you travel alone. It’s quite the opposite actually. At least in a place like Thailand where there are so many other travellers and friendly locals.
2. You might actually be very alone sometimes.
Contrary to the previous point, and contrary to a lot of peoples’ thoughts and writings on the topic of solo travel, there are times when you are actually painfully alone. Saying “when you travel alone, you are never alone” is a little bit of an exaggerative statement. One that I’ve certainly been guilty of making before, but an exaggeration all the same. You are hardly ever alone, but sometimes, when you first get to a new destination, or when you travel from A to B, or when you want to do something different to your new travel buddies… but still, there are usually people around to meet and talk to, and so, yes, it is very rare to be fully alone.
3. Solo travel is the best way to get to know yourself.
When you’re on your own, you have to (or should) depend on yourself. I say should, because I’ve met people who are travelling alone who still depend a lot on others to do activities with them or help them make decisions. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to go and do something with you or ask for advice, but no one owes you anything when you travel. It sounds cold but it’s true. You’ll meet great people, but you should come first. Which means doing what you want to do despite others doing their own thing or even trying to persuade you to do otherwise. The decisions you make and your responses to challenges will teach you show much about your qualities, strengths, weaknesses and nature. I’m learning new things about myself every day.
4. Nothing will properly prepare you for travelling alone except travelling alone.
I’ve holidayed before, for as many as two weeks, alone. That was New York and Boston, Israel and Istanbul. It felt nothing like this. I knew I would be back home soon, I was in comfortable surrounds, everything was easily navigable, transport ran on time, I had access to nice showers and a comfortable bed at all times. In one week of travelling alone, I have cultivated an infection on an insect bite on my foot, fallen off a scooter in Koh Lanta, waded through thigh-high water over dubious rocks wearing two backpacks and a bag containing a Mac, an iPhone and a DSLR camera, slept in a bed above a bar, stayed up all night on Khao San Road, made a 12-hour trip from Bangkok to the islands, cuddled five puppies in Koh Lipe, broken my camera, suffered a sore throat for five days, danced at three beach parties, and made countless Thai and travelling friends. Every experience is magnified; the good becomes amazing, the bad becomes terrible but still manageable. Everything seems significant in some way. And I’m grateful for all that happens. Basically; the feeling of solo travel makes you feel very strong and very positive about life as a whole. It’s hard work but it’s worth it.
5. Travelling alone is the best thing ever.
I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve cheered, I’ve screamed. I’m only a week in to a three month trip, and I’ve been trying to truly live life to the full in the short time I’ve been here. I’ve taken risks, surprised myself and have been learning more about myself, other people and the world with every step of the way, every new journey and every experience. It sounds cliche, but I know already that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I know I have to be careful, sensible and responsible, but I also know that mistakes, challenges and misfortunes make the best stories. The days leading up to my flight over here, I was worried and freaked out. Had I made the wrong decision? Would I have a bad time? Was this a waste of these three months?! The answer to all, of course, is an unequivocal NO. I’ve barely even begun and I’m having the time of my life. My advice to would-be travellers: if in doubt, travel solo.