Travelling alone can be one of the most exciting, challenging, rewarding and daunting things a person can do in life. It can also be one of the most educational. Here are just a few of the lessons learned from travelling alone:
1. Independence. Including independence on this list might seem akin to proffering that playing water polo in a tank full of great white sharks inspires a certain level of caution, but hear me out. Growing up as an only child, I’ve always considered myself to be gifted with a fair degree of independence. However, this is completely incomparable to the type of independence one learns from travelling alone. Travelling alone builds in you a certain type of strength and resilience, not to mention self-sufficiency – how many people do you know who could organise and execute their own journey through foreign lands, spending months in the company of total strangers? I know people who can’t even manage a simple trip to the supermarket on their own, and these are the exact people who make me wish that natural selection was a much swifter process.
When travelling alone, you learn to function primarily without the aid of others, relying on your own resourcefulness to navigate a strange city, or to find somewhere to rest your head at night. In this sense, it instils a logistical kind of independence, but much more noticeable (and, arguably, much more valuable) is the emotional independence it inspires – the ability to find comfort in one’s own company. On a solitary journey you may go for long periods of time without holding a prolonged conversation with another person and it’s in these moments that you learn to appreciate who you are; to have internal conversations with yourself that you’ve never had before; to learn about yourself and to learn to be at ease in your own company. And it’s in this way that travelling alone can be quite comparable to having a split personality. And may also induce one.
2. Social skills. Not all of us are naturally social creatures. Some of us feel much more comfortable on our own or perhaps in the company of a close-knit group of friends. But travelling alone will certainly force you out of your shell and is, rather ironically, one of the best ways to learn new social skills.
Perhaps it’s the solitude that forces one to initiate social bonds, or maybe it’s just the open-minded nature with which one approaches travelling alone. It could be the security in knowing that you never have to see these people again, or it’s possibly the fact that solitary travel gives you the opportunity to try being someone different. Whatever the reason, travelling alone is sort of like guidance counselling, only way more expensive and much more socially acceptable.
3. Open-mindedness. Humans are very much like gorillas, chimpanzees, high school cheerleaders and other less evolved primates in that we are often very reluctant to step outside of our comfort zone and established social circle. Take away the circle and the pressure of social acceptance that comes with it, and all of a sudden a whole world of new opportunities opens up.
Maybe you’ve realised that your life passion lies in underwater basket weaving, knitting sub-zero swimwear, or in the biathlon – a rather bizarre winter sport. Or perhaps you’ve suddenly decided that you want to join a body of Tibetan monks. Whatever shiny new experience is compelling you, with the absence of social pressure and expectation, now is the time to try it.
4. The true value of technology. The fact that I can turn my phone on and within an instant have access to GPS, emergency numbers and local transport information is a great security blanket. Far greater is the revelation that we don’t actually need all of this technology. Humans are much more intelligent than we give ourselves credit for. We have an incredibly intuitive natural sense of direction as well as a fine-tuned ability to sense a potential threat. It’s just that we’ve created all of this technology and convinced ourselves that we need it in order to function. We don’t. So put your godddamned smartphone away, take a look around you, and learn to appreciate the fact that you are far more intelligent than any combination of wires and motherboards (except for maybe the Galaxy S5, available from all good retail outlets at a discounted price for a limited time only).
Leave your phone at the bottom of your backpack and you may also discover the universal human language of compassion – if you do encounter trouble, you will be surprised at how willing people are to help a stranger in need. And, if you become lost in a strange city – so what? Do you have somewhere to be? An important meeting to attend? A slowly deteriorating elderly relative to listen to prattle on about how their dentures always taste of moss in the morning? Probably not. Sit down and get a coffee, something to eat, and enjoy the sensation of being completely immersed in a new culture. Which leads nicely on to my final point.
5. It’s okay to be lost. Despite what your parents, your peers and your mentors may tell you, it’s okay to be lost. Because having a sure set direction in life, while just as rewarding, lacks one thing that being lost can offer: the sense of the unknown. The knowledge that life is full of mysteries and that you still have so much left to discover. So get out there and discover it.