To go against “the man” alone or not at all??? This is the question asked by many before beginning the journey of a solo traveler. For those who are new to the game, this may be a daunting and intimidating concept…after all, haven’t we all heard the commonly used proverb, “Two heads are better than one”? It’s true! Planning is easier and more complete when you have more than 1 person thinking about the necessary details, but just because we are talking about traveling on one’s own doesn’t mean you’ll often or frequently be traveling alone. In fact, during my last year and a half traveling around SE Asia, Portugal and parts of the US I only traveled completely by myself for the first 6 weeks…and that was purely because I didn’t know how to do it properly (since it was my first time). Once I learned how and what to do, I was never alone even though I was still technically a solo traveler.
I’ll let you in on a little known secret known only to the long-term/frequent traveling community: When you travel alone, if you stay in a hostel (even if you stay in a private room), you’re SURROUNDED by solo travelers who are looking to meet people, have fun and even enjoy traveling together for a time. It’s true, it does still require a little effort on your part of being available in the common areas and striking up conversations, but even the slightest efforts can easily result in great friendships, romantic relationships and traveling companions.
When I started traveling I had no idea how to do it correctly. I had helpful suggestions from my German travel guru, but most of it I was learning as I went along. As a consequence, I learned very quickly…many of the things NOT to do. For example, if you even mention “hostel” to most US residents they’ll sneer at the very idea of it. In the US somehow we’ve only heard (and shared) the terrible hostel experiences or go off of what we’ve seen on TV and in movies, when in fact, most hostels I’ve been to have been a wonderful experience! It’s true there can be bed bugs, theft, dirty sheets, inconsiderate hosts or fellow travelers, boring/cheap breakfast, crappy coffee, bad areas, uncomfortable beds, weird locals living there, crazy parties and any of the other issues you’ve probably heard of. However, those are the exceptions, not the rule…and you can check those things out through the hundreds of reviews listed on apps and websites ahead of time so as to avoid the worst of the situations. Travelers are a really connected community…if we’ve had a great or terrible experience somewhere you’ll hear about it, so you’ll know it’s a place to visit or avoid.
I was extremely lonely for the first 6 weeks, but once I met up with an American friend of mine in Malaysia and stayed at my very first hostel, we met all kinds of people, made instant friends and even created some lifelong friendships within a few hours of our arrival! I then proceeded to travel with 2 of these friends for a month around Malaysia and met up with another 15 in and out of different cities and islands around the country, staying together for days or weeks at a time. A year+ later, these 2 (a Scottish-American girl and German guy) are still a couple of my favorite people and we’re looking forward to a travel-siblings reunion in Utrecht, Nederland in a few days! Several of the other friends have met up again (both with me and without me causing major FOMO!) in other countries and cities around SE Asia, Europe and the US throughout the year following our initial meeting.
Actually, the long-term traveling community tends to be a rather small network of people in each area. It’s extremely common to meet friends of other friends and run into people who you’d previously met in other countries. Want to put this to the test? Run the pub-crawl at a popular hostel in a big city for a little while…then travel to other countries and see how often your name gets called out in the streets. When I did this, I ran the pub-crawl for a hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for 3 months…left to Singapore for 10 days…then went to Hanoi, Vietnam. Within the first 3 days in Hanoi I had already run into more than 20 people I knew from Malaysia, some whom I’d met my first time there more than 5-6 months earlier!
The beautiful part about this is: If you’re traveling…you’re part of the community! No fees, no initiation, no hazing rituals (well…maybe some 😉 ), no rules and no requirements. There are much less psychological demands projected onto each other as travelers than onto people whom we’d allow to be our friends if we were living in the same place for an extended period of time. Slightly annoying quirks, lifestyle differences and beliefs, religious and cultural backgrounds…these things don’t really come into play since you’re only spending limited amounts of time with people. If someone does something that isn’t particularly enjoyable…you move on from them and find someone new. But even the patience level we have with each other over our differences seems to be much higher as we travel because there’s no requirement or necessity to getting used to undesired people/behaviors in the long-term. Having even this basic shared commonality of a continuously moving expat lifestyle is enough to warrant the respect of others for a little while.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t tell you there’s a downside to all of this. Here it is: PEOPLE LEAVE. Boom. There you have it. People are constantly leaving and moving on for one reason or another (finished with their travels, moving on to a new place, staying in the same place while you move on to another, etc). If you have abandonment issues, this can be a real problem! We’re all perfectly happy leaving behind the people we don’t get along well with but what about the amazing ones who we’ve only gotten a few days or weeks with and then they/we leave?! It’s basically the most torturous side of the whole experience!
Moral of the story: Don’t do it. Don’t solo travel because then you won’t have to worry about meeting really cool people from all over the world, sharing chaotic and amazing stories and experiences just to have them leave for new places. TORTURE. Of course, if you do choose to do it, you have crazy/fantastic lifelong friends living all over the world whom you can meet up with in entirely new countries and share unique, weird and exciting experiences with…