Why Everyone Should Travel Alone At Least Once
Why Everyone Should Travel Alone At Least Once
I think a lot of people are afraid of travelling alone – or they simply think they won’t enjoy it.
And I’ll admit, I was pretty nervous when I set off for my first completely solo trip overseas last year.
I’d made an impulsive decision to travel to a yoga retreat in Sri Lanka, and had felt extremely excited ever since…
Until the morning I was leaving.
Suddenly I wondered how I’d spend the 13-hour flight and 8-hour car journey ahead, completely alone. I wondered who I’d talk to, and who I’d reminisce with about it all later.
I was used to travelling (last I counted, I’ve been to 33 countries), but I’d never gone it alone, because for the last seven years – when I’d done most of my travelling – I’d been in a relationship.
In the beginning, simple tasks – like getting my bag off the carousel at baggage claim, or figuring out where to get a taxi from at the airport – seemed a lot more daunting on my own.
But by the end, I felt I needed to tell anyone and everyone to experience this as soon as they could…
Because it was almost as if I hadn’t really known myself – and what I’m capable of – until I had.
Here are a few reasons everyone should travel alone at least once.
Depending on who you’re travelling with, picking a destination for a trip can be a compromise. Either you’re tagging along on someone else’s trip, or you have to find something that pleases all your travel companions (and their taste, their budget and their time constraints). The logistics of organising travel with others can be exhausting.
But this trip was all mine.
I had wanted to go to Sri Lanka for years but hadn’t been able to coordinate it with anyone. I needed a trip stat, and I didn’t know anyone who was free to come at that time, and on such short notice. I was desperate to go to a yoga retreat, and couldn’t think of a friend who’d want to do one. I found an amazing treehouse to stay in, and I couldn’t imagine who’d want to stay in it either. So I went on my own, and I got to do it all.
It didn’t matter that the first place I wanted to go was an 8-hour drive away from the airport. I didn’t have to check with anyone that they were okay with that. And from the moment I got there, every moment of every day was spent exactly how I wanted to spend it.
2. You focus more on your surroundings
When you’re on your own, you’re much more attuned to everything that’s happening around you. You’re breathing it all in, noticing the idiosyncrasies of the local people and the differences in the landscape.
On the drive from Colombo to Arugam Bay, I wanted to catch up on sleep but I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes and miss out on what was happening around me.
I watched the Mr Whippy of Sri Lanka, with music playing in his tuk tuk as he drove around with bread goods in the back. I spotted a monkey running across the road, a mongoose, an elephant, buffalo, peacocks, and the local roadkill – a monitor. I saw king coconuts, jackfruit, and the area with the best marijuana in Sri Lanka (in my driver Jinha’s opinion).
And this was all before I even reached my accommodation.
3. You meet more people
From the moment I arrived at my hotel in Arugam Bay, I was never really alone. Before I’d even had the chance to go to an ATM, I walked across the road and decided to stop in one of the many bars that lined the beach, to have a drink and write in my travel journal.
When you sit somewhere alone, people are much more likely to come and talk to you.
Within a few minutes, the owner of the restaurant came to sit down and pour me some wine, and before I knew it he was telling me all kinds of stories about the local area, his life, and Sri Lanka in general. This kind of thing happened consistently throughout the whole trip. That night I ended up partying with a bunch of Sri Lankans and travellers, and by my second day in Arugam Bay I felt like I knew everyone in the town. I’d actually be walking down the street and someone would call my name from across the road.
When I arrived at my yoga retreat a couple of days later, I was invited to attend a ‘Big Girl’ party – the huge celebration that is thrown for Sri Lankan girls when they enter womanhood. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life as I got a real insight into the local’s culture and friendly hospitality.
In fact, I was with other people so often that for the first time in my life, there were times when I was the one to excuse myself from company and take myself away to just sit in my hammock or my treehouse and read my book.
4. You learn more about the places you travel to
Partly because of the people you meet, and partly because you’re focusing more on your surroundings, I think you learn so much more about the places you travel to when you’re alone.
Instead of chatting with travel companions, wondering aloud about parts of the local culture, architecture or history, you simply ask the locals and get real answers to your questions.
Instead of sitting in the back of a taxi talking amongst yourselves, you make conversation with the driver.
My driver from Colombo to Arugam Bay, Jinha, was pretty quiet, but I learnt a lot from him along the way. He told me about the different religions and languages in Sri Lanka. He pointed out the men in the wealthy town of Ratnapura, who we saw bidding for sapphires. He took me for breakfast at a local restaurant to introduce me to the local food.
I made friends with the staff at my yoga retreat and the bartenders in my hotel. I came home feeling like I’d really got to know the place and its people, even in such a short time.
5. You can be more flexible and spontaneous
One evening, I was headed back from the beach to my hotel in Arugam Bay, quite excited about my plan to sit in my hammock and read my book, maybe even have a nap.
Next thing, the brother of the owner of the hotel asked me if I wanted to go for a drive. I was hesitant at first, because I was exhausted and had already made a plan in my head of how I was going to spend the afternoon. But he told me he was taking some tourists out into the bush to see some elephants, and I thought to myself… When will I get this opportunity again?
So I simply changed my plan for the afternoon, went to my room to get changed, and within half an hour was sitting in the front of the jeep as his ‘co-driver’, with a bunch of tourists in the back. He took us down an unworn dirt track, into a huge farm owned by a friend of his, and we spotted crocodiles, monkeys and peacocks. We spent the afternoon searching for elephants, and just as the sun was setting, we spotted one in the distance – a lone bull, creating a shadow against the very last sparkle of daylight.
I couldn’t really have imagined a more magical afternoon. Seeing animals like these in the wild is always an amazing experience, but it was made all the more exciting by the spontaneity of it. I smiled to myself, grateful for the absolute freedom of choice I was afforded, and considering how easy it was for me to make a split second decision to say yes to an experience I may not have even been offered if I was travelling with other people, let alone have said yes to.
6. You have time to reflect
Like I said, from the moment I arrived in Sri Lanka I was rarely alone, but when I was, I was given the opportunity to really reflect on the experiences I was having.
I thought and wrote about the local culture, the food, the lush landscape. I thought about how fun it was to travel alone. I realised I was capable and independent enough to do it on my own. I realised that it’s not hard to meet people and make friends if you put yourself out there.
It’s clear that I was extremely lucky that the first place I travelled alone was to Sri Lanka – a place where the locals are so welcoming and so happy you’ve chosen to visit their country, and where even the tourists have a carefree, friendly air about them. But through the experience I learnt how to approach travel alone in any place, in a way that opens you up to having a truly exciting, enlightening, and even transformational journey… something everyone should get to enjoy at least once.