The prospect of traveling alone can be very daunting; setting off into the unknown armed with nothing but the wand of intuition, and the knowledge that you alone must overcome all obstacles. Although frightening the experience of taking on a challenging new environment, alone, can fulfill some of our deepest individual needs; we will feel independent, confident, and self assured when we know we can go it solo.
The main barrier to traveling solo, and rightly so, is loneliness. Some people enjoy their own company, and I for one, am one of those people. Being alone for many weeks is different though, especially when traveling isolated landscapes, or when you have only a vague knowledge of a foreign language, and cannot communicate with ease.
It can be relatively easy to meet people in the majority of circumstances whilst traveling alone. However, for those times of loneliness there are a few things that can help relieve the boredom; a good book for example. Keeping a journal helps to organize thoughts, and keeps a level of sanity even during periods of isolation. It is like having someone to talk to in a way; a way to express your deepest thoughts, and to stay in touch with your own feelings
Enjoying Being Alone
There are some advantages to being isolated, although it is not recommended over a prolonged amount of time. Motivations for traveling alone can differ widely; some people really want to escape from it all, learn about themselves, and have some time to reflect deeply. Being completely alone for even a day invokes many thoughts and feelings, and can be a challenging inner journey that some fail to expect. When all distractions are removed the only thing left is the full force of unadulterated thoughts; behind these thoughts, there is inner peace.
In some ways being alone is the perfect state for observation, and for spontaneous interaction with the environment. It almost feels natural to drift into a state of awareness where you can simply watch and learn and absorb the culture around you. Alone it is possible to sit in a cafe listening to how the locals speak to each other, or sit silently in a town watching the world go round. Being in this observational state is perhaps the quickest way to learn about the world.
Traveling alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. If you are not traveling in the middle of nowhere there will usually be plenty of opportunities to get stuck into socializing, whether it be with locals, or other travelers. Even though it can feel difficult at first, it is extremely rewarding to manage to meet new people, without the aid of a pre-existing social group to back you up. It becomes easier over time, and because there is no one to fall back on when traveling alone, the motivation to meet new people becomes strong enough to act upon.
It can actually be very easy for a solo traveler to find their way, and to meet new people. The opportunities seem to open up, but also more invitations are sent your way. It seems like people are more comfortable, and quicker to offer a bed, or some advice, to a solo traveler. Social groups extend invites to events, and new friendships can be born on the road. If you find yourself really clicking with someone, then why not travel together for a while, before resuming your individual journeys?
Staying in hostels is a very good way to meet people in a manner that is unforced. You already have common ground by the fact that you are traveling in the same country, and the atmosphere of a good hostel lends itself to meeting like-minded people over a bit of food and drink. A single room in a hotel on the other hand might not offer the same dynamic. Personally, I spent a lot of time in a tent in the mountains, and I can assure you while this is the best place to stay for self-realization, it is not the best way to meeting other travelers.
Hostels mainly shelter fellow travelers, but talking to locals is equally important for a well rounded travel experience. Sitting in local looking cafes and bars, and exploring places that are more than a 50 meter radius of a major tourist attraction helps. One of the most rewarding ways to experience the perspective of a local is to volunteer using workaway.com, coachsurfing, or another travel community site that links travelers up with locals. Living with a local is one of the most rewarding ways of experiencing a country.
In some situations being alone may require more awareness of safety. With no companion watching your back you will have to fend for yourself. Common sense always prevails in any situation whilst traveling; it is our most potent guiding system. There are however some things I would refrain from doing sometimes, when alone. Hitchhiking for example, would maybe be a daytime activity. You should consider sticking to well lit areas, and dress modestly. Women especially, as much as I hate to make a distinguishment, should be aware when they are in countries with high crime, or which have ridiculous laws.
Look After Yourself
I don’t know what your life was like before traveling alone, but I do know that if you are going to do it solo, you will need to look after yourself. This is so multidimensional it requires some contemplation on the part of the reader. Look after your health, diet, exercise, safety, emotions; ring loved ones, and check in with them. Don’t be too stubborn. Make new friends and be happy to tag along for a bit. Look after yourself in every way you possibly can.