The travel bug hit me hard on my first trip abroad. I went to Cuba in 2008 with my family, then followed that up with a backpacking trip to Belize in 2009 with my boyfriend at the time. Once I got home from that trip and settled back into regular life, I found myself constantly dreaming of travel. There is such a huge world out there and I longed to see it all. My biggest problem though, was that I had no one to travel with. The idea of travelling alone was so foreign at that time, that the thought simply never crossed my mind.
Fast forward 10 years and suddenly the idea of travelling alone isn't such a faux pas in mainstream society. The travel industry has really advanced thanks to the growth of solo travelers and travel bloggers. If I want to travel, but have no one to travel with me, it's not such a big deal anymore. So I bought my first solo plane ticket to Thailand, prepared to be alone for 4 weeks in a totally unfamiliar country. As excited as I was about this trip, there were definitely some issues that I had to combat; both my own, and fears of others.
When I first broke the news to my friends and family that I was going to Thailand alone, the majority were quite concerned. My elderly family, especially my grandmother, was terribly worried that I was going to get kidnapped, sold into the sex trade, or murdered. The people who felt this way though, really didn't have a basis for such a drastic concern. I have no idea why their heads went there. I would ask them where they got word that Thailand was such a scary, dangerous country and the majority had the response of "I don't know, I just assumed". With thorough explanation that Thailand truly was a safe country with wonderful people, I was able to put some minds at ease. I also had to assure them that they could trust me and trust that I was making a safe decision for myself.
I also found that most people who had concerns of my travelling alone, were those who have not done much travelling abroad themselves. I feel they believed that I would exercise the same caution abroad as I do at home, where I am comfortable, I know the routine, and I know my surroundings. Not the case! For those of us that travel, I feel that it comes naturally to exercise more caution than at home and to be highly tuned into our instincts.
Honestly, I am not sure why this is so hard and so uncomfortable. I feel as though society has always made us feel like we are loners or losers for doing things alone. Whether that be eating, going to the movies, going to a club, etc. Eating alone was something huge to overcome while travelling, but the nice thing is, when you're travelling alone you have no choice but to face it. Unless you want to avoid sit down places and get take out to eat and walk or go back to your hostel. For me, that is not an option! After the second meal eating alone, I really started to embrace it. It was nice to people watch or read my book while enjoying a lovely Thai meal. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to find that….drumroll please….no one cared! No one looked at me funny, no pitiful glances, because believe it or not, other people are not focused on little old me. So get out there! Eat alone, go see that movie that none of your friends want to see. The only person holding you back, is you!
What to do, what to do?
I have a really hard time making decisions and I quite enjoy having someone to bounce ideas off of. Especially when I am torn between two equally awesome activities, but can only choose one. This made travelling alone a little tricky, especially until I got comfortable making friends in my hostels. I love travelling with my spouse because it's nice to hear another person's ideas. Not only that, if I find myself in a situation where I am not too sure what is happening, my spouse usually does, or vice versa.
Travelling alone forces us to make friends. Once I made friends it was super easy to make decisions. Either they invited me to join them in what they were doing, or I I asked them to come along with me and give their preference on the activity, because I wasn't sure which thing to do. Suddenly life was so much easier! By making friends I was able to experience one of the hardest, most exhilarating hikes I have ever been on. I don't think I ever would have done that alone. First, I would have had to rent a scooter, navigate a 2 hour drive, and then find and complete the hike. At least this way, I got to get completely out of my comfort zone with a couple new friends.
Sometimes it can be scary to be alone with your thoughts when you live in a world that has you constantly connected to others. I really wasn't sure what to expect with all my alone time. In modern society we are always so busy and so connected that we rarely have any time to get to know ourselves. How would I handle this in a foreign country, with possibly no one to speak to, and a time change so drastic that I wouldn't even be able to easily talk to my friends at home? I tell you, it was amazing. I really got to connect with myself. I learned so much about me! I learned where my morals, ethics, ideologies, passions really lie (mostly in regards to over-tourism, conservation, environmentalism, etc). It was an incredible opportunity for some serious self reflection and self actualization. "Me time" is now something I am starting to incorporate into my every day life.
What if something does happen?
We can't live our lives on "what ifs", but it is all too easy to fear the unknown. What if I go there and I get hurt? What if I end up in a hospital that may not have the same hygiene standards as home, that doesn't speak my language? What if I get so hurt I am stuck there for an extended period of time and can't go home?
All I can say is that these are very valid concerns but at the same time, they should never stop one from living and experiencing our vast world. You just have to jump in with both feet and if something does happen, trust that it will work itself out. In Thailand, I got very sick; sicker than I have ever been. You know what happened? My dorm mates banded together and took the BEST care of me. I never once felt alone or scared, because they were with me and ensured I would be OK. Travelers will come together, you just have to trust in each other and have each other's back.
Travelling alone is so fulfilling and I got to meet some great people that I never would have met if I were travelling with a partner. My experiences were all mine and I came home with so many stories that only I (and my new friends) got to live, and I was OK with that. I could shout from the rooftops, that I did it, I survived my first solo trip. It is thrilling to know that I conquered my fears on my own. If I were travelling with my partner, I would have experienced cool things too, but I wouldn't have got to experience the same things that I did while alone.
All I can say folks, is bite the bullet and go! Abolish your fears and book the flight, you won't regret it! Contact me for help!