I often find myself on the road alone for long periods of time, but during my journeys people close to my heart come out and join me, breaking up the solo travel nicely. And having been on the road for the best part of a decade (Wtf?! How did that happen?!) I often find myself thinking about the differences between traveling solo vrs traveling with friends.
The truth is that traveling on your own, in our big scary world, is terrifying. It’s terrifying for the 18 year old kid who has never left his/her country, and it’s terrifying for me, moving onto my 155th country next week. Does it get easier with more experience? Sure, a little. But still, all of us are struck by thoughts of how you’re gonna get from the airport/train station/ferry portto your accomodation (it’s always easier than you imagine), are you gonna meet cool people (yes, guaranteed) and are the bad guys gonna be waiting for you on every steet corner (possibly but stay streetwise, you’ll be fine). We’re bound to stress out at the prospect of stuff going wrong, and when you’re solo, that’s not a nice thought to have. And it’s true, on the rare occasions that things do go wrong, you have no-one to turn to. Phone stolen? Malaria? Broken arm? No shoulder to cry on. That’s the reality.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, traveling solo allows us the opportunity to be anyone we wannabe. You’re no longer restricted by that preconceptions people have of you from your ‘real world’. You can party too hard, go on dates with dubious people, skinny dip and sing karaoke all with zero accountability. It’s liberating, and at the risk of sounding cliche, you can find who you truly wanna be.
Also, traveling on your own ensures you get yourself into situations that simply don’t happen when you’re traveling with your friends. When you’re on your own, local people are so, so much more inclined to invite you for dinner, or for a beer, or even to stay in their family home. They would be intimidated by a group of two or three old friends kidding around, with their in-jokes, and the invitation simply don’t come. Speaking from personal experience, only once have I been invited to stay with a family when I was with friends, that was in Bangladesh, in the slums of Dhaka – amazing experience, but as it turned out we were being used for a visa scam, that’s a whole different story. However, traveling solo, as my facebook followers will testify I am constantly meeting angels from every corner of the earth – hotel owners, Ambassadors, restaurant staff, a never ending stream of good people who are equally curious about you, as you are about them and their country. You’ll get yourself in the most authentic, ridiculous situations. Things you’ll never forget, experiences to tell your Grandkids about. It’s the true essence of travel and it’s a beautiful thing, one you can only truly harness when you’re alone.
Equally though, thinking back to all the times I’ve had with my closest friends with me on the road, brings back a host of different memories. Laughing until I can’t breath, stories that we share to this day, perhaps ten years on yet we still talk about it regularly on skype. Sharing the most amazing sites in the world, beautiful sunsets and horrific hangovers. With people you love, there’s beauty in every single event on the road.
Suddenly sleeping rough on that dock in Malaysia, rats scurrying around my head, becomes a funny story you can’t wait to share with others. The twenty four hour bus journey through India with no air-con, however painful, seems to act as a catalyst for fits of hysterics. Running out of money solo – disaster. Running out of money with your best mate – adventure. Quite the contrast.
So when it comes down it, having done both extensively over the last few years, which do I prefer? Let me say this, I think everyone should travel alone at some point in their life, ideally for at least a month. You learn so much about yourself, you develop an inner confidence that you can’t find at home, nor when you’re surround with people you’re comfortable with. You become stronger, more emotionally aware yet also so much more resilient. You become a warmer soul, yet also far less inclined to take any sh٭t from people. You learn a new level of appreciation for the opportunities you’ve had, and hopefully you realise that to waste them is a crime. You find purpose in the freedom. All hugely positive changes in your being.
But to travel alone all the time is to miss something integral to humanity. We need connections to the people we care about. Travel isn’t only about seeing another historic temple, or ancient church. It’s about sharing life changing experiences together, growing with people, solidifying friendships, and most of all creating memories. And it takes at least two people to do that.
So you ask me which I prefer? I choose to travel with friends every day of the week, the ‘real world’ often gets in the way, but from the depth of my heart, the travels I’ve had with people I care about are literally the best experiences of my whole life. And I’d guess it’s the same for a lot of people.
Witnessing all the beauty the world has to offer is a privalege few people receive, but if you can read this in English, with a connectionto the internet, then odds are that you have that privilege. Don’t waste it. Speak to people close to you, make a plan to travel, be sincere, hit the road solo, learn, live and love. Then reconnect, travel together and watch, experience and appreciate the world together. Because afterall “ Happiness is only real when shared”
“ Happiness is only real when shared“