5 Reasons Why I Love Travelling Alone
Solo travel is the key to real freedom.
I love international airports. I love the sub-audible hum of strip lighting and the floor-to-ceiling views of planes coming and going, and the airbrushed promise of Hollywood stars hawking designer perfumes and handbags. I love that everyone in an international departure lounge is suspended between two worlds. And I love being one of them, anonymous and alone.
When I travel alone, I’m letting go of the external buttresses that hold my life together. It’s not just the job, the housework and the weekly classes, but the friends and loved ones who give my everyday its specific colour and shape. Without the clutter and comfort of familiar voices, I can see the world more clearly.
Travelling alone is not for the faint-hearted. If you need endless streaming conversation or a buddy at your side when you walk into an unfamiliar bar, if you have trouble making decisions or finding your way, it might not be for you. But if you want to experience real freedom, there’s only one way to find it. Here are five reasons I love travelling alone.
#1 There’s only one vote
There’s no need to negotiate, be considerate or compromise when you travel by yourself. The rhythms of each day revolve around your inner clock; there’s no one waiting on you to eat, sleep, shower or make a decision. You go or stay wherever your heart takes you.
I fell asleep in an orchard in the south of France once and dreamt about Van Gogh, and woke up half certain I had travelled back in time. On a beach in Thailand, on a whim, I spent a long afternoon reading A True History of the Kelly Gang while a local guy tattooed a large fish on my back. I’ve blown off flights to check out a volcano and driven 400 miles to eat a grilled cheese sandwich, just because I felt like it. It’s nice not having to answer to anyone else.
#2 I got this. I got everything.
I’m an expert at maps. I know this because I’ve driven across Missouri in a thunderstorm with a malfunctioning GPS. I’ve stepped off a long-haul flight and into a rental car and proceeded to drive on the wrong (right) side of the road on a Los Angeles freeway. And I love, like deep vein love, navigating London on Boris bikes and the Tube.
Travelling alone forces you to be self-reliant and to figure things out, because there’s literally no one else to do it for you. You become a Google monster and a master organiser, and it gives you a quiet little thrill of accomplishment. It’s nice to know you can take care of yourself.
#3 A little bit of hush goes a long way
It’s amazing what you see and hear when you’re not making conversation. Travelling with friends and partners is awesome in its own way, but when you’re alone your senses are neon lit and you take in so much more of the world around you. You eavesdrop on conversations in the local language, you meditate on details in the landscape and you take the time to sink in to the feeling of a place. If you stand long enough and quietly enough in the middle of a volcanic plain in Iceland, for example, you can almost hear the rocks whispering to you. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but you should try it.
#4 Stronger, better, more confident at dance parties
Do you squirm at the idea of eating dinner alone? Could you walk into a gig in a foreign city and sip a beer by yourself until the band hits the stage? For sure, the hardest part of travelling alone is going out at night, especially if you’re shy, but you build up resilience over time. I’m at the point now where all-night raves in Barcelona don’t faze me, I just turn up and dance. I’ve sat through degustation meals at Michelin-starred Italian restaurants, reading my book or scrolling Instagram between courses, feeling happy in my own skin. It might be hard work at first, but travelling alone pushes you out of your comfort zone and into the world. And the world really isn’t that scary.
#5 Being alone makes you less alone in the world
Still, sometimes, it’s nice to talk. It’s nice to meet new people when you travel, especially locals, and it’s much harder to meet people when you’re a couple. When my boyfriend and I travel together, we’re a locked-up little unit, content in our bubble of intimacy and in-jokes. When I travel alone, I’m more open to seeing where a conversation will go. I’m more open – period – out of necessity as much as anything else.
Some of it is fleeting – a chat on a park bench in New York, a drink with a guy who sold me jeans in Amsterdam – but sometimes it sticks. My Canadian friend Sarah fell in beside me on a walking tour in London; my mate Coco posted me a record and some chocolate after I gave her a lift out of Keflavik Airport. I have a network of friends around the world that I’ve met while travelling solo. This, if nothing else, is a great reason to go it alone.