When people find out I travel alone, it usually goes something like this:
A well-meaning stranger, more often than not my guest house owner or waitress, cocks her head to one side and furrows her brow.
“Are you……alone?” she asks, every-so-slightly horrified and bracing herself for the answer she doesn’t want to hear.
I’m used to this question by now, just like I’m used to being asked how old I am, whether or not I’m married, and how much money I make (usually by people I’ve only just met and usually in that exact order).
“Yes!” I respond to her question, taking great care to demonstrate how very-much-OK I am with the fact that I travel alone.
And then, a funny thing happens.
Her head un-cocks, her eyebrows reach for her hairline like invigorated caterpillars, and her eyes widen in relief.
She can see that not only am I fine with solo travel – I relish it. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and because I’m so comfortable with it, she can be too.
The best response I ever got after answering “Are you alone?” with a resounding “Yes!,” was from a woman in Laos named Kam Phan (when I asked her how to spell her name, she pondered the question a moment before replying “You know what? I have no idea.”)
When Kam Phan (or Cam Fan, or Qam Fhahn) found out I was traveling solo, and was staying in one of her big, beautiful riverside bungalows all by myself, she threw her head back and laughed and laughed.
“Very good!” she exclaimed, wiping away mirthful tears that had collected in the corners of her eyes.
“Just one?” she asked again, wanting to be sure.
“Just one” I said.
“One is better” she nodded. “Sleep much better alone.”
And I do, dear reader. I really, really do.
Why you should travel alone
But the sleeping part is neither here nor there. I’m of the opinion that when you travel alone, you open yourself up to a world of opportunities that people with travel partners miss out on.
You should think about solo travel if you:
Are seriously sick of feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and unfulfilled in your life 90% of the time
Want to have a big, fat, “ah ha!” moment that changes your life forever
- Are the kind of person who doesn’t think twice about going to see a movie alone, OR
Are completely, utterly terrified of being alone, let alone traveling alone
That’s right – people who can’t stand to be alone stand to benefit the most from being alone, especially while traveling alone.
Fear isn’t a sign to move away from a situation, but to move toward it. Your fear of solitude is a signpost, and it’s pointing you back towards yourself. Lean into that fear and you’ll be rewarded with a complete paradigm shift that will change your perspective on just about everything.
When you travel alone, you learn to enjoy your own company. You discover what you like and don’t like. You start to see yourself with fresh eyes, just as the people you meet delight in aspects of you you didn’t even realize existed:
“Your skin is so white and beautiful!” begins to replace old beliefs about your “pasty white” skin.
“You look SO YOUNG!” begins to replace “Get me some wrinkle cream, stat.”
“You are so rich” begins to replace “OMG I’m so broke.”
Compared to many of the locals you’ll meet, you do look much younger and more beautiful than them – after all, you haven’t spent your entire life working outside under the scorching sun doing backbreaking manual labor 12+ hours a day.
Slowly, very slowly, you’ll begin to see yourself the way they see you. Eventually, the physical beauty and riches they perceive will magically transform into the kind of beauty and riches that really matter – the kind that exist and thrive within the most private chambers of your heart.
And that transformation of your perspective is so personal, so subtle, so deeply spiritual, that throwing a travel partner into the mix makes it infinitely harder to achieve.
It’s difficult enough to face your own ideas about you; add someone else’s ideas about you into the mix and you’ve condemned yourself to remain exactly where you are now. And if you’re unhappy in your current state of mind, that’s a scary place to be.
Speaking of fear, all of this talk about being afraid is about the deep psychological fear of facing yourself, not the fight-or-flight response you get when someone comes at you with a machete.
But while we’re on the subject, if you’re under the impression that it’s not safe for women to travel alone, I assure you that most places in the world are far safer than many, if not most, American cities.
And if you’re concerned about the safety of your soul as you’re forced to face yourself without anyone to distract you from your own pain, good.
That’s what this journey is for, after all – facing your deepest fears about yourself and coming out the other side, unscathed and enlightened.
Phew, this is getting heavy! It’s a good thing there are puh-lenty of juicy, non-spiritual reasons to travel solo too.
Why you should NOT travel alone
But let’s be honest….solo travel is not a good fit for everyone.
And there are a lot of people who should never travel alone.
For example, if you’re a complete moron you should never travel alone because you will die.
Example: The other day I met two girls who decided to take a boat to their pre-booked island bungalow in the middle of the night.
I happened to be on that boat, and I also happened to witness them rock up to a dark, deserted island with their suitcases in tow, no one to meet them, no idea where their hotel was, and no way to call anyone.
They hid their suitcases underneath the debris of a construction site, stole a motorbike, and went off in search of their bungalow. In the middle of the night. In the dark. With barely a brain cell between the two of them.
Those girls could barely survive with each other to lean on, so I can’t imagine what would’ve happened had either of them decided to travel alone.
Other people simply don’t need to travel alone.
You might have a reeeeeeally special partner, or sister, or friend, or group of friends with whom travel would and will be the amazing, life-changing experience you’re hoping for.
You might be a completely enlightened being who has reached the zenith of her spiritual prowess, and whether alone or with others, you remain a beacon of peace and good humor. Going on a spiritual quest would be totally redundant for you, sort of like a frat boy going to beer-drinking school.
If either of those are the case, I salute you and can’t wait to hear your wonderful travel stories when you return!!
If neither of those apply to you, you might want to take a big, brave leap and travel alone.
But don’t worry – you may be sitting on the plane next to a stranger, but that stranger and many others will soon become your friends, your traveling companions, your on-the-road family.
You’ll also be able to count on other solo female travelers to help you along the way as you journey across the world to meet the love of your life – yourself.
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1. Travel alone if you are....
-- super-comfy with solo travel
---terrified of solo travel
---an enlightened being in no need of further spiritual growth
2. Travel with a partner if you are...
---not the sharpest knife in the drawer and your own stupidity would compromise your safety
----traveling with Ryan Gosling, or someone who sort of looks like Ryan Gosling.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!