Should you become a solo traveler? |

Should you become a solo traveler?

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29 December 2010

A couple of days ago I was reading an article on A Dangerous Business called Why I'm a Weenie When it Comes to Solo Travel and it occurred to me that solo travelling might seem a bit lonely and even dangerous to people who have not experienced it. Yet.

So I started thinking.
To me, solo travelling feels very familiar. Actually, even the first time I went backpacking, I was on my own. By that time I didn’t have a single person in my life who wanted to pay a lot of money to take a very long and exhausting flight to end up in a country where they didn’t knew anything about - called Guatemala - except that its capital is in the top ten of most dangerous cities in the world.
Can I blame them? I guess not.
So I had to choose, either solo traveling or no traveling.
I picked solo traveling and I did not regret it for a single second.
But that’s me.

So what about you?
Following are a couple of questions that should determine if you should travel solo or not.

Do you feel bored as soon as there isn’t anyone around?
If you are someone who needs constant company, you might not like to travel solo because there will always be moments that there is nobody to talk to.
I don’t have that problem, I always bring some books for when I don’t have anything else to do. Or there are always places like museums where you have to be quiet anyway.

It is worse if you wanted to grab a couple of beers or diner in the evening but didn’t find anyone to join you. What I often do then is hang around in the hostel between 6 and 8 pm. This is the time when most travelers return to the hostel to drop some stuff and refresh before diner. Ask around what the plans are for the evening and you are very likely to be invited.
It occurred to me that from time to time I have to tell myself: “Tonight I will really stay in the hostel and read” because every day there is some party or diner or Foosball game organized by other hostel guests.

Do you feel comfortable sleeping with strangers in the same room?
The sound of people sleeping is supposed to be relaxing. Listening to the soft and slow breathing of a woman next to me can make me feel sleepy in seconds. If the sound of the person in the bed next to you makes you feel like you’re in a pig farm, getting to sleep can be a much harder task.

You might have to deal with following annoyances when sleeping in a dorm room:

- Sounds: snoring, coughing, talking, cell phones, panting, teeth gnashing, sex, squeaking of the bed, people walking in and out, opening and closing of backpacks and lockers, music and more.

- Smells: deodorant, perfume, food, alcohol (both fresh and digested), sweat, shoes, sex, bad breath, smoke, farts, garbage, pee, weed. Most of this depends of the rules of the house.

- Clutter: some travelers often put the stuff they need most at the bottom of their backpack, they can be recognized by the big pile of clutter next to their bed.

- Male nudity: It appears that men are more likely to sleep naked and lose their sheets during the night than women.

- Lights going on and off. And on again. And off again. And... I think you get the point.

Of course you can always opt for a private room, but those cost at least double of a dorm bed and I think sleeping in a dorm is one of the easiest ways to save money.
What can you do to limit above annoyances?
Earplugs can ease the noise, if you have two pair, you can put them in your nose too but don’t blame me if you can’t get them out again.
Sleeping glasses are also helpful.
And for the rest a lot of tolerance, I guess.

Often there will be dorm rooms of different sizes and a common mistake is to pick the smallest. This does not mean that it’s the least occupied, ask to see the rooms first.
Since puke comes down and farts go up, some risk calculation taught me that it doesn’t make a difference if you take the upper or the lower bunk.

Can you pack light?
If you cannot pack light, don’t travel solo. Period.
When you’re on your own, you have to be able to take care of your stuff at any time and this is only possible if you have maximum one backpack - and maybe one daypack - which is not too large or too heavy.
If you have to go to the toilet in a bus station, it needs to come with you. It needs to be easily movable when the bus did not stop where you expected it would and even though people are likely to help, from time to time you will have to be able to bring your stuff on the bus yourself, preferably in one time. It’ll happen that you are way to early on the bus and need to get off again to go to the toilet. Imagine doing that with two large suitcases.
And this was only on the bus.
If your pack does not fit in a hostel locker, it’s exposed for theft.
Your back will start to hurt if your backpack weighs too much.
Even when you’re not traveling solo, the weight of your pack limits what you can do - or at least what you can do without sweating like a roasted pig - but when you travel solo nobody will be there to take over or watch your stuff.

Are you open for other people’s ideas or plans?
I have to admit that I am quite egocentric, which means I have a difficulty with placing myself into other people’s ideas and emotions.
At home this translates in discussions because I cannot understand that my girlfriend likes the living room clean when she wakes up or because I don’t seem to care about what happens to others.
While traveling, I feel easily annoyed when I have to do something I didn’t want to do. Because time is always limited and much too short, I prefer to do the things I like. And trust me, I can be a real pain in the ass if you take me to some aqua park when I wanted to do something else that day.
You can imagine that traveling in large groups is not an option for me. Two or three friends will work if they are like-minded. My girlfriend can come too because she has more or less the same interests as I do, or at least she’s very good at pretending.
Here is solo traveling again the answer. You often travel in small or larger groups, but you don’t have the “the group has to stick together”-feeling. If you want to do something else or travel another route, no one will stop you. If a group is doing what you’ve planned, you go along. No responsibility or accountability is required.

Are you an introvert?
Now this is something you might not expect: if you’re an introvert, you will probably enjoy solo traveling a lot.
First of all, you can spend as much time as you like on your own. There is nobody you need to listen to or take care of, you can do whatever you want with just yourself and your thoughts. If you want some company and start a conversation, just hang around in the hostel and be friendly to everybody. At home you may not say “Hello, good morning” to everybody you see, but in hostels this is quite normal. And people will greet you back.
Very often this will also be the beginning of a conversation because the other person will start asking questions like “Where are you from”, “Where have you been”, “Where are you traveling to” , “How long will you be traveling” and “Do you have any tips for location X or Y?”.
Travelers have at least one thing in common, they like to travel. So 99% of your conversations will start with this subject. This makes it easy to start with a conversation or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, be open for someone to start a conversation with you.
Just be friendly, smile and say hello.

Are you an asshole?
You won’t like solo traveling.
Actually I don’t think you’ll like traveling at all.
Seriously, it’s probably not worth trying.
The world will probably not have much to offer you.
You better stay at home.

If you’ve passed my little test here, I think you are ready to travel solo. If you didn’t pass, you’re probably also ready, you just need to be convinced a little more.

The biggest doubt for not traveling solo seems still to be the fear for being alone all the time, and if you are used to travel with a boyfriend or girlfriend I can understand that fear. When I travel with my girlfriend I rarely meet new people. That’s because as a couple you appear too closed for others to interact with you. When I travel with a friend it occurs more often that I return home with a couple of new Facebook pals, but when I travel solo I meet lots of nice and interesting people.
So I can promise you, you won’t be alone out there!


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