How to travel alone! Why, tips and warnings!

How do you travel? With a partner? Friends? On a tour? Alone? Solo?

I’m a passionate nomad, a solo traveler: I love to travel alone for many reasons. High on the list is the freedom to decide when, where, and how  I will travel – that I can satisfy my wanderlust pretty – selfish huh!

Being alone also means I suffer 100% of the pain BUT get 100% of the pleasure too 🙂

Trucks & rough roads sometimes means breakdowns - I was on the back of this truck when the axle broke in the middle of the jungle!
Trucks & rough roads sometimes means breakdowns – I was on the back of this truck when the axle broke in the Cambodian jungle!

Of course there are downsides to being alone; it often costs more for accommodation and you will always have to make all your travel decisions, always read the map alone, and always be totally responsible for your own actions!  This can be tiring, however, I also can always stop to eat where and when and what I want. The augments – or heated discussions I have overheard on this simple topic are amazing in their length, ferocity and frequency!

Being alone means sometimes I have been afraid but that’s rare. One fear I still have is my strange combination of fear and excitement when I move from one place to another, more noticeable when I go from village to city, or when I cross a country border.

I vividly recall the pervading feeling of unease I had when going directly from a months peaceful stay on an Malaysian island (a marine reserve with no roads or power) to a busy city in Thailand. Within hours of my arrival I had bought myself a No Fear T-shirt to bolster my courage; “Don’t Just Break Limits, Shatter Them” it told me. With that yellow shirt and its message on my back I felt more ready to cope with the changes from snorkeling in warm water and few people around to the crush of many people, a new language and the seediness that usually goes with prostitution.

Being alone also means there are no safety nets as I walk the tightrope of solo-travel. However being alone does not mean being lonely. 

On my recent travels, in Borneo for 8 weeks, I occasionally felt sad I was not with a group when I saw locals sharing their meals –  sharing lots of bowls of food while I had just one or two plates on my solo table. So not that I wanted to be with others but I did want to taste all those yummy Malaysian dishes!

When alone I am approached by locals more than when I’m spending time with another traveler. It seems that I am less threatening alone, I am not talking to someone and so am not being interrupted by the local person – who often are really keen to practice their English or just talk to someone with a different background. So I believe I can meet more people on my own, have direct contact with those who live in the country, so I needn’t be lonely

As I travel without reservations or plans I also often need to approach locals for information in a way that is not required by tourists who have had their bookings all arranged before they leave home, or have a traveling partner to talk plans with. It is also a great ploy to get to talk to women who are often in the background, sometimes almost invisible in many places.

Even when I ask a couple for information it is to the woman who I address my query.  Although often it is the man who replies ( often the woman have limited English) but I have made myself more acceptable and non threatening, less inappropriate, in their cultural eyes anyway.

These little interactions with locals also gives me a different perspective on the country than when I sit and talk with another traveler over a Turkish coffee, a Malaysian long tea or a Thai curry. Conversations with other travellers are useful, fun and interesting too, but better kept for evenings at the hostel, tent or hotel I’m staying in.

If, when travelling alone, you feel lonely one can always join someone for a an hour or a few days. Once I joined a group of ten in a truck to travel in Botswana and Namibia, not because I was lonely but for convenience. Although I got to fabulous places and saw great sights, I didn’t get to have interactions with the very people I came to meet. A big group is too intimidating for most people to approach, and the truck tour convinced me lone wandering is my preferred style.

Finally the other really great travel companion for me is my journal and a good book. they add some silent consistency to life when all else is changing. Constantly.

So what other advantages are there, for me, in living a nomadic lifestyle on foreign roads?

There is no compromise in the experiences I have, I can stay as long or as short as I wish, so the ability to be flexible is a wonderful asset.

I have had to develop skills and strengths that I did not know I wanted, needed or were lacking, and my experiences – both the pain and the pleasure are intense, undiluted by my old thumb-sucking security-blanket of others.

So why am I a solo traveler? Maybe because I feel more of a soul-traveler that way . . . or maybe it’s because I am totally selfish and self-centred and want to clasp the intensity all to myself. And it’s that very intensity that makes me a passionate-lone-nomad.

How do you travel? What are the advantages of your preferred way whether it’s solo, with someone, or a group?

8 comments

  1. Hi Heather! I enjoy travelling on my own also, even though I have a family. If you missed out on the food in Borneo, my Indonesian friends in Wellington are having an Indonesian food fair in Johnsonville this weekend (I think Sunday, Oct 12th). Tell them that Ibu Catherine sent you, and they will be sure to share a plate with you. What are your next big adventure plans?

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  2. Lovely post, Heather. You’re right about the engagement you can have with locals and how it enriches your travels. It’s likely you wouldn’t have that if you were with a group or traveling with another person.
    Thanks for joining this month’s carnival.

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  3. Wonderful post, I enjoyed your observations on solo travel and find that you can reach more local people once you are out there and inquisitive or smile and acknowledge people.

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