I took my first solo backpacking trip when I was 19. I grew up in a smallish town, and most of my friends and family thought that the concept of a young girl backpacking through Asia by herself was dangerous and stupid. Most of them cited the movie ‘Taken’ and pleaded with me to go with a tour group or to just do the normal thing and go straight to college. However, I was (and still am) convinced that the best traveling is done on your own. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous extremely nervous.
I had traveled before many times. But this was something different. I was headed to an unknown country where I knew no one and I just kept thinking to myself on the plane “What the hell are you doing?”
When I arrived in Bangkok, I headed immediately for the backpackers ghetto that is Khao San Road. For more experienced backpackers, this place is seen as a mandatory pit stop where you can stock up on western amenities before heading off to more adventurous destinations. For me, it was exotic and overwhelming. I wandered down the street looking like a lost puppy until your typical dreadlocked hippie came over to me and pointed at a hostel, citing that it was “cheap and ‘not so clean’, but cheap!”
The first week of traveling I realized that almost every fear I had about traveling solo was unfounded and untrue.
You’re never alone.
And I truly mean that! You’re literally never alone. Growing up as an only child I find staying in hostels and dorms to be a particular challenge- but one that I have grown to love. Travelers are some of the most open and friendly people you will ever meet. Whenever I go back home from a long trip I find myself bringing that same mentality back with me and am shocked when it is not received. I am always curious why real life can’t give you that same feeling of community.
You’re safe (for the most part).
I have felt unsafe on very few occasions in my time traveling solo. Most of the time I am not solo (as stated above) but when I am I always take extra care. My worst experience traveling so far has been getting my purse stolen. In the expanse of bad things that could have happened to me, that is pretty minimal. While I recommend that you keep your wits about you while traveling solo, don’t let this make you less open to new experiences. I’m not saying you should share a room with four guys you just met, or hitchhike through Laos, or take a tuk-tuk to the middle of the jungle for a party (oh wait, I’ve done those things…)
So what am I saying? Be safe. Be smart. But don’t be guarded. This may be naive, but I believe that most people are pretty good in this world, and when you expect positive experiences, that’s usually what you will get.
You will make life long friendships.
The people I have met traveling will be forever in my heart. I don’t feel that I could have grown as close to many of the people I have met if I was traveling with someone from home. Traveling solo makes you put yourself out there. Even the shyest person can find their inner social butterfly if you are alone in a foreign country. I have traveled for weeks with people I have just met- and emerged from it knowing more about that person and feeling a deeper connection with them then I feel with many friends I have known for years.
People are fundamentally good.
This is something that I have always felt, and traveling solo has only strengthened that belief. I’ve had locals introduce me to their families, been given gifts by some of the poorest children, and had virtual strangers take care of me when I had food poisoning. People are good. You just have to open yourself up to see that.
Traveling solo gives you the freedom to decide what you do, where you go, and who you experience it with.
There is nothing in the world like the feeling of arriving in a foreign city knowing no one and feeling that you can be anyone you want to be. There is nothing like the feeling of sitting alone on a bus watching the landscape blur past you and feeling absolutely infinite.
Stop waiting on that friend who will never save enough money or that boyfriend who will never be ready. Buy a ticket, get on a plane and just go. You won’t regret it.