I have always wanted to travel. I was reluctant to go solo at first and only travelled with my best friend, rather than alone. It started with summer holidays with her and eventually I took the plunge. My first solo trip to Thailand in the summer of 2018 led to me quitting my “normal” job and changing my life completely. 2 years later and I am still travelling, but working and living in other countries in between. People are usually shocked that I have travelled this long and have a lot of questions, so I thought I would answer some today.
Don’t you get lonely?
When you travel alone, you are never actually alone. I am quite a confident and outgoing person and love meeting new people. Even if you are more shy or reserved, you just need to put yourself into situations where there are other people to meet. Between staying in hostels, going on tours and joining group events you are going to meet people. By travelling alone, you have the bonus of being able to set your own agenda. You do what you want when you want. You can rest when you need to. You only have to worry about your own needs, but if you meet people going to the same place or who recommend somewhere, you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to!
Although I have been technically travelling alone this whole time, I often join up with other groups or hang out with certain people for extended periods of time. I travelled around Sri Lanka for 3 weeks with two girls I barely knew. They even convinced me to join a surf camp with them (something I would never have done beforehand) and we ended up getting matching tattoos at the end of our trip.
How much do you plan?
I enjoy planning travel. I always have a vague idea of something I want to do in the place I am visiting. I am usually fairly informed about the place, but I take each day as it comes. This is partly due to my chronic illness and I talked about how my CFS affects my travel in a recent post. If I went somewhere with a 3-day itinerary, I would spread it over the week because my body can’t always handle doing multiple things in one day. Sometimes I plan something and then have a flare-up which makes it difficult.
Having a list of things to do isn’t always necessary. You often meet people with better plans than you and tag along (or at least that’s what I do). No matter how detailed your plan there always needs to be space for spontaneity. That’s the best part of travel for me! Things like when you end up invited to a local’s house from befriending hostel staff. Or maybe you meet someone in a hostel who says “Hey did you know there is a pagoda with a simulation of hell? Do you want to come?” (Thanks to a wonderful Irish friend who had that suggestion in Dalat. It was very strange like a Disneyland attraction but with more blood and screaming).
Is it safe for women?
Is anything or anywhere safe for women? All jokes aside, the world is a dangerous place. Rampant misogyny and rape culture exists everywhere in the world. Personally, I have had some problems while travelling. The majority of those issues have been with tourists. They are the sort of interactions that could happen anywhere. Men thinking they are entitled to sex, because they bought you a drink. Men getting too drunk and acting inappropriately towards women. You get that everywhere unfortunately in varying levels of severity. In my experience, the hostels are supportive by either asking the man to leave or moving you into a women-only dorm.
Ensuring your safety is a hugely important part of travelling for everyone. It starts from small actions like using a padlock to lock away your belongings in a hostel or using a money belt in the street to avoid pick-pocketing. Motorbike thefts are quite common around South East Asia, so I avoid using my phone in the street. I talked about an incident where a motorbike thief attempted to steal someone’s phone out the side of the tuk-tuk in my Phnom Penh itinerary.
Should I go on a group tour?
Some people feel more comfortable and safe on a group tour, but I prefer travelling solo. I have been on two group tours (one in India and one in Europe). My reasons for choosing a tour in India were related to the previous question. I am glad I did it. The comfort of walking around in a group while strangers took your pictures or proposed marriage was nice. I didn’t feel unsafe when I was separate from the group, but I also had the safety net of a local tour guide that I could contact if I needed help.
I found being in a group exhausting. Being a chronically ill person it was difficult to keep up with the packed itinerary and some of the more physical activities wiped me out. At the end of the two weeks, I took nearly a whole week on Sri Lankan beaches doing nothing to recover. I also found it socially exhausting. Being forced together with people you don’t know (and in some cases, don’t particularly like) was hard. I really didn’t want to hang out with them all the time. When you travel solo, you have more of an option of privacy and solitude. It is a great opportunity to meet people and especially on the Europe trip (where I took my cousin on her first travel experience), I made some great friends.
Do I have to stay in a party hostel and drink all the time to meet people?
Definitely not. There are plenty of hostels with a social atmosphere without the craziness of a party hostel. Hostels with a decent common area or a place that runs tours are good place to meet people. There is a massive drinking culture with backpackers and at times, people might say you are boring for not drinking or try to pressure you into drinking with them. Honestly, just hang out with better people. If you want to drink, then drink. But if you don’t, then don’t. People are just too concerned with things that aren’t their business. Stop shaming people!
That being said, I wouldn’t completely write off party hostels though. They often shut down the bars at midnight and take people out to clubs, so if you want sleep that is still an option. I have stayed in and worked at party hostels throughout my travels and loved it. Mad Monkey Siem Reap has a nice pool and some great day trips (one of them is a booze cruise on the river where the floating villages are and it is really fun). Slumber Party Bangkok has some of the comfiest beds and nicest rooms I have had in a party hostel. You can’t hear the music from the bar in the rooms, but the reps do come around with a shot bottle to try to convince you to go to the bar in the evenings.
Do you get homesick?
Personally, not really. There have been times where things have upset me and I felt I had no support system in person, but backpackers are some of the friendliest people. I have cried on strangers more times than I can count (and returned the favour by being the supportive backpacker for others). Yes, you will miss people and there might be days where you miss certain home comforts. I talked to my friends and family from home every week or two usually and that helped. I stand by the fact that by 3 months into my trip, I would have killed for a Gregg’s vegan sausage roll. It is literally the first thing I did when I got home (when Gregg’s reopened from lockdown anyway).
I hope this post helps with the uncertainty of solo travel first timers. Thank you to those who sent me questions to help write this post. Any more questions are welcome so that I can write a second part!