I’m a big supporter of solo travel, as I think it has a great impact on one’s personal development. I’ve been travelling by myself for about 10 years now. However, solo travel and loneliness is a subject less discussed. I’ve decided to write about a few highlights and how my perception changed over time.
Spain, mi amor
I started travelling by myself at age 17, not because I had no friends, but because they were not interested in my kind of travels. I wanted to study Spanish at a summer school in Malaga. For one reason or another, nobody could join me. Well, it’s sad no one follows you, but what should you do? Should you give up your dreams just because of that? Of course not. So I went to that summer school, made new friends from different countries, partied till morning and improved my Spanish to fluent level. It was such a great experience in my eyes that I decided to find a way to live this “international life” again.
It took me a while, but I got a scholarship and moved to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria when I was 20. I wanted to go with my best friend, but we couldn’t make it. So here I was again, boarding a flight by myself to this new adventure. I didn’t know anyone there and didn’t have accommodation, only a hotel for a few nights. I was not worried, but super excited. And all went very well, I was very lucky and found a great flat by the ocean. I made lots of friends with whom I still keep in touch, took lots and lots of pictures and travelled around the island and continental Spain.
It was one semester of sun, beach, and party. I went to uni and passed all my exams, but that was not the highlight of the experience. I didn’t feel alone, quite the contrary, I had more friends here than at home. Of course, this only encouraged me to search for a next opportunity.
Self-turmoil in the Middle East
I decided to study in Tel Aviv for one year, and I moved there the following year. I was quite used to solo travel, but I remember when I boarded my flight, I realized I’m starting from scratch again, no accommodation, no friends, no nothing. By that time, my best friend and I had spent months of searching and applying to all kinds of programs and scholarships. We couldn’t get anything together, so we traveled to different countries.
I was expecting the same kind of experience as in Spain, but it was quite the opposite. My budget was very limited. When I first went out and bought a drink, I realized I won’t be going out too much. Not that I liked many of my new acquaintances. Afterwards, I started worrying about how am I going to pass the exams, since it was quite different from what I’ve studied before. It was not enough time to catch up with everything I was lacking in all subjects. I was working part-time. My English was quite limited as well. But not as limited as my Hebrew. I spent annoying amounts of time trying to read products in the supermarket and taking wrong busses. To top it up, I had some health problems and frequent nightmares.
I was a long way out of my comfort zone. It was a bad experience in all its aspects and I think I enjoyed only a few months from the whole year. I was trying to enjoy my day to day life there, but in the background, I was counting the days to go back home. I was feeling lonely not because I didn’t know anybody, but because it all seemed foreign. And I didn’t want to fit in just for the sake of it. On the other hand, I learned so much from this experience, especially about myself, and it was an incredible boost for my self-esteem.
The sun is brighter in Africa
I went back home for a few years. I found a cosy job in Bucharest, which allowed me to save some money. But what to do with it? It should be something awesome! I was thinking. Shortly after my 24th birthday, I went on a trip to Kenya. First time in Africa, backpacking. Would not recommend to inexperienced travellers.
I reached Mtwapa village beginning of my second week in Kenya. I spent a few days almost alone in a hostel by the sea. The first week was very intense and I had many thoughts, especially judging my mistakes and reactions. I was not happy. At some point I was tired of my own thoughts, they were the same over and over again, pointless and mean, too loud. I wished I could talk to someone, just to not hear my thoughts anymore. I made an effort though, to shut those bad thoughts down. And I don’t know the exact moment I made it.
One of the following mornings I woke up and went to a quiet place on the beach, with my mangos and book. While I was reading, a butterfly stopped on my mango. I was hearing only the waves and birds singing, it was peaceful and all my senses were enjoying it. Everything I could see and hear was very natural and beautiful, it was a perfect moment. Then I realized, I don’t need anything else. My mind was clear, I loved it. And ever since, I don’t feel lonely when spending a long time by myself. In fact, I plan it from time to time, it’s like maintenance service for my mind.
Enjoying the journey
I’ve been solo travelling a few times a year in the last 4 years, to different continents and cultures. I have no intention to stop doing it. I really enjoy going somewhere foreign and think (me to myself): “What do you feel like doing now?”, “That street looks nice, let’s walk there”, “So hot today, let’s have some ice-cream”. Sounds crazy? It feels awesome! It’s this thought that asks me what do I want and it’s willing to grant all my wishes, no judgments. And that’s me. How can I be bored of that?
In my home country, nobody encouraged me to solo travel. I’ve been asked if I get bored or scared by myself. Someone told me “Oh, you couldn’t find anyone to travel with. You should find a boyfriend *wink*”. And I don’t remember how many similar comments. Truth is, in the beginning, I had moments I felt alone, I wished friends would join me, I thought I was unlucky and weird because I always have to do things by myself. I had very few moments I felt scared, and it was all because of preconceptions. People can be so welcoming and genuinely nice and well-intentioned, regardless the nationality, it’s amazing. I’ve experienced kindness from people I was meeting for the first time, and I try to do the same.
However, I can understand why people don’t want to solo travel. In the last years, I’ve been travelling with friends as well. It’s this impression that travelling with someone it’s a “guarantee” you will have someone to talk to, to make up a plan, to take your pictures, feels safer, you have someone to blame if something goes wrong etc. It’s easier and psychologically comfortable. There are many things you don’t need to “worry” about. I like travelling by myself, with family or with friends, but they are each different.
Solo travel gets you out of the comfort zone. It leaves you alone with your thoughts. It leaves you alone in the unknown. You will love it or hate it, there is little in between. That’s why it’s scary, not because the world is.