I’ve always felt intrigued by travelling alone. It might have been the chance to escape “buisness as usual” life we all settle into, or the lack of entanglements leaving me free to do as I wish, or maybe it was the romanticized image of the lone trekker out to discover the world and (entirely by chance) him or herself depicted in countless books and movies in popular culture. I think it was a mix of all those things as well as the street cred that always called me.
I am not averse to being alone (living alone for the last 10 years will definitely yield a lot of alone time) so I thought a solo trip abroad would be ideal. I spoke to several of my friends who had done the solo thing and loved it. I grew excited. Croatia was my destination of choice. Not only had it been on my list for years, but it was reported to be safe for solo female travellers. While I like a good adventure, it was my first time solo and I wanted to enjoy the experience so I booked my flight, accommodations, and researched my heart out. I was ready to hit the Croatian coastline.
In a nutshell: this trip was a game-changer.
This is (some of) the truth I learned about solo travel.
Pro 1. Experiencing the destination on your terms: Friends, significant others, and family are fun to share experiences with, but let’s be honest, your experienced are filtered when you share them with others (this is not always a bad thing). It may seem selfish to say so, but when you’re all alone, the filters are removed, the reactions are completely your own, and the path you choose is dictated by your will alone. That’s when you start learning about yourself outside of your everyday context.
Not So Pro 1. Boredom: You will have moments of downtime that can be (dare I say it) boring. So where are those friends/significant others/family when you need them? It will definitely give you an appreciation for those good travel companions that are a. hard to find, and b. the yin to your yang. You need a counterbalance when you’re in the lulls. Point being, it can make you appreciate the community of shared experience…
Pro 2. …But no one said you can’t find community of shared experiences with strangers! That’s why you want to book a hostel, or an accommodation that will put you right in the middle of other travellers. If I can describe my experiences in hostels I would say they are like a story told in vignettes. You meet so many different characters from different walks of life with different stories to tell, and it can be as enriching as you can imagine.
Not So Pro 2. And sometimes, that’s not the case. You won’t always get the open-minded, friendly travellers. You can stumble upon a pack that aren’t as friendly. You can get placed in the “party” room (I will spare you the details as I’m sure you can fill in the blanks). I had heard of the latter but the former surprised me. I thought travellers always had a similar mindset but it turns out that travellers and unsavory people are not mutually exclusive groups in society. Lesson learned.
Pro 3. The power of one: this is the notion that almost any restaurant will accommodate a party of one with little to no wait. I thought I’d had a meal alone before. I could have sworn I had. But indeed nothing prepares you for “table for 1 please” like a solo dining experience while travelling. That said, this was one of the things I quickly grew accustomed to. Literally one day in, I was fine and dandy dining by myself. I learned to enjoy the meal itself, the drink accompanying it, and, of course, the dessert. At times I’d chat with the waiters and waitresses. One time I even got asked out by a really cute waiter at restaurant overlooking the sea with amazing Motown music playing in the background. There’s something delicious about the whole experience (pun definitely intended), perhaps it’s the uninterrupted dining that allows you to focus on the food itself, or the moment of contemplation, or the people watching opportunities. You’re in the moment and in your surroundings simultaneously. By the time my trip was over, I promised myself I would dine alone on occasion in Toronto. Note: some people advocate eating alone without the distractions of a book, magazine, or your smartphone, but I say nevermind! You will have plenty of time for both silently contemplative and observational meals, so once in a while, grab that distraction!
Not So Pro 3. A solo traveller is definitely more exposed to the dangers that lurk, though common sense and taking some precautions will go a long way. Make sure to let your loved ones back home know where you will be on which days, and check in fairly regularly. Also don’t walk down dark alleys at night, take shortcuts you aren’t sure of (especially if they lead you through dark alleys), be aware of your surroundings and your belongings, don’t leave important documents out in the open or in your back pocket, keep purses zipped up and close to your body, be firm in your refusal of any unwanted advances, and always remember “I’m just waiting for a friend/cousin/brother/boyfriend” goes a long way.
Two weeks of going up & down that coastline taught me the above and plenty more about myself and the type of traveller I am. There were times I longed for my best travel companion (my sister) and other times I skipped through the towns, happy to be footloose (and fancy free).
Stay tuned for part 2 where I go over the things I learned from travelling solo.