By Goya Verity
The thrill of stepping onto the plane at Heathrow Airport, alone, is unparalleled: finally, a rare opportunity to see the world for yourself and on your own terms. Having spent the last two years in and out of national lockdowns and trapped by travel restrictions, for many of us delaying or cancelling travel plans to accommodate friends and family is no longer an easy or desirable choice. Solo travelling can take various forms, and each traveller has their own reason for wanting to journey alone: it might be an attempt to overcome a personal fear on a simple return trip or a prolonged search to ‘find yourself’, backpacking for months on end.
Facing the world alone, whether that be the hustle and bustle of Istanbul or the undulating hills of the Scottish Highlands, can be an enriching experience: not only can the trip be tailored to your own passions, needs, and wellbeing, but overcoming personal battles in the face of adversity can lead to a greater appreciation of your own self-identity and capabilities. The holiday can be a no-compromise, no-restrictions trip, at your own pace without consulting anyone else but your own heart and soul (and your bank account). Besides, having a liberating personalised itinerary, solo travelling is a chance to reflect and detach yourself from day-to-day reality — the reason why many travellers decide to go solo in the first place.
Yet detaching yourself completely from the familiar can leave you vulnerable and isolated, and while loneliness and being alone are not the same, one may start to feel like the other, affecting the morale of the trip. This might manifest itself in various ways, such as the awkwardness of eating alone, though it needn’t be frowned upon: people will not judge you as much as you think, particularly in parts of the world that are rife with solo- UK-travellers. Homesickness is amplified when travelling alone, but it can be a rewarding experience to reach out and interact with the locals and culture of your host country. Meeting people along the way is, in fact, an inevitable part of the experience — it can be as easy as sharing a hostel room with friendly travellers or booking a popular tour or route to strike up a conversation with other solo and group-goers; such places are the crossroads of the adventurous and it is almost impossible not to meet like-minded people. The
experience also presents a social opportunity to introduce yourself on your own terms and in your true colours to the people you meet rather than acting as one of a group — a big confidence booster for the shyer explorers.
While travelling alone can be incredibly empowering, such an adventure should not be untaken without adequate preparation and planning. Without a companion, the responsibility to enjoy and protect yourself exists in equal measure: female and minority travellers in particular must consider personal safety more meticulously without the mutual protection of a pack. With the right research into avoiding dangerous neighbourhoods and sly scams, however, it is possible to travel anywhere. Travelling solo, however, could also be more expensive than travelling in a group or pair because the economy of scale is not on your side. Still, one might argue that the beauty of solo travelling is priceless.
A solo odyssey is not only an exciting way to experience the world, but one which can build relationships with other people, and most importantly, with yourself. To those who fear this solitary adventure: don’t forget that you can get by with a little help from your friends and fellow travellers you meet along the way. Travelling alone is recognised to be immensely rewarding — filled with joys, triumphs and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities — and if it is also interspersed with challenges and hardships that have to be overcome, the experience is all the richer for it.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova