OPINION: Solo travel teaches you about yourself, so say the self-important backpackers in their elephant-patterned harem pants and knock-off Raybans.
I travelled solo and my greatest epiphany was: I am not fit for solo travel.
I thought I would find myself, but I just found myself bored.
Call it a weakness, snobbery or neediness or but I am glad I realised it before blowing thousands on a three month trip only to be found rocking back and forth in an unsanitary hostel bathroom.
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Solo travel is for extroverted, social creatures who bound into new countries, friendships and adventures with a certain positive zeal that everything will be OK.
Solo travel could also be for the independent, the happily introverted who is at home and happy in their own company. It’s growing in popularity, for sure, but it’s just not growing on me: here’s why.
I get it, it’s exciting.
You left everything: your sub-par job, your sub-par partner and your over-priced rented room and traded it all for, well, you’re not sure yet but you’ll figure it out along the way – you’ve got your first four nights booked in Bangkok /Santiago/Ho Chi Minh City, what could go wrong?
The backpackers was the highest rated on HostelWorld.com. You’re travelling like travel should be.
Tourist? Bah, no! You’re a wanderer, a lonely ranger, an adventurer. Who needs all-inclusives? You’ll talk to anybody, so long as they’re not honeymooners. Locals preferred.
Except it’s nothing like that. You’ll instead share drinks with other backpackers at the rowdy hostel bar and then all do something regrettable. You will be a magnet for hawkers, but true locals would run a mile.
But, hey, you put yourself out there, made small talk with other loners holding up the bar. Repeated the same backpacker mantra: “Where have you been, where are you going, can I come?” Winning.
I mean I can nod along politely, but there’s only so many inane one-sided conversations about AFL, the subtleties of trance music or waitressing etiquette I can suffer through.
You’re so exhausted from having to put yourself out there, but who needs sleep when there’s new people to impress, and their plans to invite yourself on (yeah, get used to that).
This isn’t what HostelWorld told me would happen: “You’ll become a magnet for free spirits just like you. The experiences you’ll share will bond you faster than ten years of friendship back home.”
What kind of experiences quickly tie you to newfound travel crew faster than your hometown friends? Accomplices to an accidental manslaughter comes to mind. Either that or you’ve got some sub-par friends back home too.
And when times get tough, the hostel pals and the tour tagalongs are gone: disappeared in a fog of chem-trails or overnight bus diesel fumes.
If you have managed to court a travel crew who you wouldn’t immediately swap for your friends from home, I applaud you – and am a little jealous. In more likelihood it’s a collection of Facebook friends you’ll likely never see again. Rinse. Repeat.
Solo travel converts wax lyrical about the freedom to do what you want, when you want. Nobody to arm-twist into joining you for that sunrise hike.
Spontaneity reigns. Want to book that last-minute flight to Egypt, go for it. Who’s gonna stop you? Nobody.
Who’s going to get excited in the build-up? Nobody.
Who’s going to enjoy that room upgrade you scored? Nobody.
Who’s going to help you when you miss the return flight? Nobody.
Who’s going to want to reminisce about it all when you get home? Nobody.
I’m lucky enough to have travelled to some jaw-droppingly impressive places for work and I always think of who I’d want to share the experience, adrenaline, drink or weird local food with.
“Can you believe I’m here” just cannot compete with “Can you believe we’re here”.
And reminiscing in ten years time about your wild camping on a tropical island or even the two-hour interrogation at the Ukranian border is not a something many solo wanderlusting warriors can do.
Tell me if I’m doing it wrong.