Why do it alone?Reading Time: 6 minutes
Before I share some of my travel experiences and lessons I feel the need to give a bit of context and background. I love globetrotting-and I know many people will respond, ‘yes so do I’, but I feel like you need to understand how much so that you can fully understand me and this article. I’m the kind of person who would live on rice with salt and the occasional sprinkling of aromat (to jazz things up every now and again) if I had to, if it would enable me to go explore a new city. For me travel is not always so much about staying in fancy hotels or going to the most glamourous resorts but some of my most memorable adventures have included wild camping in the UK, sharing life experiences with strangers on the road, long chats with people I just met, random road trips that found us in unexpected parts of the country, sleeping under the stars, watching gorgeous sunsets at the top of beautiful mountains with ‘strangers’, picnics in the park, overcoming fears, killing stereotypes (no, I have not murdered anyone), midnight swims or watching sunsets over drinks from the supermarket on exotic beaches.
Why do you travel alone? Is it not lonely? Awww isn’t that sad? Is it not dangerous for gorgeous black women like yourself to travel alone? (aww stapp, my head needs to fit in economy class seats!) Wouldn’t it be better going with other people? These are questions I have been asked in the past and it has taken me a while to come up with answers that were authentic to me because of many different reasons including the fact that I believed I could only say I exclusively enjoyed one type of travel.
Honestly speaking travelling alone is a different experience from travelling with friends or family. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it’s just different. It is like eating rice or potatoes for dinner? There is a time for either starch depending on the sauce/stew, both still fill you up.
So why do I travel alone? Mostly because I don’t always have friends or family that want to/can/prioritise travelling to the places I want to travel to at the same time. And the alternative, is not going at all-but that’s not an option.
Would it not be better going with other people? It is amazing to travel with likeminded people. I have had some the most epic adventures while travelling of my life with friends or family. Some memories that we will take to our graves, some trips down memory lane will have us in stiches or make us feel fuzzy and warm, like a baby’s nappy first thing in the morning. But similarly, I have also had some epic adventures with new friends that I made on the road when I was travelling alone. For example:
-I stayed in a hostel in Georgetown, Penang (on arrival, I was screaming on the inside and just wanted to leave, it had a grungy look about it-not the cool retro one, if you get my drift) which eventually resulted in me being introduced to Zlatan, and spending a few days exploring the city, discussing food, history, life, art and travel with the most inspiring 19yr old Swedish girl I have ever met in my life.
-I learnt to ride a scooter from a bunch of solo travellers I met in Chiang Mai and 24hrs later I had rented out a scooter and had freedom wheels around the city (my experience doing this on my own is a story for another day),
-I had an amazing day exploring the city with an American-Cambodian Tuk Tuk driver, Klo, I met in Phnom Penh (diverting my cousin’s attention from her work to worrying about my safety all day. I can just imagine her face when she got back home after work and noticed I was still not back. Trying to mentally rehearse what she would say to our mummies if I didn’t get back-sorry T).
By ‘I travel solo’ it doesn’t mean that I go away and am couped up alone in a room or do everything alone in a foreign country or different town. It just means I leave my house alone and at the time of leaving I have no idea who I will be spending my time with.
Is it not lonely? Well, sometimes it can be. But, so can everyday life. When I started solo travelling I had a rule ‘thou shalt not have dinner alone’ so at the very least I was always guaranteed some human contact in my day. This saw me third wheeling a couple of dates, rescuing another fellow solo traveller, being welcomed into a circle of friends and sometimes just shimming myself into a group of people. The incredible thing about this is even when I was not in the mood, it got me out of my comfort zone. It got me to meet some really interesting people, who I may have never met or conversed with if I’d had company.
It sometimes gave me new travel companions for days in a row, and allowed me the opportunity to make friends with some like-minded people from all over the globe. And admittedly there were a couple of times where I have wished we had decided to have dinner at McDonalds to guarantee the speedy delivery of the food because it was like cheese and chalk.
Isn’t that sad? An experience is sad because of how we perceive it. Maybe I should blame my first job that used to send me to random locations for weeks on end staying in hotels, therefore I got comfortable with sitting alone in a restaurant rather than having my room smell of stinky creamy cheese pasta all week (its good on the tongue though) or going to the cinema alone if a new movie I really wanted to see came out during the week (after all either way I was spending my evening in front of a screen, at least this way I would be watching a screen with other people). I don’t know what it is, but I seem to love my own company and I am mostly comfortable in my skin (not always been that way). Spending time with people enhances my experience of life and therefore I take advantage of it when I can, but being on my own is not the end of the world. If that is sad, then I guess I need a sad badge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Am I fearless or brave? Mmm, when it comes to this I seem to follow the message of Susan Jeffers book, ‘Feel the fear, and do it any way’.
Is it not dangerous for a gorgeous black woman like myself to travel alone? I am a bit of a worry woose (best believe). I have a hyperactive imagination and trust issues so believe me when I tell you that I too still go a little crazy before trips (yes, that I have planned alone with no coercion from external parties) when I think of the things that could go wrong. But I have an amazing girlfriend gives me a pep talk before I travel and always reminds me of what happened the last time, and the time before that and also that all those things that I imagine happening out there could still happen while I’m in my home town. Nothing like a bit of perspective. Solo travel has taught me beyond anything I have ever done in my life to have faith in the better good of people (more on this to come), to trust my gut and never to judge a book by its cover. Common sense is important for safety and make sure to consider pros and cons when taking risks. It has re-enforced the fact that sometimes what stands between me and getting what I want, is really me and my mindset.