I hear it all the time when I talk to people about my next travel adventure. They say, “You’re so brave.” When I ask what they mean, they say it’s brave to travel by myself and they would never have the guts.
Why? What is scary about traveling solo? Is it making decisions on your own? Spending the money? Is it the planning? Is it not having someone to share experiences with?
I think for most people, they think they need to travel with people. It’s what society expects. Nobody questions anyone who says they are going on a trip with their spouse, significant other, or friend. When a solo traveler says they are going on a trip, everyone feels the need to ask, who are you going with?
Sometimes, the answer is nobody. Other times, it’s with a group or with a few friends.
My first solo trip overseas was to London in 2002. There was trouble at work and I wanted to get away and make my own decisions. There was no constant contact since it was before cell phones were popular, and even though I had one, it wouldn’t work in a foreign country. I had a camera and it had film. There was no social media.
I was standing outside of Westminster Abbey with Big Ben in the distance when I had an epiphany. At that time, I realized absolutely no one who knew me had any idea where I was. That thought was both liberating and terrifying at the same time.
On one hand, I could do whatever I wanted. On the other, nobody cared what I did. I stood there for a minute, asked the next person who walked by to take a photo of me with Big Ben, and continued walking.
There were tears in my eyes. I felt frightened that if I died right there, I’d rot on the street because nobody would know who I was or what to do with me. I also felt free.
When I travel, I’m not alone. Often, I sign up as a single on a group trip. Some of these groups offer roommate matching. Sometimes I take them up on their offer to find someone for me to share a room with since it reduces the overall cost. Other times, I pay a single supplement and have a room or cabin to myself. It depends on the trip and the group.
Even when I am traveling alone, I often put myself into situations that make it possible to be social. When I eat, I make it a point to sit at bars where I can easily talk with people. I join small group tours in cities so I have people to learn things with. I talk to people while standing in lines.
Are there times when loneliness sets in? Yes. When it does, I remind myself how many of my friends would love to be doing whatever I am doing. It brings me back to enjoying whatever situation I am in and living in the moment. I feel brave.