Shit, my turn. The immigration official at the desk in front looks straight into my eyes, a lioness locked onto her prey (he was male, but lionesses do the hunting so…)
An upwards head jerk beckons me. Clutching my backpack straps like a kid walking into school on their first day, I approach.
“Purpose of your visit to the United States?” spits Cranky McCrankface as I hand over a mess of documents.
“Uuuuhh….” I try to recall indeed why I had just disembarked a 16 hour hell ride from Hong Kong. He inspects the photo of a red faced, Kmart-uniform clad teen that resides in my passport, before peering back up with demanding eyes.
“LEISURE!” I burst. Good work brain.
He continues the interrogation, brow furrowed, “By yourself?”
Salty beads moisten my forehead. HE’S GOT ME NOW.
“Yup… first solo trip!” I squeak, in an attempt to convince him that I was in fact, going to New York, for fun…. alone.
He looks back down at the documents on his side of the security shield, and the cross-examination continues. I tell him the length of my stay, the address of my hostel and the details of my flight to Iceland in 8 days’ time. Finally it ends, and Cranky grants me passage into the legal territory of the USA. Two hours after fleeing seat 48b, I’m free! JFK airport sucks. Obstacle #1, over.
Baggage collected after another 40 minutes waiting. Obstacle #2, over.
Walk outside to catch the JFK AirTrain to NYC. Closed due to yesterday’s blizzard. Obstacle #3, here we go.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When travelling by yourself, you encounter sticky situations. But guess what? You will deal with them, and probably be okay. Actually, you’ll be better, because experiences that don’t kill you, help you grow (my half-hearted attempt at re-phrasing ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’).
So go alone.
When I tell people I’m travelling solo, I’m often met with responses like,
“Wow, you’re brave,”
“That’s risky,” or
“I couldn’t do that, I’d be too lonely!”
Such remarks are not intentionally irksome, but they do become monotonous reminders that many see solo travel as frightening, lonely or a pitiful activity of the slightly unhinged.
The opposite is true. Okay, sometimes I’m the latter, but I am not lacking something (i.e. a significant other) when I choose to go somewhere on my own. Unaccompanied wandering is as liberating as experiences come (I haven’t tried acid though), and the gendered stigma about woman travelling alone is in need of an upheaval. There is a difference between being lonely and being alone, and our fears of what others may think of us should not get in the way of reaching our full potential when we are the latter.
I don’t usually dish out advice or opinions so assertively, but travelling solo is something I believe you absolutely should do if you’re lucky enough to have the means. All arguments should be backed up with evidence, so sit your pretty ass down, because I’m going to hit you with some.
GREAT REASON ONE: You’re the BOSS
YOU are the master of your itinerary. No arguing or compromising by putting up with shit you don’t want to. You don’t have to wait around for people when they’re struggling with eyeliner in the morning, when they urgently need to find a public bathroom (a difficult feat when coin-less in Europe), or when they need to satisfy dietary requirements.
The dreaded “Where should we go?” and “Where do you want to eat?” is not a problem when travelling alone. Instead of waiting for an ambiguous, half-hearted response from someone who has an agenda but is too bashful to make it known, you can do whatever you want. Being selfish is fun!! It is important to remember that best friends do not always equal best travel companions, and 24 hours a day with someone for weeks on end can unfortunately bring out their worst. But when alone, you know what YOU want, and can satisfy YOUR desires without the worry of disappointing your travel buddies or ruining lifelong friendships due to your taste for absurdist art. Hedonism galore.
As well as saving time that you would otherwise spend devoting to the needs of others, lack of companions means there is no one to judge you for:
- Wearing the same outfit everyday
- How wildly or quietly you spend your nights
- How long you choose to sleep in/stay awake
- How many photos you take (of a sunset, of yourself, of your food…)
- How long you want to spend admiring a particularly lovely Monet
- Having a day off to recover
- How much/little you money spend
- How long it takes you to make up your mind when shopping
- How much healthy or unhealthy food you consume
- Doing whatever your #wanderlusting heart desires
Do want you want, when you want and spend time in the way of your choosing. By going at your own pace you will have time for #deep introspection, and become more confident as you navigate all the situations that travelling throws your way. If you can:
- Navigate public transport in an unfamiliar city
- Order in a restaurant without English menus
- Survive a missed flight emergency, and
- Figure out how to use the hostel washing machine,
You can DEFINITELY nail that job interview/exam/date/difficult task. We constantly build life skills as we stumble from day to day, but being removed from the familiar is a powerful catalyst for building independence.
For example, when travelling with friends and family in the past I would often let them take the lead when checking in, ordering food or going through airport security. Dumb, I know, but when by yourself you have no choice but to take initiative with the little things, taking small steps to becoming more self-assured. Gaining confidence on the road helps you level up ( á la Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White) in the game of life, and don’t we all want that?
GREAT REASON TWO: Friends friends FRIENDS
When travelling alone, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to enjoy your own company or make friends (a balance of both is a good mix but also it’s your fucking decision so I’ll shut it with the opinions).
Without the safety blanket of a pal by your side, it’s surprisingly easier (crazy I know) to build new relationships from a clean slate because a) you are less intimidating when not in a pre-existing posse, so people are more inclined to attempt conversation with your lonely ass, and b) you’re not limited by someone else’s conceptions about who you are / how you act. That’s right, anonymity means you can be anyone! But your usual self is probably A-Okay, because it’s not hard to spot someone trying to inflate themselves (guys, I’m Australian and yes, Cate Blanchett is like totes my best friend).
An undeniable perk of travelling is meeting people from all over the world, so utilize your social skills (Wikihow if you don’t have any) to gain some new friends, memories and perspectives. Who knows, maybe your new buddy from Idaho might make a compelling case for Trump as President???
Really though, hostels are the breeding grounds of friendship; you can smell it when you walk into the dorms (THAT smell is probably something else though…) Hostels are brimming with single travellers, many also afraid to make the first move in the complicated game of small-talk. My best tip is to join organised activities (more common in large hostels), and from there all that’s required is a “Hey, you going to this walking tour/restaurant/bar crawl too?” Introduce yourself, where you’re from, where you’ve been and where you’re going and BAM – your conversation is blooming, you social centipede. Sharing experiences is the best way to develop your new friendships, and in no time you’ll be laughing about that time Rob threw up in the gutter, or when Maude couldn’t stomach the chicken feet at Tim Ho Wan (wait… they were both me).
The anonymous autonomy granted by travelling solo also gives you the opportunity to explore sexually, without judgment or negativity. As long as you stay safe you can have the time of your life, and it’s up to you whether you want to tell people about it back home. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet your soul mate on the beach in Lagos. Or just get another UTI. All experiences make good stories, I guess?
GREAT REASON THREE: Become your best, most independent self
Being alone gives you time to be introspective, and as mentioned, facing struggles gives you the opportunity to rise up when pushed to new limits. In solitary moments you can rely on your own humour and imagination to keep yourself entertained, flexing your creative muscles. Maybe you communicate to those back home via hilariously spammy snap stories (guilty), perhaps you vlog your highs and lows, perfect your Instagram skills or simply Skype your friends to keep them up-to-date on your misadventures.
The excitement of being by yourself is unparalleled, helping cultivate mindfulness and relieve stress as you take #zen time for yourself. Whatever happens on your journey, you will return more liberated, self-reliant, with some damn good tales to tell. We’re all stories in the end, so go make some instead of waiting around someone to go with who could (potentially) weigh you down. Chose to experience the world with the person who knows you best – yourself.
Before travelling solo I used to vomit a little in my mouth whenever I had to make a phone call just to book in with the dentist, a far cry from the girl who can now happily dine out or wander a city alone. We over underestimate ourselves, and we can either continue doing so, or make the fucking plunge. It’s not that scary once you commit. Remember, being by yourself removes all risk of frustration associated with pleasing another, and you have more time to read, sleep, daydream, listen to music, relax or do whatever the fuck sounds good to you. There will be zero drama (unless you make it), you’re free to change your mind, planning (or not planning) your itinerary becomes easier, and it’s simpler to stay within YOUR budget.
But yes you naysayers, there are some downfalls to solo travel. Obviously it is generally safer to travel with others, but if you take precautions and use common sense you should be alright. Secondly, having someone else to share an experience with is preeetty good, but the importance of experiencing things alone should not be underestimated, as they are powerful catalysts for self-reflection #eatpraylove. While travelling by yourself means that when you’re having a bad day (they do happen), there will be no one to comfort you, you will pull through you independent thing. You may have nights where you want to do absolutely nothing, or even dream about heading home, it’s okay! Your problems won’t disappear, but you may just start to learn how to be tranquil in your own presence as the world continues, as it always does and always will, to rush around you. Finally, hotel rooms and cabs may be more expensive when there is no one to share the cost with. But hey, more room for you, the VIP.
Being able to travel for leisure, whether in groups or alone, is a privilege, and hopefully one day every woman and man will have the opportunity to move freely. If you do have the means to travel, you don’t need to desire an enlightening, transformative or spiritual experience to go somewhere solo. It might just be, ‘Hey, that looks like it’ll be a damn good time’.
So get out there and explore the beauty this world and its people have to offer, and if you can, do it unaccompanied. The freedom is dizzying.