None of your friends have the curiosity gene? Or they think you’re plain bonkers? Or you just prefer your own company. Sometimes it's a little lonely travelling solo. But I've learned that I don't need to share an experience to understand that this planet is a wonderful place. I'm the one in charge, so I can do what I want, when I want. I don't need to feel guilty if I don't wish to visit a museum (I would rather stay outdoors) or listen to a guide (they often talk too much when I just want to look and I have the Internet for information, which is often more accurate anyway) or motor round a city when I'm not that inspired, or stay longer (or return) when I am.
I don't have to conform to anyone else's notion of what it means to travel, where I should stay or how long for. No compromise necessary. I can change my mind whenever I want to. Total flexibility means it’s easier to arrange things last minute, and fit in with whatever is available. It can also mean cheaper deals. And talking about money - I have complete financial control on my own. No need to worry about how to split the bill.
Travelling alone opens up a world of endless possibilities. Each day is a blank page. Setting off to explore somewhere unknown is when you truly begin to get that sense of adventure. And when seeking some peace or reflection time - everyone needs their own space - then it’s possible to find true tranquillity in the world’s open, awe inspiring and spiritual places. The Andes are my favourite; Patagonia is truly heart lifting in springtime. Or join in with a Buddhist meditation in a temple in remote Bhutan for a totally different but equally uplifting experience.
You can get much further under the skin of a place if you're on your own, experience the culture properly. The lack of familiar people to interact with forces you to focus your attention more directly on your surroundings- on where you are rather than who you’re with. You can really be in the moment.
You have to engage with the locals, and you learn far more about local customs, the way of life and food, as well as the challenges the people face. It depresses me to see how far and fast the aspiration towards materialism and celebrity is spreading. Though I start to challenge my assumptions about what constitutes a good life when I see how happy and content people in developing countries often are.
And I love seeing geopolitics at first hand and trying to understand how countries and borders have evolved the way they have; Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game was a brilliant read on the Silk Road, as is Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.
It’s a truism that when you travel alone you find yourself. Metaphors about life’s journey abound for a reason. I’ve learned what is really important to me- the things that bring me joy – that I love the natural world. I don’t visit museums any more- just because other people think I should.
Travelling alone has made me much more self-reliant and independent. Going solo can undoubtedly be lonely and unsettling. Each trip begins with stress and anxiety. I ask myself what I’m doing travelling to the other side of the world without anyone for back up. I’ve been in countless precarious and (occasionally) perilous situations. Something nearly always goes wrong- it’s usually a flight getting cancelled or my bag gets lost. Or I do! But after the initial panic I’ve learned to go into organised mode and sort it out, draw up an alternative plan or work out where I am. I’ve developed confidence that I can sort things out and so far I usually have.
When there’s no one you know around to criticise (and also because you have no other choice) it’s much easier to speak to strangers and find yourself happily (well, sometimes) joining in with events you would never contemplate at home. Voodoo dancing anyone?
I’ve also developed more patience and tolerance (I hope). Travelling I’ve also learned to accept that things don’t always go the way I want them to and that I just have to accept that.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
And I’ve learned how to operate my laptop standing up in an airport queue. I prop it on my bag.