As I sip my glass of white wine out of a plastic cup I gaze around at my surroundings. A pop-up bar along the banks of the Danube, made up of an old camper van, pallet furniture, and a couple of hammocks, it also boasts recycling for our cups, and a banging stereo system propped up on the bar. Chatting with my fellow party goers who I only met a couple of hours before, it all feels slightly surreal. But it is real, and I count my blessings as there can’t be many people who experience a night like I did in Budapest.
Such is the beauty of solo travel – every day is an adventure, and you never know quite what is going to happen. On this, my second solo trip of the year, I visited 4 countries in 9 days, slept in 6 different beds, took 3 flights, several trains, taxis and even a boat on my travels.
I learned a few words of Hungarian, tried traditional Slovakian garlic soup, ate more pork & crackling than should be legal, saw Klimt’s masterpiece The Kiss, caught up with old friends, made new ones, squeezed in lunch with my parents and even a beautiful wedding. And that’s not even the half of it! A hectic, exhausting, exciting, rewarding, fun-filled trip that I will never forget.
And I managed all this by myself. True, I met up with people along the way – a benefit of travelling and having globe-trotting friends too is the excuse to visit them! But my solo trip gave me experiences I never would have had travelling in a couple, or with friends. We may have made different choices, stayed in different places, gone to different locations – and no trip is ever the same. So why is solo travel so much more enriching than tagging along with other people?
For me it is the freedom to do whatever you choose, whenever you like, wherever you happen to be. To some this may be restrictive, bizarrely the freedom of choice can be overwhelming if there is too much to choose from! But even if you can’t decide what you prefer to do the old trick of sticking a pin in the map works just fine.
Once you’ve chosen where to go, the planning, booking and execution of your journey is in the end far more rewarding when you know that you have done this by yourself, and you look back at what you’ve achieved. There is a good reason why potential employers often favour a well-travelled candidate; as travelling solo demonstrates independence, adaptability, even project management, and shows you’re not afraid to try something new. All useful skills that can be transferred to the workplace.
Experiencing another culture opens your eyes far more than watching a documentary could ever do. There is life outside your bedroom, your house, your town and certainly outside your own country. Solo travel helps you to connect with the people around you in the places you visit, and so you learn more and appreciate other points of view, and savour the differences and similarities between people all over the world.
When you travel alone be sure to make it count. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals about themselves, about where to go, what to visit, and you will make friends from all over the world. Admittedly I still struggle to overcome my natural shyness, but the more I travel, the more comfortable and confident I become. I know I am a better person for everything I have seen and done on my travels. As well as confidence, I have gained empathy, openness & acceptance, and challenged my beliefs of the way I think the world is, or should be. But I still have a long way to go on my travels, many other places to visit, much more of the world to experience. This is just the beginning.
What is your most memorable solo travel experience? Please feel free to share your stories and comments!