Dear Nora: Solo Travel – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Wednesday 19th, August 2015 / 07:50 Written by
Dear Nora: Solo Travel – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
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Solo travel is one of life’s greatest adventures. But it’s not without its challenges and downfalls. In this article I’ve polled 13 famous solo travellers with lifetimes of solo travel experience to share the good, the bad, and (sometimes) the ugly aspects of solo travel.

Dear Nora:

I really want to travel the world, but I don’t have anybody to do it with and I’m scared of doing it alone. Is it worth it? And what should I be wary of? Help! – Deborah

Great questions Deborah, and as you’ll read in the solo traveller profiles below, you’re not alone in these concerns – they’re perfectly normal!

I remember when a friend came to visit me while I was living in the Caribbean. It was her first time travelling solo, and despite the fact that she’s travelled with friends, family members, and even herded entire groups of children as her responsibility (she’s a teacher), she was most scared about doing it alone.

When she arrived, she was glowing. “It was amazing!” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about anybody else, I could do whatever I wanted, and I gained so much confidence even in doing the little things! I’m definitely going to do this again.”

So Deborah, take heed: if you take the solo travel leap, you won’t look back. But there are some things to be aware of, so read on to find out the good, the bad, and the ugly of solo travel from these experts.

 

TURNER WRIGHT: ONCE A TRAVELER

Turner WrightTurner has lived in Japan, South Korea, Peru, Thailand, and New Zealand as a solo traveller. He currently blogs from Seattle and is planning a trip to Turkey.

The Good: Flexibility and Independence

My life, even before I started travelling, was very independent. It took living abroad for the first time to learn a little humility, but for a time, I was one of those people who refused to rely on locals for help in saying something in a different language or finding someplace off the beaten path. If I wanted to take a spontaneous weekend trip to Fukuoka, I wasn’t accountable to anyone. To summarize, it’s the flexibility that makes solo travel so appealing.

The Bad: It Gets Old

My biggest challenge developed slowly as I started seeing more and more countries and gaining experience. For me, solo travel is only fun for so long. At a certain point, I stopped feeling that spark that comes with stepping into a foreign environment, and instead just wished there was someone else around to offer a different perspective.

Read more about this transition for Turner here: Losing Interest in Solo Travel

The Ugly: Tough to be Solo in South Korea

South Korea is a country built on couple culture and groups. I found it difficult to dine out by myself, as many traditional restaurants won’t serve a single person; more often than not I was turned away when I wanted some comfort food in the dead of winter. Nothing like calling attention to the fact I didn’t have a significant other.

Turner elaborates on this here: The Disadvantages of Traveling Alone

 

BETH WHITMAN – WANDERLUST AND LIPSTICK

Beth WhitmanBeth spent most of her early years of travel as a solo backpacker, travelling throughout the US, Canada, Central America, India, and Southeast Asia. Sometimes she feels like she’s been on the road more than at home in her adult life.

The Good: Alone Time

Truth be told, I love to be by myself. So travelling solo allows me to spend a lot of time on my own but with the ability to meet lots of people (locals or other travellers) when I’m feeling like I need a social fix.

The Bad: Alone Time

OK. So I like to be by myself. But there are definitely times when I’ve wanted to share something (a sunset, a beautiful temple) and there’s no one to whom I can say, “Did you see that?” Those are the times when I feel a bit lonely.

 

MATTHEW KEPNES – NOMADIC MATT

Matt KepnesAfter a trip to Thailand in 2005, Matt quit his job, finished his MBA and headed off into the world. His original trip was supposed to last a year, but he’s been on the road ever since, travelling solo most of the time.

The Good: Freedom

I love the freedom that solo travel gives. It may sound selfish but you can go where you want, when you want, and do what you want. I love that freedom.

Find out more about why Matt likes solo travel here: Why I Travel Alone

The Bad: Nobody to Share the Burden

There are always ups and downs on the road and when you travel with someone, they are there with you in the bad moments, to help take care of logistics, and overall just to help make a bad situation better. When you are all alone, you don’t have that – it’s just you and that can be emotionally draining.

 

JANICE WAUGH – SOLO TRAVELER

Janice WaughJanice has been travelling solo much of her life and publishing Solo Traveler for six years. With 150,000 people reading the site each month and a community of over 100,000 on Facebook, it’s a huge resource for solo travellers.

The Good: Meeting People

For me, the best thing about solo travel is meeting people. I meet more people solo than when with a companion. I’ve met all kinds of people…young, old, artistic, scientific, people living good times and hard times…and I’ve learned from them all.

The Bad: Doing Everything

The greatest challenge is doing everything yourself – all the planning, navigating and negotiating. Fortunately, I find that by staying in hostels and the other small inns or B&Bs I learn a lot from other solo travellers which makes up for this.

The Ugly: Safety

I ran into difficulty in Paris when I was in my twenties. It was serious and the story is a bit long but the lesson is simple: stay in a public place with people you’ve just recently met.

 

CHRIS RICHARDSON – THE AUSSIE NOMAD

Chris RichardsonLike many Australians, Chris set off on a backpacking trip around Europe, and travelled solo for about two years.

The Good: Life Skills

If you can travel abroad solo even for just a couple of months handling foreign languages and countries, then just think how much easier that next job interview or business meeting will be. There’s something very rewarding about conquering things on your own and travelling solo really did instill some great life experiences in me that I’d never have obtained travelling with others.

You can read more about Chris’s enthusiasm for solo travel here: Solo Travel Should be Compulsory

The Bad: Friends Move On

While you make friends easily travelling, they are often short lived friendships before you are on your own again as people go onto their next destination. While I was never sad to be travelling on my own, at times you can get a little lonely.

The Ugly: No Fallbacks

I had a run-in with the ticket inspectors on a train from Poland to Germany and confusion with my Eurail ticket. I was caught not having the right ticket and needed to pay for a replacement or face being kicked off the train in the rain and middle of nowhere. My tip there is always carry some extra euros with you for emergencies.

 

CHRISTINE KA’ALOA – GRRRLTRAVELER

christine-kaaloaA solo traveller for over seven years, Christine started off by surviving her first accidental solo trip in India. Her site offers travel survival tips and solo travel advice by taking you into her solo adventures.

The Good: The Impossible Becomes Possible

Travel shows me anything is possible and that I have the power to manifest any dream I can think of. When I can tackle my goal to travel alone to a foreign country that I’ve always dreamt of (but never thought I’d visit alone), my perspective of life shifts and the word “impossible” opens to possibility. To feel myself at the centre of my world is a powerful feeling, that empowers all decisions in my life.

The Bad: Fear and Self Doubt (Especially as a Woman)

My biggest solo challenge will probably always be the fear and self-doubt I feel at the onslaught of planning my solo trips. Like many people, my Achilles heel is my self-doubt and the societal brainwash that women shouldn’t travel alone. Even though I’ve travelled solo for the past seven years and prefer travelling by myself, it’s a mental challenge leaving my self-security and venturing into the unknown. It requires a leap of faith and self-trust.

The Ugly: Getting Scammed

Being lost in Marrakech and trusting a fake policeman or having a Varanasi boat driver take me to the Burning Ghats (which is off-limits to foreign tourists) are just some of the scams I’ve encountered. Luckily, I managed to get out of all of them before they got serious. But having to make decisions on my own (and suffer occasional consequences) has only sharpened my intuition — it’s like a blind person learning how to navigate in the dark. Your senses strengthen. It has actually made me more intuitive about people and situations in my every day life.

Read more about her take on travel scams here: How to Deal With Travel Scams

 

MARIELLEN WARD – BREATHE DREAM GO

Mariellen WardDuring the darkest days of her life, Mariellen went to India for six months in 2005. Since then she has spent a total of two years living and travelling in India, most of it solo.

The Good: Confidence Booster

Solo travel turned my life around. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. When I was at the lowest point of my life, I put everything in storage and travelled in India for six months. It was the scariest and most exhilarating thing I have ever done. It gave me many gifts, but most of all, it gave me the confidence and inspiration to move forward. I think gaining confidence is one of the best benefits of solo travel, perhaps especially for women.

The Bad: Fear of Taking the Leap

The hardest thing about solo travel is … just doing it. Getting up the nerve to take the leap. Overcoming the tremendous amount of negative media attention and fear-mongering. Once your feet hit the road though, the fear and anxiety turn to excitement and joy.

The Ugly: Facing Challenges Alone

As someone who has spent close to two years, in total, solo travelling in India, you can bet there were a few challenging moments — moments when companionship would have made the situation more bearable. I’ve never faced anything I couldn’t handle … but there were moments when I was close to the edge. It has always helped me to have a local phone and an internet dongle so that I’m almost always connected. I have good friends who I call when I’m in trouble or lonely or just need to hear the sound of a familiar voice.

 

ADAM GROFFMAN – TRAVELS OF ADAM

adam groffmanIn 2010 Adam quit his job as a graphic designer to travel solo around the world. For 15 months, he backpacked through Europe, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia.

The Good: Meeting Other Travellers

When you go somewhere alone, you find yourself more willing to talk to strangers and more willing to go out of your comfort zone. It’s a great test to see just how good you are at making friends.

The Bad: Loneliness

Obviously it can get a bit lonely as a solo traveller. If you don’t end up meeting other people, a trip just might not be as much fun as with a group of friends or a partner. That’s why it’s healthy to do a mix of solo trips and group trips — all to make you a more well-rounded traveller.

The Ugly: Being Sick (Alone)

When I was travelling solo in southern Spain a few years ago, I got a bad eye infection from an allergy. I was on a bus from Gibraltar to Cadiz when the allergy started, my eye puffing up and turning bright red. Alone, when I got off the bus, I had to find a hospital with one eye shut and manage my way through fumbled Spanish language skills. It was a tough day to handle alone, but I survived and am a stronger person because of it.

 

KATE McCULLEY – ADVENTUROUS KATE

Kate McCulleyKate has travelled to more than 60 countries on six continents, mostly as a solo traveller. Her site is a resource on solo and independent travel for women.

The Good: Easy to Change Plans

My favourite thing about solo travel is how you can completely change your plans on a whim! No need to consult anyone other than yourself. I always get a huge rush when I book a ticket to somewhere I hadn’t even considered visiting until a few hours prior.

The Bad: Being Sick

Being sick while travelling solo is the worst! Especially if it’s the kind of sickness that confines you to your room, like diarrhea or food poisoning. For that reason, I try to keep myself stocked up on meds, water, and snacks, just in case.

The Ugly: When Disaster Strikes

I was in a shipwreck in Indonesia while travelling solo. Our boat hit a reef and sank off the coast of Komodo Island in the middle of the night. The lifeboats weren’t working and we had to jump off and swim to shore. Once we arrived on the island, I immediately began calling for the other solo travellers. Everyone else had a partner or friend to look for; we solo travellers had nobody looking for us. Luckily, we all survived the boat accident, as did everyone else on our ship. It was a reminder to always look out a bit more for the other solo travellers, and to always befriend other travellers so they’ll look for you in case of an emergency.

 

LEIF HARUM – RUNAWAY GUIDE

LeifLeif has been travelling ever since he left home at 16, over 10 years ago. Although he has travelled with friends, he’s spent most of his life savouring the freedom of solo travel.

The Good: Freedom

One word, FREEDOM. There is no feeling more liberating than when you leave everything and everyone at home, and set off on a solo trip into unknown.

The Bad: Nobody to Share it With

There’s no one to savour the freedom with but yourself. You can’t turn to your significant other or friend and share sublime sunsets. You can’t turn to anyone for support when you get lost.

The Ugly: When Loneliness Becomes Destructive

If you’re not careful, long term solo travel can lead to feelings of loneliness. Sometimes the isolation becomes so intense that you begin to think that perhaps no one, not even your friends or family, actually exists. And that nothing back home really matters anymore. When this happens, the seams of your personality and ideals begin to tear. Throw in copious amounts of drugs and alcohol available on the road, and it’s all too easy to submit to a very negative drug induced spiral.

Find out more about what he means here: The Pros & Cons Of Solo Travel

 

CANDICE WALSH – CANDICE DOES THE WORLD

Candice WalshCandice has been travelling solo nearly full-time for two years. She’s currently planning a move to Germany for a year.

The Good: Easier to Meet People

I find travelling solo most often means I’m able to meet people more easily. You feel more compelled to talk to other travellers, and vice versa.

The Bad: Missing Family and Friends Back Home

I have an incredible group of friends and family back home, and we’re all very close. But when you’re separated by an ocean, and something goes wrong, it’s easy to lapse into loneliness. I know I’ll be lonely for a while in Berlin until I start making new friends.

The Ugly: Less Security

My first big solo trip was to Greece. I’m not a big city person, so landing in Athens was a bit terrifying. I didn’t know the language, and the airport was chaotic. Plus it was around 11 PM. I stupidly jumped in an unmarked cab, and the driver took me through town and all around, and I was getting worried. Thankfully the man was actually super helpful, and even helped me with all my luggage, but it made me realize how easily things could go wrong. If possible, try timing your arrivals during daytime. And no unmarked cabs!

 

JAMES CLARK – NOMADIC NOTES

james clarkJames has been running a location independent business while travelling (almost exclusively solo) since 2003.

The Good: Freedom (Social and Otherwise)

I love the absolute freedom to be able to travel wherever I like and change my plans on a moment’s notice. I think many people perceive solo travel to be a lonely experience, but I meet more people by travelling solo. If I am travelling with a friend or partner there is a tendency to stick with each other and not seek people to socialize with.

The Bad: Practical Stuff

For me it is things like not having someone to mind my bags at the train station if I want to go to the toilet, or the expense of a single room compared to sharing the cost of a room with someone else.

 

TIVA QUINN – TIVA’S TRAVEL TALES

Tiva QuinnTiva’s first solo journey of any length was a month-long trip to New Zealand in 1996, which is when she hatched the plan to travel the world (mostly solo) for a year. She started her year of travel in March 2015 spending three months in Southern and Eastern Africa, and she’s currently in South America.

The Good: Meeting Locals

When I’m on my own, I end up talking to local people more and learning more about how they live. When I’m travelling with someone, we tend to turn to one another for conversation and fall into a lot of the same topics that we might talk about anywhere.

The Bad: Being the Odd One Out

Sometimes you’ll spend a couple days in a group of people that you just can’t relate to at all for whatever reason (too young, too old, speak a different language, criticize everything, etc…). Being the odd person out at the hostel or on the safari feels far more lonely than simply doing things by yourself.

The Ugly: Scams Aimed at Solo Travellers

Make sure you get a hotel receipt and hang onto it, especially if you’re paying with cash! I fell for the easiest scam in the book at a cheap hotel in Dar es Salaam. I didn’t have my receipt to prove that I paid on arrival, so they charged me again in the morning; I had to get to the airport and didn’t have time to put up a fight (which they knew). My taxi driver said this sort of thing happens a lot, and that they targeted me for it precisely because I was travelling alone, which meant I would be more likely to give up and let them have their way. I feel lucky that I was only scammed for about $18 US, though. It could easily have been a much more expensive lesson.

 

Do you have any good/bad/ugly solo travel experiences? Feel free to share in the comments!

(Travel – especially solo travel – holds many victorious moments! Check out: I Did It! 6 Little Victories of Travel)

 

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5 comments on “Dear Nora: Solo Travel – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Sydney says:

    Great article – and agree with very much of it especially bout being the only one to make decisions etc – I have travelled mostly solo until I found myself plus kids – but feel that this is still solo as when its only one of you taking all the responsibility (but with three kids to take into account) then its pretty much the same thing. Its been 30 years now travelling and moving around the world and soon I will be back to fully solo again when the youngest is done with schooling years – although she is threatening to follow me! Best thing about solo is always the people you meet on the way and joining up with them for a few days here or there at times too. (New to blogging but here’s one on travelling around with the kids in tow if interested. http://dld.bz/dQY6e )
    Sydney

    • Nora Dunn says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Sydney! 30 years nomadic? You’re certainly an expert on the topic! Stay tuned for a post later in this series about Family Travel (good, bad, and Ugly)!

  2. Here is my contribution: The good: absolute freedom of doing whatever you like, always. Meeting new people and making new friends. The bad: having to deal with the trip planning burden and everything else… incl. dragging the luggage into public toilets as you don’t have anyone to look after it :-) The ugly: being sick on the road and having to deal with unpleasant situations, that’s the worst but in the end you gonna survive…so you always learn something from ugly situation. Thanks for sharing this great post, really enjoyed the insight of fellow solo travellers!

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