The Reality of Travelling Solo

Some of the consequences to expect alongside the priceless memories if you do decide to go travelling solo for an extended period of time

Everyone will craft their own unique path in life. Some are driven by their own and societal perceptions of success, which typically involves working at a well-known business or in a recognised profession.  Others may focus on driving social impact and change. Equally, many are yet to work it out just yet, and it is important to realise that that is completely OK.  Some of the most successful people I have ever met stumbled into what they are doing, so don’t get too stressed over it.

My own unique path has taken me on several trips across the world, and has encompassed extended periods of time travelling.  Many people may be in the process of considering something similar as part of their own journey and so it is with this in mind that I am penning this article.

I personally consider my choice to go travelling solo to be one of the best decisions I have made because of how it has shaped me as a person. The person that I am now (extroverted and more confident) is completely unrecognisable from the person I was throughout school and university (more introverted than extroverted).  However, there are also consequences that I have had to or will have to deal with.  It is my hope that this article will clearly lay out what to expect should you be considering an extended period of time away from home.

Why You Should Travel

It Will Impact Who You Are

The nature of travel means that you are routinely exposed to situations that are drastically different to what you are accustomed to, and that will push you outside of your comfort zone.  You will be forced to do things you have never done before, and your ultimate experience from these actions will influence how you act moving forward.

A common experience faced by many solo travellers is when you are in a hostel and know no-one.  You will eventually get into the habit of introducing yourself to complete strangers and forming relationships with them.  This sort of behaviour builds your self-confidence and how confident you are perceived by others.  You will also quickly become good at “selling yourself to others” (otherwise no-one will hang out with you) and you will routinely learn the value of network effects — gleaning information from others, such as where to go, what to do, and advice that will save your ass further down the track.  These skills readily transfer into your career and “at home” social life.

You Will Form Really Intense Relationships

When you are travelling, you are largely in a position where you are in complete control of choosing who your friends are.  This is helped by the huge diversity of people that you meet, and the lack of constraints around the people you meet.  You are not forced to hang out with people because you are in the same class at school, and you can largely leave people at any time.  You will quickly work out the kind of people you want to hang around with, and you will get really good at finding them.

Furthermore, due to the incredible situations you will often find yourselves in (e.g., at the summit of a volcano after a gruelling hike, or witnessing a natural wonder), the memories you form will make your relationships even stronger. 

Who doesn’t want to be sailing through beautiful islands in the middle of the ocean?! [San Blas Islands, Panama]

Some of the people you meet on your trip will quickly become your best friends, and you will wonder how you ever lived without them.  You will have felt like you have known each other for ages even though you have only known each other for a matters of days or weeks, and you will have friends all over the world.

You Will be Fulfilling a Dream Shared by Many

Far too many people have told me that their biggest life regret was that they didn’t take the time to go travelling when they were younger.  If you are even in a position to consider travelling (free of commitments and with sufficient finances), consider yourself luckier than the vast majority of your peers.  The greater personal and cultural awareness you will gain is priceless, and you may find yourself unable to grasp the same opportunity in the future.

Why You May Not Want to Travel

It Will Impact Your Mental Health

Travelling solo is a very extreme experience.  You will have monumental highs combined with depressing lows and, when you are finished, there is a risk you will feel unfulfilled.

You will keep meeting amazing people but, ultimately, many of the relationships you form will be hugely transient.  The cycle of meeting people and then seeing them leave a few days/weeks later is relentless, and you will repeatedly feel empty and alone inside in spite of the amazing experiences that you will have shared.  You will fall in love with that special person but have your heart broken just as quickly when the reality hits that you have to part ways or live on different sides of the planet.

When you return home or settle somewhere, you may get frustrated that many of your peers have not experienced the extreme emotions or shared the memories that you specifically have.  Many of the friendships or relationships that you have or will cultivate will be vastly different to the bonds that you had formed with people you have travelled with, and you will ultimately long to have been able to share some of these extreme memories with people at home.

Do you remember that time we hiked for 2 days to see Volcan Fuego erupting? [View of Volcan Fuego from Volcan Acatenango, Antigua, Guatemala]

Life will feel extremely ordinary when you are done compared to what you have experienced, and it will hit you like a tonne of bricks.  The challenge you will be faced with is picking yourself up after your trip and preparing yourself for whatever comes next, and it pushes many people into depression.  Do not underestimate this.

It is Exhausting and Stressful

As a solo traveller, you will often be physically exhausted.  In addition to the plethora of hikes and activities you will be doing, you will be routinely moving from place to place, packing and unpacking your bags on a regular basis.

You will also be mentally exhausted, and this is the most unexpected thing. Chatting to new people every day and forming new relationships takes a toll.  You will have to be aware of where you should be going next, what you should be doing and how you should be doing it whilst simultaneously being fun and gregarious.  Even when you finish travelling, your brain will be so tired that you will want to spend your free time relaxing and simply not thinking.

When things go wrong, they also have a habit of going very wrong, and this will push your stress levels through the roof.  You are a lot more active when you are travelling than when you are at home, and thus a lot more at risk of injury.  Often, the country you will be in will have healthcare standards well below what you are used to, and you will be left to fend for yourself, without the support of friends and family.  Many healthcare professionals may also be unable to speak English!

Some of your experiences will push you to the absolute limits of your resilience.  I was convinced on four separate occasions that I was going to die or be maimed in some way.  I received medical treatment on numerous occasions, but managed to get through each event relatively unscathed.  Although it is true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I have absolutely no intention of reliving those experiences. Ever.

ct-scan-honduras
At one point, doctors thought I had a skull fracture and sent me for a CT scan to check my brain activity. I sent my scans back to neurologists in the UK for a second opinion to be sure.  I’m apparently not any wackier than usual [La Ceiba, Honduras] a caption

It Probably Will Not Give You the Answers You’re Looking For

Many people choose to travel because they are searching for something in life, be it direction, inspiration or simply an escape.  I have crossed paths with budding entrepreneurs looking for problems to solve, executives disillusioned with their former jobs, and guys/girls coming out of long-term relationships.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with travelling for any of the above reasons but, ultimately, a journey around the world may not help you find what you’re looking for.  You will likely still need to sit down and methodically working out what you want, or face your fears in order to receive the closure that you require.  However, it will help you become happy with who you are as a person, and that is arguably invaluable in itself.

Should I Travel?

Ultimately, travel will shape who you are as a person.  You can expect to be stretched and pushed out of your comfort zone, meet and form relationships with amazing people and fulfil personal goals.  In life in general, you get out what you put in, and travelling is no different.

The negative and ongoing impacts are something you should consider prior to making the decision, however.  The purpose of this article is not to dissuade those of you considering travelling from doing so; it is more to inform you of some of the consequences to expect alongside the priceless memories if you do.

Author: Christopher Pavlou

Christopher’s interests include technology, social impact, sport and travel, and he is passionate about finding ways to use technology to improve people’s lives. He is a Fellow of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, and an alumnus of the University of Cambridge where he read Aerospace & Aerothermal Engineering.

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