I may have journeyed through Europe for four or five-months, met a heap of new people, stayed in dorms, and made lots of friends while travelling alone, but don’t be fooled – I am not an outgoing person.
The thought of meeting new people makes me really anxious, and I find myself saying really weird and awkward things in the heat of the moment, like the time I accidentally told my friend’s parents there was no recycling system in town (there was...).
I had no intention of lying, I just panicked, and I had this huge fear that a similar thing would happen if I went travelling alone, and that I'd never make friends.
How wrong I was.
I basically realised just how many solo travellers are out and about in the world as soon as I hopped off the first plane, which made striking up conversation really easy – some people even looked relieved when I started chatting to them because they were too anxious to approach someone themselves.
The thing to keep in mind is that when you're travelling alone is that no one knows who you are. They don't know how much courage it takes for you to get up and talk to them, they don't know if you're an anxious mess, if you lack confidence, suck at small talk, or if you're actually terrified of the city you're in and want to explore it with someone – all they know is what you communicate. If you feign confidence, smile, and ask them about their experiences, you'll most-likely make a friend.
Whether you're like me and have social anxiety or not, if you want to travel solo, you probably have a bunch of questions and concerns, so I’ve compiled a list:
1. I’m terrible at meeting people.
Lots of people who travel alone want to meet other travellers – travellers like you! You don’t have to be really outgoing to make friends on the road, all you have to do is sit somewhere social (like a backpacker bar, or a hostel common room), strike up conversation with someone, and it will probably work out.
Whether you’re in a hostel, on a tour, or sightseeing, approaching someone and saying ‘ hi’ is almost always welcome. I did a lot of Free Walking Tours (everyone should get in to those!), and I never came away from them without a new friend. And I say that as someone with social anxiety – if you're like me, I guarantee talking to random people is nowhere near as hard as you think it is, and the rewards far outweigh any consequences.
TIP: If you want to meet new people, the best thing you can do is download the Couchsurfing app to your phone. You don't even have to couchsurf, all you have to do is go to the dashboard, click 'hangout now', type in what kind of hangout you want to have (eg: have a beer; explore the city; go hiking; have coffee), and you'll have access to a range of people in the area who want to do what you want to do. I used it a few times, and recommend it to anyone.
2. Don’t you get lonely?
Short answer: No. Long answer: It depends on the kind of trip you’re doing, but if you’re ok with the idea of approaching people and starting a conversation, you won’t get lonely. Travelling alone is great because you can be socially active when you want to be, and plug in your headphones and watch a movie in bed when you don’t feel like it.
If you’re a social animal, try and stay in hotels/hostels with common rooms – I can almost guarantee there will be others there ready and willing to meet someone amazing like you (hint: the probability increases if the common room has a bar).
3. Did you ever wish you were travelling with someone?
If you’ve ever travelled with someone, you’ll understand that it can be really trying – everything is suddenly a negotiation, and even deciding where to eat can take hours, let alone deciding where to travel, and how to get there.
The wonderful thing about travelling alone is that everything is up to you – you don’t want to stop to eat until four in the afternoon? You don’t have to. You want to forget about your budget and travel on a first class train one time? No one is stopping you. You want to cancel your trip to a castle because the Sunday sesh pub-crawl sounds better? Great idea! No one is there to make you feel bad for not doing touristy things. It’s liberating.
4. Is travelling alone as a female dangerous?
If you’re as cautious as you would be at home, then no, no it’s not, but the media does a great job of making it sound dangerous. For example, there’s one ‘travel’ site that lists 50 (!!) places women shouldn’t travel alone (many of which I’ve been to), while another of their articles lists the best destinations for single men. Some places in each list are exactly the same.
I’m not saying women don’t have to exercise more caution, but the idea that solo travel is really dangerous for women is incorrect, and unfair. Of course there are some places where women have to be wary, but those places are generally a little more risky for men as well. Do your research, don’t follow strange people down dark alleyways, and you should be ok.
6. Is eating alone awkward?
Not at all! I ate out a lot in Eastern Europe and had the best time – you can eat what you want, when you want, in the quantity you want, look at your phone the whole time, read a book, or people-watch to your hearts content, without being rude, having to negotiate, or being judged because you ordered half the menu.
It only got a bit weird for me when I wanted wine or something because I don’t like drinking alone (I turn in to a conversation machine), but I had a glass or two a couple of times, and it was fine. If you look around, lots of people are dining alone as well, so it’s really not weird, and no one is judging you.
7. Is accommodation more expensive?
It can be, but it depends on what you’re looking for. A private rooms will almost always be more expensive than a dorm bed, and a lot of places will charge you a flat-rate whether you’re travelling solo or with another person because you’re still taking up a double bed, but having said that, other places have lower rates for solo travellers – look around online and find a deal that works for you.
My go-to site is booking.com because they have a range of hostels and hotels (as opposed to Hostel Bookers or something where they only show hostels), but it’s worth using Expedia or Trip Advisor as a search engine to find the best deal.