Now, by making this post I certainly am not calling myself a travel blogger. I’m sure there are people out there who spend their lives trekking the globe alone and can give a much more thorough insight into the experience. Moreover, staying in a large hotel made my trip to Rhodes a lot easier. But the blogging world, I believe, is all about individual experience and insight, and you guys just have to keep in mind that my viewpoint is by no means all encompassing or objective.
As mentioned above, I went to Rhodes for my first solo trip abroad, which is quite a typical Greek island with some stunning beaches (I feel like I will always prefer beach holidays to city breaks because I am totally obsessed with the sea!) and delicious cafes. Speaking of food, I’ve noticed it’s becoming incrementally easier to find vegan options even within Mediterranean menus which tended to be very cheese and fish heavy in the past, but are now much more accommodating to various dietary requirements – seems like telling people you’re vegan within two minutes of conversation is making a difference! Anyway, it was quite a last minute booking as after three weeks of travel in Russia I was burnt out but upon experiencing a few days of British weather I decided I neeeeded to get some sun and thirty degree weather this year. My mum, although she would’ve loved to come, couldn’t get time off work and feeling inspired by a friend who did a solo trip to Germany, I decided to do it alone. A spontaneous decision, but one I do not regret given the overall positivity of my trip!
So, let’s start with me outlining the pros of travelling alone (from my experience):
You get to do whatever you want. When I woke up to my first day in Greece, I was overwhelmed by this realisation and subsequently didn’t know where to start. Travelling with other people is great, but we all have different habits and routines which can often clash. For example, I’m quite an early person and get agitated when the day doesn’t start as soon as the sun creeps above the horizon, which wouldn’t sit well with someone who prefers to stay out late and wake up in the afternoon. When you’re travelling alone, however, you can wake up whenever you want, eat at your first choice restaurants, prioritise activities in accordance with your personal preferences. For the whole trip, I felt like my own boss and thinking ‘I can go parasailing right this second and no one is here to stop me’ was quite liberating (note: I didn’t actually go parasailing and will regret that decision for at least a couple of weeks).
You meet lots of interesting people. If I managed to accomplish this while staying at a hotel intended for larger groups and without the intention of doing so, I can imagine making new friends is much easier for those who stay in hostels or villas. I made friends with the hotel staff (we even developed a few inside jokes), I fell into conversations with people on public transport, I met at least three other solo travellers while out exploring the island. This reaffirmed that alone isn’t synonymous with lonely. Even a fifteen minute conversation on a bus can teach you something about a different culture, a different outlook on life. Getting to know the locals is also facilitated. If you’re looking to meet new people travelling alone, or in a small group, can be the best way of achieving this – and if I can manage with my curse of social awkwardness, so can anyone else!
You get to know and spend time with yourself. This sounds overly silly, but most of us struggle with finding solid ‘me time’. If I do find such a slot, it’s still occupied by distractions such as TV series, YouTube videos, books. An opportunity to spend time with our thoughts rarely arises. That’s perhaps why so many people travel with the sole intention of rediscovering themselves. Every day forced me to really be in the moment, to practice mindfulness and to once again familiarise myself with who I am as a person. For many, solo travel acts as a means of ‘resetting’ their mind and getting life into perspective. Breaking routines and finding time to think can be precious: before I left, I was swamped with worries of all kinds, and ‘ironed out’ those thoughts while abroad to refocus myself on what’s important and ensure a persistent connection with my long term goals.
You are forced to be responsible and independent, and can build up your confience. Some may see this as a negative, but one of my goals in travelling alone was to prove that I could do it. A part of me remained convinced that I’d lose all my valuables, end up in hospital and disappoint my mum in the process. However, except for leaving my flip flops on the beach and retrieving them thirty minutes later, I realised I’m not too bad at adulting. You really have to do everything yourself: ending up by the right gate at the airport, keeping an eye on your stuff, turning up on time to your boat trips and guided tours. Moreover, you’re responsible for keeping yourself entertained and ensuring not a day is wasted. The responsibility is an adventure in itself, and I’d highly recommend solo travel to anyone looking to step out of their comfort zone and test the extent of their independence; overall, it can be a great way of identifying your weaknesses and facing them straight away.
Now, moving on to some of the negatives. As mentioned, the above can be viewed as a drawback because when with other people, you’re less pressured to do everything by yourself and can divert your attention to being in the moment, which wasn’t always possible during my trip. E.g., I had to ensure my sun bed remained in my line of sight whenever I entered the sea, and suffered from intense holiday paranoia, constantly questioning people’s intentions: ‘is that dude just passing by or is he after my money?’. Moreover, you’re automatically more vulnerable when you’re alone (in particular as a young woman) and have to be mindful of safety by, for example, only booking taxis through your hotel and not venturing too far from its territory after a certain time. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be an issue but crime is not a foregone phenomenon. At times I felt ‘on edge’, dedicating a lot of time to keeping myself and my things safe – a lot more than is required when you’re with others.
It is likely that you will experience a few moments of loneliness and/or homesickness. Boredom wasn’t a major issue: even when I was sunbathing I occupied myself with reading, blogging, editing pictures for my Instagram. But at times I missed conversation and the ability to spill your thoughts to another person whenever you wish. If I found something funny or interesting, I had to take it to the internet which isn’t quite the same as sharing an experience with another person in real life. Other solo travellers, of course, may have the opportunity to join up with larger groups and spend all their time surrounded by the new people they’ve met, but my connections were temporary. However, with hindsight I can confirm that most of the time I didn’t think about the fact that I was alone and given the infrequency of these onsets of loneliness, I don’t see them as a major drawback.
You may get a very sunburnt back. I fooled myself into thinking I’d be able to reach that elusive zone between the shoulder blades but when I looked in the mirror after a whole day of being in the sun, I couldn’t have been more wrong (but, if your flexibility is better than mine, you shouldn’t come across this issue).
Dining alone can be quite awkward, but after a while you get used to this and saying ‘can I have a table for one, please’. Avoiding distractions while you’re eating and enjoying the food (especially when it’s a big part of a given country’s culture) is optimal, but I am guilty of scrolling through my phone between bites to try and look occupied. I received a few raised eyebrows from waiters and inquiries into the reason for my solitude, but this tends to be an exception rather than a rule. A lot of them, in fact, seemed fascinated rather than weirded out by an eighteen year old travelling by herself.
As you can tell from this pretty lengthy post, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Solo travel is a unique experience that opens up many possibilities, gives you ultimate control and allows you to establish a stronger connection with the destination. There’s something fascinating about waking up in a new country and watching the sun rise on an empty beach, before eating breakfast and embracing the challenge of filling the day with something meaningful. Whoever you are, I’d strongly recommend doing it at least once (in my case, I know for sure this isn’t a one-time-only venture!).
Let me know in the comments – have you ever travelled by yourself? What’s your favourite holiday destination?