DECEMBER 1, 2014, 10:46AM
BY: EMILY HIGGINBOTHAM
There is often a stigma attached to doing things alone. Our first reaction to seeing someone eating alone at a restaurant or sitting by him or herself at the movie theater is that he or she didn’t have anyone to go with. We feel sympathy for them, pity, even. Lately, I have been the subject of that sympathy.
I recently took a trip to Rome by myself. When I informed my friends I was going alone, they were either appalled or felt bad for me. They would ask, “Why would you ever travel alone?” I also received an unprecedented amount of, “Good for you!”
I told them I didn’t want to miss out on a trip just because no one was going to accompany me. Since then, I have realized that this stigma associated with traveling alone (i.e. friendless, loner) just simply is not true.
Not only did I find that traveling alone wasn’t sad or worthy of someone’s sympathy, but it was also possibly the trip on which I learned the most about myself and the world.
Here are nine reasons why traveling alone is the best way to travel:
1. You get to do what YOU want to do
This first reason might be the most obvious, but when you’re traveling in a group or with another person, it is easy to get caught up in what the group or that other person has planned for your trip.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even occur to you that you’d rather do something else than visit every museum and tourist site your travel companions are dying to see.
When you travel alone, you get to skip the awful, “What do you want to do?” and just get up and do it! The itinerary is all yours; you don’t have to worry about others not enjoying the activity.
Even if you are on a trip with a group with differing interests, take a day or an afternoon and venture off on your own to take in whatever it is you deem worthy of your time. I would have missed out on some extremely special moments if I had not decided to go it alone on a trip.
2. You find out what interests you in the world
If you’re traveling in a group, you’re less likely to stop when something catches your eye. You might fear you’d be holding up your group by making a pit stop. But, when you travel alone, you have the freedom to investigate your intrigue.
You can learn so much more about yourself and what you enjoy by taking the time to just stop and soak in a place. More importantly, you find out what does not interest you.
You don’t have to do things you’ve been doing solely because everyone else said, “We HAVE to go here,” or “This place is a MUST-see.”
On my solo trip, I learned I simply despise museums. I walked around exhibits full of historical tidbits I would normally never think twice about in my everyday life and wondered, “Why the hell did I want to come here?”
And, then, I realized it was because everyone had said it was something you HAD to see. I learned I would rather be doing something interactive than spending my time staring blankly at art pieces I don’t understand.
You only have so much time on these trips to explore; spend it searching for something that makes you want to stop in your tracks, something that makes you think.
3. You become more comfortable with yourself
I know many people who will not do anything by themselves. These are the people who will not be caught dead at a sit-down restaurant by themselves; they even want someone to accompany them to the restroom.
They are so fearful of being seen as a loner, or that people may think they don’t have any friends.
I used to have similar fears, but once you take a trip by yourself, the “caring about what everyone else thinks of you,” will pretty much fly out the window. You start to realize there is nothing embarrassing or scary about traveling alone.
On a trip, I walked into a very nice restaurant and told the maître d that I would like a table for one.
He looked puzzled, gave me a look of sympathy and asked, “Just one?” I repeated myself and made sure my tone expressed how much I did not care that I was alone and he was kind of being an assh*le.
Once you start traveling on your own, you learn to be comfortable in your skin and confident in who you are. You might be surprised when you start craving this alone time.
It is so refreshing to just go somewhere and explore a new place without feeling like you need to entertain another person.
4. You can go at your own pace
People often have different mindsets when it comes to traveling and sightseeing.
Some people want to go, go, go and try to fit as many activities as they can into however much time they have. Others like to soak things in, even if it means they don’t see everything. These differing mentalities can often clash when traveling together.
The former gets frustrated and thinks there won’t be enough time to see whatever is on the itinerary, while the latter feels rushed and wants to spend more time at each activity.
The great thing about being by yourself on a trip is that you get to set your own pace. If you want to have a jam-packed trip, go out and do it. But, if you’d rather just meander about and get lost in this new place, you can do that, too! You’re on your time — no one else’s.
5. You become more independent
If you’re like me, you often let others take the reins when it comes to planning and navigating trips. But, when you’re traveling alone, you’re truly on your own.
One of the most important things I had to learn when going it alone was to stop depending on other people. I became independent; I learned how to use a map, navigate the different cities’ public transportation, and I had to pay better attention to my surroundings.
When you’re by yourself, you have to look out for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. You can’t be careless, and you can’t let people take advantage of you because you’re a tourist.
This newfound independence comes with confidence of knowing that you are stronger and tougher than you once thought.
There is such a satisfying feeling of accomplishment that comes along with being able to navigate a new and foreign place, especially when you did it alone.
6. You become more observant
Normally, on trips, you spend a lot of time conversing with your travel companions and put your attention on them. Without the disruption of others, all of your focus is on your surroundings, as it should be.
Wonderful things happen when you are free from distractions; you see things you might have missed before or you meet people with whom you might not have taken the time to speak.
You are free to take this new place in with all of your senses. The sounds and scents of the city that were previously in the background are now front-and-center. Your experience becomes much fuller when you can take in everything about this new place.
When you travel alone, it might be the first time you’re seeing the world and actually seeing it.
7. Time to reflect
I don’t think I’ve ever paid more attention to my thoughts than when I was traveling alone. Without anyone else swaying your attitude about a certain place or activity, all you have is what you might be feeling at that moment. You can learn a lot about yourself and how you view the world.
There were many times when I found myself lingering at a certain place and would just be thinking about life and where I was, and how lucky I was to be there.
There are few opportunities in our everyday life where we can be completely honest with ourselves about how we feel or how we see the world, without our opinions being affected by another’s point of view.
On your solo trips, you can have that time to reflect on not only where you are and what you’re doing, but on life and what you want from it.
8. Treat Yourself!
Your 20s are a time of frugality. You probably don’t have a real job; more than likely, your refrigerator is barren, and your gas tank might be virtually on empty. You might have to live like this in your everyday life, but you should treat your trip alone like the celebratory event that it is!
Splurge on a fancy (or somewhat fancy, we’re not millionaires) hotel. Treat yourself to a luxurious dinner; order wine instead of water. Maybe even get that $6 dessert you would ordinarily pass up. This is your trip; try to make it like the vacation you deserve.
Luckily, there is no one there with you to say, “This restaurant looks too expensive,” or “We can’t afford that hotel.” Or, worst of all, “Let’s skip lunch to save money.”
You have the rest of your life to worry about your finances; be a little bit selfish while you still can.
9. You become fearless
Some people who have known me for a long time might be surprised I would travel the world alone. I used to be afraid of things I was not familiar with, and change made me uneasy. But, after traveling alone, there are few things I fear.
I have been in many situations during my travels where I have been scared, lonely, uncertain, frustrated and many other emotions we try to avoid every day.
What is important about those moments is that I got through them. Most importantly, I got through them alone. If it had not been for those moments when I felt afraid or homesick, I might not have the same outlook on life I hold now.
Whenever I think there is something I can’t accomplish, or the odds weigh too heavily against me, I can look back on those times I was alone and uncertain, but found my way through it.
After traveling through countries where nothing seems familiar, not knowing a word of the native language and finding your way through foreign streets to a destination, you will realize there is nothing in this world you cannot do. There is simply nothing you cannot accomplish.
You become fearless.