“But isn’t travelling all by yourself really lonely?” This is probably the question that I get asked the most. To put it shortly, my answer usually is “absolutely not”. But there is a longer answer, so I thought it was worth a post of its own.
The real answer I should give when people ask me this is that solo travel is exactly what you make of it. And that’s the beauty of it: you have the freedom to decide for yourself exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it, without consulting others or having to make expectations and plans fit together. But who says freedom also says responsibility. So if you turn the thing around, you could thing that you have to make all decisions alone. It can be freedom or as a burden, and how you see it will affect the experience you have.
The same goes for the social aspect of solo traveling. You can think of it as an opportunity to meet new people because you are not tied to anybody else, or you can think of it as very hard and laborious because you have to make completely new connections with people you don’t know.
As you can imagine, solo travel is way more enjoyable if you go for the first mindset. This is why I answer that solo travel is probably the most sociable form of traveling there is. When you are by yourself, it’s way easier to go towards other people as you don’t have the easy option of staying with those you already know. In addition, you are also more approachable by others so many times you won’t even have to make the first step. If you think of it, it’s always easier to go talk to someone alone than a big group or a couple that seem to have some history together, because you feel like interfering. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible, and I have met lots of people traveling in a group, but a solo traveler will by default be expected to be looking for new people to meet and is thus an “easy target”.
There are many ways to meet other travellers and locals when backpacking. My favourite one, because it’s the most natural and easiest, is hostels. Hostels are full of other open-minded travellers looking for new people to meet and a good time. In hostels, there is also this feel of “we’re all in this together” because nearly everyone is a foreigner in a new country and is probably on the same page about the backpacking way of traveling, so it’s easy to get a conversation going.
Obviously, you won’t feel a deep connection with all the people you meet. Like in any other situation, there are people you click with better than others. That doesn’t mean you can’t get along, but from my experience it usually means that the conversation stays on quite a general level. You might go out together and have a fun time as well, but you know in the end they’ll remain just acquaintances. That’s also great, meeting people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking is always interesting and broadens the mind.
Sometimes the problem when backpacking can also be that the you meet people for such a brief period of time as everyone is moving constantly from one place to another, and it’s hard to build any deeper connection after knowing someone for just one night. I have to say that sometimes I do miss having long, deep conversations about everything between heaven and earth, where you don’t see the time passing because it’s so interesting. You also get those moments when traveling, and more often than it feels. Sometimes you meet people that you instantly click with and have a wonderful time with, other times you get the opportunity to spend a bit longer with the same people to get to know them better. The difference between normal life and travel life is that in normal life, you would hold on to those people and build a stable relationship with them and have those moments again with the same people before you have time to miss them. When traveling you live in the constant uncertainty of when you will meet such people again, and they will be gone as fast as they arrived, so it requires more energy to get those moments over and over again.
Socialising is energy-consuming. I personally feel like I am more of an extrovert and social contact gives me energy, but being constantly surrounded by new people and having to start it all over again every day does get tiring at times. I feel that there are days when I’m more tired than others and just want to spend time by myself. But that’s also a good thing about traveling alone: as you are not “obliged” to spend time with anyone, you can take me-time whenever you feel like it. I might take a day or two when I distance myself from others and reload my batteries, and then I’m back at it.
Traveling solo can be just as sociable or lonely as you make it. You can constantly be surrounded by people, or you can be by yourself. Still, sometimes there will inevitably be moments when you are alone. Because you happen to be in an empty dorm, because the people around you seem to have such a strong click that it’s hard to get to know them, or for any other reason. In those moments, you can think that you get lonely and feel bad about it, or you can see it as an opportunity to have time with yourself. Being lonely and being alone is not the same, and learning to spend time with yourself is also a great thing you can get from traveling solo.
Solo travel is a very different situation from the stable, reliable networks of friends and family most of us are used to. It’s challenging, but also rewarding. You learn to approach other people more boldly, you meet so many people from all over the world, make great memories, and also learn about yourself and how to enjoy the time you have by yourself, which you also inevitably get in “normal” life as well. Obviously, people are also different, and what I experience as a positive challenge might be a very uncomfortable situation and really feel lonely for someone else. But I think everyone should try jumping in a new situation and place all alone at least once, no matter if it’s for a few days or a lifetime, to test how you feel about it and give yourself the opportunity to make it into a learning experience, and maybe even something you enjoy.