When people commend me for being so ‘brave’ and ‘fearless’ for traveling solo to the most random cities imaginable, I usually just nod politely, fake a smile, and wonder to myself why what I am doing is a grand feat in everyone’s eyes. And then I go back to that same truth that plagues my daily existence: I look like I’m 12.
Here’s the thing: if a perpetually baby-faced, petite 24-year-old Asian girl, standing at almost five feet tall (I say almost because in my heart and in some official grown-up records I AM 5 feet tall despite what you might say) can travel solo from Manila to Barcelona (and back) with two maletas bigger than her and then eventually to countless cities in the European and Asian continents (thus far), then I don’t see why anyone else can’t.
Don’t be fooled, however. I have obviously had my fair share of stranger danger incidents (funny at times, but more often horrific) and travel anxiety/burnout episodes (more on the last two issues much later – yes, they exist, and no, they aren’t as elitist as they sound) but they obviously did not stop me from conquering some of the most fascinating and culturally-diverse continents in the world, with no other hand to hold but my own (#bitter – I never actually held hands with myself, that’s just weird).
While I absolutely love traveling with family and groups, I have developed a soft spot for going out there alone given that I have experienced some of my most unforgettable memories while doing so. Here are just SOME of the reasons why solo travel is ultimately worth it:
1. You get to do everything at your own pace.
You don’t have to wake up at 8 am to catch the winter sunrise in Pamplona if you would much rather sleep in and catch a later bus to the city. You don’t have to eat at that fancy hamburger restaurant in Lisbon if you would much rather share a hearty meal with your new friends at the hostel. The beauty in solo travel is that you can do whatever the bleep you want.
You are/should be the best company there ever is. You see, traveling is a lot like falling in love: you can’t expect someone to love you if you don’t love yourself (boom I be dropping some truth bombs like they’re Ecstasy tablets, omg what a distasteful joke, I’m sorry) in the same manner that you can’t expect to be the best travel buddy if you can’t even spend time traveling on your own.
2. You will always make new friends.
Here’s an unwritten rule in the world of solo travel: no one is actually completely alone. I can’t count how many new friends I have made on the road just by being in my lonesome. Ironic, isn’t it? When we meet people, no matter where they are from, whether or not a language barrier exists, regardless of it all, the world suddenly feels a little smaller. And that’s a great feeling – something that not all kinds of travel can warrant.
Whether it’s the American college student who took my photo in Segovia, the Korean high schooler who was lost in the same street as me in Seville, the Taiwanese backpacker who helped me buy metro tickets in Cologne, the Swiss lady who gave me two francs so I can use the toilet in Zurich, the French guy who talked to me in French the whole time I was in Lisbon, the Ecuadorian abuelo who told me to always respect myself and to never be in a hurry in life as he sat next to me on the bus to Madrid, or the Spanish tourist who said “Por fin, hemos llegado señorita” when he recognised me as the only twenty-something at the end of our 10-hour train ride to Santiago de Compostela – you will always make a new friend and will never feel alone.
3. You realise how interesting and unique you actually are.
How often are you really going to meet a Filipina who left the comforts of her own warm home to teach English in the Basque Country and to immerse herself in Spanish culture, who finished her degree in Economics because she wants to become a diplomat and/or a social entrepreneur to focus on education in the Philippines one day, and who considers travel (read: going to new places, picking up the language, immersing self in culture) as the ultimate, if not the only way of life there is. Not very often. Probably once in your life. If you’re lucky. No, it’s not being obnoxious – it’s realising that in solo travel, as in every other aspect of life, you are both your greatest investment and your greatest capital.
Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely NOT an extrovert who loves making friends. I usually hate people. I am an INFJ (emphasis on the Introvert and also, we make up around 1% of the human population – you can’t possibly be RARER than that). But when you’re on the road meeting new people, your quirky and unique traits will inevitably shine through. After all, we’re all interesting because we’re all different. They say you can be whoever you want to be when you’re traveling (even more so when you’re traveling alone) but why be anyone else when you can simply be yourself. This is the good part. Embrace it. Wallow in it, even.