Sat on the Manchester runway in the cramped plane cabin of a budget airline, watching the rain pour down, I couldn’t remove the inane grin from my face. My smile stayed stubbornly fixed in place as we rose up over the clouds as the journey to Split began. The utter euphoria I felt after actually getting myself on that plane alone was overwhelming. Whilst the rest of the trip was a blur of tacky pub crawls and sun-soaked days, I will never forget my first solo plane journey and the pure joy and empowerment that coursed through my veins as I stared out of that tiny, grease-stained window.
Terrifying, uplifting, daunting, empowering are all words that could be used to describe solo travel, but for many, the trip to/from university may be the first time they have travelled alone. This is understandably an incredibly daunting prospect. Solo travel brings along with it, a necessity for self-awareness and organisation that previously one may not have been responsible for. The sheer amount to consider can be overwhelming – how to get there, what to take, where to go? But because of this, there is nothing better than the sense of fulfilment gained by doing things independently.
Now the old cliché of the gap year… Whilst taking a year out has become the norm for millennials, particularly in Edinburgh it seems, there is no denying that they provide invaluable life experience, being the ideal opportunity for solo travel. Anyway, this is what I attempted to convince myself, as I hugged my friend goodbye in Melbourne airport as she travelled home, and I continued on to New Zealand. What had seemed such a good idea back home, now seemed insane as I considered who on earth would be doing the map reading? My despair did not last long however, and I went on to have an incredible trip, meeting some amazing people and regretting nothing. Travelling alone is the ideal opportunity to sample hostels and meet like-minded people. A common misconception of solo travel is that being alone equates to being lonely. This is just not the case. In a hostel environment there will always be someone willing to chat and with each new introduction your confidence blossoms. It is important to remember that every solo traveller is in the same boat. Much like every university student, everyone sets out to make friends and build bridges.
Another benefit of travelling alone is that you are at liberty to be completely selfish. You can do exactly what you want, whenever you want, as there is no need to please other people. And yes, you may need to think about everything a little more – is your portable charger charged, how do I get back, what are the emergency numbers? But this leads to a heightened self-awareness and in turn self-confidence, as you figure these things out independently.
There are obviously some unavoidable lows encountered when travelling alone. Liv Smith spent a year out in Australia as a “loser living out of a backpack”. She said that “Solo travel can be mentally draining, as you have to depend completely on yourself and pick yourself up when feeling down”. Liv also discussed the rose-tinted view that social media places on solo travel, as only the best of times are recounted, not the worst. However, Liv spoke of how solo travel was extremely beneficial to her self-development and growth: “I didn’t expect to feel as comfortable and happy as I did travelling alone”, adding “I was also extremely grateful that I had the freedom to pack up and move on whenever I wanted”. On asking what she would have liked to know before going, Liv expressed that she wished she’d known how easy it was to make friends: “even if you’re shy and not the kind of person to strike up a conversation, others will always approach you first.”
The sheer control that a person gains from travelling alone is extremely empowering, teaching travellers a vital lesson in independence. The experiences and encounters from solo travel make everyday life much easier, as they provide us with greater confidence and self-awareness. Let’s face it, if you can backpack across Australia solo, what can’t you do?
Image: Liam Moloney via Flickr