“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no-one alive who is Youer than You!”
– Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!
It’s been almost four weeks since I arrived back in the UK and, although I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was having a hard time adjusting (this morning my Dad found me just stood staring at a big map of the world I have hanging on my wall), I am starting to finally make plans for what’s next…but more about that later.
I’ve just finished reading this great blog post by Matador Network (if you don’t peruse their site and you’re the travelling type, do so immediately as I think their tips and articles are fab) entitled 9 Things That Only Happen When You Travel Solo, and it got me thinking about what happened to me as a solo traveller and how, if at all, the experience changed me.
So here we go.
You Learn to Pack Light
And I don’t just mean your suitcase or backpack whilst travelling! My study is full of the things other people usually throw away – birthday cards, pictures, trinkets from friends weddings – and while I don’t want to chuck these things away (because I’m a bit sentimental like that) I should box them up and stash them in the loft at least.
When I got home I was completely overwhelmed by how much stuff I actually have. I am such a hoarder, and please don’t get me started on my wardrobe! I own so many clothes that I never wear it makes me a little ashamed. I am in the process of packing up my life for yet another move and already have a big pile ready to send to the charity shop.
You Learn to Like You
As a solo traveller you spend an awful lot of time just Me, Myself and I and, while sometimes this can be really difficult and lonely, it’s worthwhile doing simply for the opportunity to get to know yourself. I’m not suggesting you talk to yourself in the mirror or anything weird like that (although we all do that, don’t fib) rather spending long spells on your own affords you the time to think about your own likes, dislikes, wants and needs, and you’ll find you become far less critical about who you are on your return.
You Put Down the Make-Up Brush
I always thought I didn’t wear that much make-up compared to other people, but then I travelled to hot countries where slapping on that full face meant 1) getting up early to trowel it on and 2) contend with your face dripping off your face in the searing heat. About three weeks in, you start getting a bit of a tan; washing your hair constantly becomes tedious and you no longer care. When I look back to pictures of me from my trip, I don’t see the spotty face, burnt nose or mental, matted hair, I see a happy girl having the time of her life.
You Become a Badass
I’m not talking ninja-black-belt-in-karate style, although that would be pretty cool, but rather in the way you think about things. I don’t think there is anything scarier than packing up your life in a small bag, waving goodbye to your loved ones and hurtling off into the world with only your thoughts for company. I’ve been stranded in airports with no cash (my passport held to ransom), slept under the stars in the outback of Australia with dingos howling all around me. I’ve had money and belongings stolen from me. I’ve hiked up countless mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, scuba-dived even though I’m a little frightened of open water. I’ve walked cities alone. Slept in questionable places. Taken a flight in a crazy thunderstorm.
Solo travel is a crazy whirlwind and there’s usually no time to give into your fears. Its testing to say the least, and it really does help you face situations and realise you will come out the other side relatively unscathed.
You Meet That Person
Or people. Now this isn’t always a romance, not in the conventional way, anyway. It could be that person met in a dorm room and decided that you must get drunk immediately and spend the night dancing on tables, the best friend made at a beach, a guy or girl you just couldn’t stop kissing for a while, someone you’ve fallen for, or just a travel buddy who makes you laugh.
They’re all out there. I’ve met most of them.
You Learn to Appreciate the Little Things in Life
Travelling solo can be really challenging when faced with difficult situations and it can be really difficult to remain positive when faced with a potentially scary situation, but it can also be one of the most freeing moments of your life. You learn to appreciate everything and begin to notice the small things that you might overlook in your busy everyday life back home. I can remember watching countless sunsets in Australia or climbing to the top of some mountain somewhere in New Zealand and just thinking, “this is breathtaking. I am so lucky.”
You Learn How to Chill Out
I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, another thing I didn’t realise until I went travelling alone. I’d always thought I was pretty chilled out, which I suppose I was in some aspects of my life, but often I would lose my shit at tiny, inconsequential things which wouldn’t even register on my freak-out-radar anymore. Taking time out to remember what’s important, what’s worth worrying about – for me that’s friends, family, health – makes all the other white noise of the world just fade out.
You’ll Question Everything About Your Life
OK, so I stole this one from the Matador article but when I read this point, bells were going off in my head because it’s so true. Solo travelling makes you question everything. From why the hell you thought it was a great idea to go it alone for five months in the first place, to career and relationship choices (or lack of both in my case). The author of the article states that people wondered if she was running away from something and she found herself asking whether she was. I encountered the same questions: Why did you decide to do this now? Why alone? Why here? What’s so bad about home?
It may sound terrifying to question every aspect of your life in this way, but its actually pretty liberating. That thirteen hour overnight bus between Melbourne and Sydney, or twelve hour flight from Bali to Hong Kong affords you the time and space to pull apart these issues and, if you are unhappy like I realise I had been before I travelled, it’s the ideal time to start thinking about what you really want and how to apply this new found knowledge to your real life.
Now I’m back in England I realise that as much as I adore travelling (and I do) I don’t think I could live permanently away from my family and friends and I know that my next move needs to have some air of stability to it. So I am heading back to my beloved Manchester in three weeks. But I have no intention of stopping travelling. In fact, I want to go somewhere new as often as possible, I’d even like a career that might allow me the chance to travel occasionally, and if a person came along who’d like to make travel their passion too, well that would just be wonderful.
Have you ever travelled solo? What did you learn about yourself from the experience? How does it differ from travelling as a couple or a group of friends? Has travel changed you in anyway?