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On Solo Travel and the Benefits of Being Selfish

Many bloggers have written their pieces on why they travel solo. Blogs by „solo female travellers“ have come to form a whole niche of its own. I guess I am part of that category, although I never much perceived myself as such. I would hope my blog’s selling points are mainly its focus on Eastern Europe and my writing style – not the fact that I travel solo or that I happen to be a woman. Regardless of this, I will share my thoughts on discovering the world on my own, why I love it and what it has given me. Because it has truly made me a better person.

My faithful Backpack, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaMy five month trip to Central Eastern Europe and the Balkans in 2010 started off by a conversation with my sister that went like this:

Me: I’d love to travel after my Master’s…
Her: Why don’t you?
Me: Well no one wants to go where I want to go, no one wants to go to Eastern Europe. I don’t have anyone who would come with!
Her: Why don’t you go on your own?

At this point I had a whole speech in my head within split seconds that offered a gazillion reasons of why that was completely impossible. I never delivered it. Instead I said:

You’re right. I should go alone!

And henceforth, I never wanted a travel partner. I wanted to do this all on my own. Because I could. And I did.

On that trip, my first station in a new country was Budapest in Hungary. I remember getting off the train at Keleti Station, looking around and wanting to take in everything that I saw. I remember distinctly how sunlight fell onto people and trains, and I remember how much I loved the fact that old men were playing chess in the rail heads.

Keleti Station, Budapest, HungaryMost places that I arrived at – in fact most places I have visited at all – in someone else’s company have not left such a vivid imprint on my soul. Later that day I sat by the synagogue, and next to me a group of eight German girls were discussing their next move. Every single one of them wanted to do something different – have lunch. Go shopping. See a museum. Have lunch, but at a different place. Their fussy discussion and indecisiveness annoyed me. Not enough to spoil my mood, but enough to thank God for being on my own. I loved it from the first second.

Travelling solo, essentially, is a very selfish act. In many ways it erases necessity of consideration, compassion, compromise. My solo trip was all about me. Does that sound horrible? I think it should not.  I think this great focus on myself allowed me to be the best possible version of myself.

Rose - could be anywhere in the Balkans...For the first time in years, I listened to my inner voices. I got re-acquainted – or should I just say acquainted at all? – with my physical and mental needs. When I felt exhausted, I stopped. When I felt energetic, I moved on. Every new place I came to, I had the opportunity of liking or disliking it by my very own standards. I did not feel forced to like a place just because everyone marvelled at it, or hate a place because the guide book made it out to be less than perfect. I just listened intently to what was going on inside of me. The more I listened, the better I could hear my inner voices and the more I came to terms with them. I had so much time to spend with myself that I got to points when all the thoughts were thought, when a gigantic silence filled me whole and I managed to live and exist completely in the moment. Those may have been my happiest moments.

This is also why I hardly ever felt lonely on that trip. I was alone a lot, but it did me nothing but good – and loneliness, to me, is a forced, involuntary state that I connect with feeling left out and unloved. Being alone, on the other hand, is about finding yourself and learning how to be your own good company. I have written about this when I discussed bravery in travel.

I think some people manage to be in perfect balance with themselves with someone else around. For me that has always been very hard to do. Solo travel has taught me how it feels to be in balance with myself, to have come to terms with myself, to be okay with myself. It is not only something that I still benefit from in my daily life and of course in my travels. I think it is also something that my friends, family and travel buddies benefit from. Not to say that I manage it every day – but I have been there, and that means that I can get there again. If necessary, I will just throw in a quick solo trip somewhere. I know that it will do the trick.

Veliko Tarnovo, BulgariaSolo travel might not be or everyone, and it might not be the ultimate and only travel mode – because no such thing exists. I don’t think I will want to travel solo to the end of my days. I mentioned recently how discovering a place together with someone else was a new, exciting and beautiful experience for me. In my personal case, though, I had to go through being alone with myself, I had to go solo, before I could truly come to appreciate the company without losing myself. It was never about loneliness. It was always about self-discovery and personal development – as will be the case when I give up solo travel and go to places with someone else.

What do you think? Do you travel solo, with a partner or with friends? Do you think there is a difference between being alone and being lonely?

22 Kommentare

  1. „when a gigantic silence filled me whole…. I managed to live and exist completely in the moment. Those may have been my happiest moments.“

    I think this is the key sentence in this blog and I have to ask you if you think that if you could integrate this permanently into your daily life then wouldn’t it mean that outside factors would cease to matter as much? Surely then you would have a basis to finding peace and fulfillment in any circumstances? I’m no fan of large crowds or doing things in groups of people but even with such annoyances that „gigantic silence“ you speak of can put into the shade the babbling, noise and mere distraction of others. The thing to remember is that whatever you do and wherever you go YOU are always going to be the ever-present. So I say cultivate that silence and then you might always be able to summon up those happiest moments no matter where you are or who you are with.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 3, 2013 at 9:08 am

      It is a learning process. I think that is the beauty in life, really. You move forward step by step. I couldn’t have valued the silence as much a couple of years ago. I learned how to find it by myself, without distraction. Now the next step will be to find it in someone else’s company. And after that, there will be yet another thing to learn. Life never ceases to grant us challenges and tasks, and in the end we come out wiser than before.

  2. I always say that traveling with anymore than 4 is too much. Too hard to find a place to eat, too many people to all sit together on the train, too many people to make decisions… etc. Solo travel definitely opens up doors, but for me, I like to have at least one person along for the ride, if not just for photos 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Fair point about the photos 😉 but the one of me in this post I took myself and it worked, too. I like travelling with people too – it is just a very different thing, and I think one cannot substitute the other.

  3. Lovely piece Mariella, I think solo travel does open up (some) people’s mind. I really enjoyed my time travelling alone to recently but I’m not so ready yet to do a long trip by myself. Now I know my travelling style though, 2-3 persons are usually enough before things get annoying 😛

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 3, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Well, if you’re meant to travel solo, you will get there. Like I said, it may not be for everyone – there is no one ideal mode to travel. All of the ways of doing it have their merits. The important thing is that you should keep travelling, no? 🙂 xx

  4. As you know I do travel solo as well and it’s the best way of travelling! I can focus only on myself and on my perception of the place I visit and there’s no one to destroy my peace then! I know this way of travelling spoiled me big time but I don’t mind that at all, I learnt so many valuable lessons that are very important to me that I don’t care if people see me as selfish or not.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 5, 2013 at 11:05 am

      I think you know exactly what I tried to describe here then, Kami 🙂 I think the point about being selfish is that it can be valuable. Sometimes you just have to stick with yourself and yourself alone to get to know your own needs. Everyone will benefit from that surely.

  5. Your thoughts on solo travel are wonderful – it captures the feelings I’ve had traveling solo for more than 20 years. I’ve learned when to go and when to stop and regroup. Traveling with groups and the decisions or lack thereof is more stressful than getting on a plane and traveling for a month solo.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 5, 2013 at 11:06 am

      I agree one hundred percent, Suzanne! The hassle of getting a group organized… it may be different with one close friend or a partner. In fact last summer in the Baltics I was with a friend and I found it to be much less annoying than I had feared, we were very compatible. Buut it was nonetheless very very different from travelling alone.

  6. Great post! I have travelled solo to 19 different countries and for me there is no better feeling than the freedom of travelling alone. I love being able to go where I want, when I want and have the choice to stay longer or to leave.

    So recently when my best friend said to me; ‚let’s go travelling together,‘ I found myself saying; ‚umm…I don’t know where I’m going to be,‘ to throw her off the scent. To be absolutely honest, I don’t think I could ever travel any other way now 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

      Nineteen countries, Lisa, wow! Out of my thirty countries I think you could count eleven as solo travel destinations, the other ones were with family and friends. I was reluctant to go to the Baltics with a friend last year – my original deal was: You can come along for a week, but I need ten days on my own! In the end we did 3 whole weeks together and it was lovely. It wasn’t the same, surely, but it was lovely. Sometimes it might surprise you what someone else can add to the picture. But I will always want to take my alone time nonetheless.

  7. I used to travel solo when i was younger. Now I couldn’t imagine going to any place without my „better half“ 🙂 anymore.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      I guess much of it is habit. We’ll see where life takes me when it comes to this 🙂

  8. Great post! I haven’t made up my mind about solo travel just yet, but I definitely agree with you when it comes to the advantages of solo travel — I enjoy not having to discuss when and what to have for lunch, or when to take a toilet break. Good travel partners are extremely rare, especially ones that don’t complain about spending more than two hours in the medieval art section of a museum…
    But I think I like traveling with someone else better, because I like to talk about what I see — and often enough my travel partners have led me to amazing places I never would have gone to myself! Maybe my recent trip to Paris was my perfect way of traveling — spending a lot of time by myself, but also meeting up with friends for picnics and museum visits. I guess I’d say I’m a semi-solo traveler.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Oh yes, Julika, good travel partners are rare… they are a treasure to keep once you find them. I think you are describing it perfectly, it all has its good sides. When I travelled solo, I was never a complete loner – I met new people at hostels, and did couchsurfing, and found travel buddies on busses and trains. As long as there is always enough time to hang by myself, it’s all good I guess.

  9. Traveling solo is essentially being a better person for others. You are confronted with knowing who you are and what you can do so you may be able to complement others or a team (especially at work).

    Besides, traveling solo and not having a fixed itinerary allows you to mingle with locals, ask their opinions and maybe advice on where to go, where to dine, etc. And oh! About the photo… You can ask a local to take your picture. 🙂

    • I would say that not being with others (and their incessant agendas) allows you NOT to mingle with the locals and ask their opinions. After all, being alone is often a luxury in a world full of other people and their noise. So why waste it?

      • bridgekeeper

        Juli 17, 2013 at 9:46 am

        Spoken like a true misanthrope 😉 I disagree on this one. I think solo travel allows for enough solitude that mixing with locals is a welcome addition to the day. I think your point is more valid for the time spend at home where we often don’t value being alone enough. But when out travelling, you can meet people you would never have the chance of meeting at home – people who might contribute to your outlook on life and challenge you and make you wiser. That is my experience at least.

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 17, 2013 at 9:37 am

      I agree with all of that, Monnette 🙂 And while travelling with company might bring out other skills that promote team work, solo travel just lays a certain foundation otherwise hard to obtain. Thank you for your comment!

  10. Hi Mariella,

    My name is KC Owens; I’m a college student who loves to travel! While cruising the Internet, I found your site and really enjoyed reading your posts. Personally, I think traveling is a necessary part of life as you’re exposed to all sorts of new cultures and experiences. While enjoying time abroad, I’ve found it’s crucial to fully understand the dangers that you might encounter along the way. These mishaps are part of life and certainly part of travel but it’s always a great idea to take preventive measures to help ensure your safety while abroad.

    I was hoping that you would allow me to write a post for your site to share my travel safety tips with your readers? I put a lot of time and passion into my traveling and I would love to help others by offering safety advice as a result of the mistakes and triumphs I’ve had. I look forward to hearing from you!


    KC Owens

    • bridgekeeper

      Juli 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Hey KC, generally I do guest posts, but only if their free of links and commercials of any kind. My blog is non profit and I intend to keep it that way. You can get back to me with your proposal via email through my contact page. Glad you are enjoying my blog, and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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