I’m definitely a social animal. While I need some “me time” once in a while, I tend to surround myself with people. This is why when I embarked on my first PhD journey, I wasn’t too thrilled to learn that I’d be travelling alone. That sounded so scary, I was afraid that something would go wrong or, in the best case scenario, I’d just feel lonely and miserable for a few days.
Since then I’ve been to so many conferences in various countries, often extended to a mini-vacation. Almost always, completely alone. And let me tell you, I learned to love it. Why?
- Finally I don’t depend on anyone. I do whatever I want, I don’t need to consult my plans with anyone, I don’t even have to plan anything. I just walk whenever I feel like walking, stop when I need some rest, eat whatever and wherever I fancy, just enjoy the moment. No need to compromise, to suffer through art museums just because my mum loves them, to skip a lovely walk in less touristy places because my friend is tired or to get hangry when my boyfriend thinks it’s too early for lunch.
- Good company is great, and who’s a better companion than the person I know and understand more than anyone else? Sometimes spending a lot of time just with myself is exactly what I need. Usually I don’t get many opportunities to read, listen to the music, go for long walks or just think. And I forget how much I enjoy these activities.
- When I start the journey alone, it doesn’t necessarily mean I end it alone! Usually I spend a lot of time with strangers. Best places to meet them? Hostels or “free walking tours”, where many travellers are in a similar situation. Hostels basically guarantee meeting very interesting people from all over the world. If I don’t stay in a hostel, I like to google “free walking tour [city I’m in]”, walk around the city with a local guide and chat to other participants. Usually we form little groups afterwards and spend the rest of the day or weekend together. A few years ago in Cologne I even managed to meet one of my best friends on such a tour. Worth trying!
- My main concern used to be safety. However, I realised it’s not such a big issue as long as I’m not going to a jungle or a battle field. In European or American cities I feel perfectly safe, when in doubt I ask locals if a particular neighbourhood is fine to visit alone. I just make sure to stay in touch with my relatives, so that someone knows what I’m up to, in case I disappeared. Better safe than sorry, but don’t worry, it’ll be ok!
- There are times when I wish I had a friend with me. For example, I felt a bit lonely spending a Friday night alone in Paris, while everybody else seemed to enjoy dinner with friends or family. I could have prevented it by making plans with other conference participants or using meetup.com, but I was just too tired to be bothered. But after a quick dinner (in a great vegan burger place, I doubt I’d drag there any of my meat-eating friends, so yay, lonely travels!) I ended up in Pompidou. After seeing a few pictures, I decided it’s enough modern art for one day, so I sat down on the terrace and enjoyed the view. Would I have done it with someone else? Probably not.
I could keep persuading you that travelling alone is great. But instead I suggest an easy exercise: find a cheap flight or train to a random place and find out yourself!