Traveling alone

Traveling alone

Traveling Alone?

A jolt of unexpected excitement vibrates through my body. I struggle to keep it my secret.

I am sitting cross-legged on a sandy bamboo mat, watching another masterpiece of a Thailand sunset dismiss an island day. The owner of the restaurant is making his rounds lighting torches which pop and crackle around us with puffs of gray smoke. I steal a glance at my mysterious new friend.

I have only known my new companion for a few hours. She is friendly, Dutch, and quite beautiful. She has also just taken my hand for the first time.

Fate, luck, Celestine Prophecy…whatever label you give it, something brought us together randomly. Since we are both vagabonding, we know that this luxurious feeling won’t last forever. Our encounter was doomed before it started, and with each day that we spend together we know that one morning will be the last. The Devil will be waiting for two promised souls when the fun is over.

Knowing that we will owe a debt in tears in a few shorts days only makes the encounter that much stronger and more magical. In travel, you build relationships at light speed compared to the methodical navigating of social protocols at home. When you are backpacking, there simply isn’t time for any of the usual games. From the onset, there is a silent-and-mutual agreement that the road always takes precedence over emotion.

One day you both know that you will be divorced in exchange for a cardinal direction. You ponder momentarily, then you both fork over your hearts.

This has happened to me more than once, and some of the encounters have defined my entire trip to a country — even changed me as I stepped off the plane back in America months later.

Good or bad, I believe that none of these life-changing connections with people would have been possible had I been traveling with someone from home. I probably would have just eaten dinner with my travelmate and made no effort at starting a conversation with the solo traveler.

The most common question I see about vagabonding in email and my backpacking forums is about money. The second most common question usually relates to “How can you travel alone?” or “I could never do that” or “I’m trying to find someone to go with, but…”

It may feel safer to partner up with someone from home, and I’ll admit that there were times I would have sawed off fingers for a familiar face, but you may be cheating yourself. I watched many people traveling in pairs or groups simply stick to themselves in a little bastion of cliquey comfort and safety, barely noticing the new culture or people around them. Many times they didn’t even look happy.

As a loner, I feel that I received an entirely different trip experience in the same place. I also feel that my trip had more resounding spiritual benefits rather than just “entertainment” value. I had time to get to know myself.

Whatever your travel style is, shake up your comfort settings at some point and give solo travel a try. At least for a while.

In many countries on the backpacking circuit (especially if you look different than the locals), you may have to try to be alone! So many times I only wanted some time to myself for reflection and updating my journal when a stranger sat down and started asking the usual questions: “Where are you from?”, “Where have you been?”, “How long are you traveling?”

It does not matter how introverted you are. It is nearly impossible not to meet new people when you are traveling alone. Plus, as a bonus, there is no debate on where to go next, where to eat, where to stay — for one of the first times in your life you are truly free.

As expected, I told my new friend goodbye and watched as she walked across the plank to a rumbling diesel ferry. All I was left with was an email and a lifetime memory, but when I felt the weight of my rucksack biting into my shoulders, I knew that it was time to move on. With every adventure that ends, a new one is not far away.

The sadness of the goodbye melted and suddenly I was smiling. No doubt she was sitting on her boat doing the same.

The road always wins.

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16 Responses to “Traveling alone”

  1. Beautifully written post!

    Strange how traveling alone affords us that much more in our experiences away from home. That’s why traveling solo always wins in my case at least.

  2. My solo travel out of the US is limited and not to a near exotic place like Thailand.

    One of my travels found me on a mostly tourist bus in Hawaii. As I stood at the rear of the bus, two couples boarded and stood there a moment as one of the two men came to the rear of the bus and steadied himself on the same pole I was using. He asked if I was traveling alone. I thought it a strange question, but answered that I was. He commented that traveling alone must be great since I didn’t have to negotiate everything from when to get up, what to eat or what to tour. I agreed that it was a great way to travel.

    On many solo travels, I have found that as a solo I was more likely to be asked a question than a couple standing nearby. With a couple it would be an interruption; not so with a solo.

    Regarding nomadic travel… “The road always wins” is quotable and says it all.

  3. Thanks for the kind feedback! Of course, walking the earth alone isn’t for everyone…but once you try it, you might find yourself hooked. 🙂

  4. Your writing & travelling & pics are great! Haven’t been to Australia yet, so I saw this Blooging job in the Australia Great Barrier Reef on the news this morning & thought of you: Go For It!

  5. Hi Greg,
    I just stumbled upon your blog and really enjoyed this post. I love traveling alone for the most part. Being sure I stay connected to people in various ways while on the road helps. And aren’t we all alone at times, regardless of whether we’re traveling or not? I would rather be alone in a new, beautiful country than in my little apartment. 🙂

    Great site… I love that you’re examining both the ups and downs of travel. Looking forward to reading more!


  6. I’m currently traveling alone and haven’t found it a problem, except for one type of situations. Sometimes local people will make a big deal about it (I’m in Latin America). Oh no, you poor thing. It must be boring, no? Don’t you have any friends?

    It’s the only thing that has been a drawback. Otherwise I’ve had so many wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have had with one or more fellow-travelers.

  7. Hello Greg, sorry I do not know you Travel Blog well, I have traveled alone now for about 11 years. has made my life ten times better because now I can call people and revive my old friendships.

    I have a question, you wrote,
    “I am sitting cross legged on a sandy bamboo mat, watching another masterpiece of a West Thailand sunset dismiss an island day.”

    Is this rhetorically writing or are you in Thailand, there is a link on the side of the page that says you are in Lexington, Kentucky?

    Thanks from Andy of Travel Blog

  8. That is so lovely!

    I am also a solo traveller right now. While it’s great to travel with friends and be able to share certain experiences, there are few things as free as being on the road by yourself and being free to make your own decisions at any whim. Even getting lost on your own can be a fun adventure, but with someone else it can just be stressful.

  9. Hi!

    Just read this post by coincidence. What a beautifully written post! I loved it. I am going to Thailand for the first time, and alone for the first time, this July. Your post really made me more comfortable with the thought of going alone. I almost can’t wait now! Hope the rest of your trip was as fantastic as what you described here. Sounds wonderful!

  10. Hey, Im a 22 year old student from the UK and I’m going traveling to Thailand from the beginning of December for a month on my own and was wondering what advice you can give me? I have been before but that was with a few friends. I booked a flight with my friend but he backed out but i don’t want to lose my money and I also really want to go again. I would say im not the best person to start a conversation to people so I am a bit nervous. is there any advice and tips or if you are going on your own the same time and are as nervous as me?

  11. hi greg, lovely post, i travelled solo once and would do that in a heartbeat again. But, people (your friends, family) still think ur depressed if u want to go solo, but then ur more approachable to others and make many unknown friends on the way.
    I was invited to live in a hut with a family in Lumbini, Nepal as i had nowhere to sleep that night.
    I made really good friends on that trip.

  12. Not only was your post moving it was also very true. Some walks of life not only divides people but brings them together as well. I am finding that out the hard way as my walk of life expands. Thank you for the lovely and very moving post. I needed to hear a good story 😀 i WILL BE TRAVELING SOON hopefully not on my own for my first trip. haha. but who knows what lies ahead.

    thanks again

  13. Very well written post!

    After travelling for a while with a friend from home, I can confirm I definitely prefer to travel alone. No arguments, things are done quicker, and it’s much easier to meet new people alone than travelling with someone else.

  14. Interesting take on the solo experience. What do you think about traveling solo when you’ve got a wife/husband/kids at home? Seems like that would be much harder.

  15. Hey,
    I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s nice to read about a fellow vagabond and what they are up to from home. I relate to how you feel about traveling so much! Safe travels and have fun : )

    Jessie Marie

  16. Yeah first time at this so when does the line get drawn before living outside society and just wilderness survival? Too dangerous long term or what?

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