By Becky Wicks
I was lucky enough to travel alone for the best part of three years, while I wrote three travel books for a publisher. It’s not so much the bad tattoo, the mind-melting ayahuasca experience or the dalliance with an over-zealous jungle guide stirring up nostalgic feelings, but more the feeling of being out there, alone and free. Here’s why travelling solo is the best thing I’ve ever done.
1. You can skip bits of the guidebook and no-one will ever know
I never went to Ellis Island in New York City, never looked up at Liberty’s crown in the land of opportunity. Nope. I couldn’t deal with the tourists.
Instead I holed myself up in a dive bar and sang karaoke with a group of bearded bikers. It felt far more authentic. Travelling solo means you make the rules. You tick off your own checklist, and you feel awesome about it, too.
2. You will learn how to fend for yourself
I don’t just mean you’ll learn how fast you can run from a pack of wild, possibly rabid monkeys as they prepare to attack you for your Almond Magnum (true story, the monkeys won), I mean you’ll quickly learn when to say no and when to put a stop to sticky situations before you even get into them.
3. You’ll become a more compassionate person
I was almost mugged once in a Colombian ghetto, and recall a local lady crying for me, even though I wasn’t hurt and was still 20 times better off than she was living there. As I travelled alone, I became more aware of the disparity between rich and poor, donating money or simply kindness whenever I could. I’ve seen it come back to me several times over.
4. You’ll make your coupled-up mates at home jealous
Since returning home, my friends in relationships have admitted they wish they’d also had the chance to rendezvous with an Indonesian bar-owner/hostel-worker from Ecuador/artist from Buenos Aires. The men I met as a single female traveller seem a world away from the people I meet now, and that makes me smile.
5. You can party like you’re 20, even in your 30s
No-one has to know how old you really are when you’re ‘just passing through’. I’m not ashamed to admit I did more tequila shots in the Galapagos with a 21-year-old student than I ever did when I was a student myself. I was 33. He didn’t have to know that.
6. You can eat what you want, when you want
Trying new foods is the most exciting thing when you’re travelling – although I did have to draw the line at the deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia. There’s no set breakfast, lunch and dinner when you’re rushing between buses, planes and trains, so why bother pretending you have a routine? Chocolate bar at 8am? Oh, go on then.
7. You will never have a curfew
No-one in a hostel ever scowled at me for coming home, watching cats on YouTube and eating chips on the communal sofa at 3am. Enough said!
8. You can talk to the animals without looking weird
Long walks with me, myself and I meant I struck up quite a few friendships with fuzzy bits of nature. From toadstools and birds in Peru to croaking frogs and snuffling pigs in India, I talked to them all and I swear they talked back (maybe don’t eat the toadstools).
9. You can do weird, spiritual things without losing any friends
I spent a week without judgement in an ashram at the foot of Bali’s Mount Agung, practising the art of shaking in order to let in the light. I also drank toxic tree sap in the Amazon in the name of enlightenment. Not things I shout about now. I like to be viewed as relatively normal.
10. You’ll make friends where and when you least expect it
There’s a real sense of camaraderie in hostels, and also when things go wrong – like the time my bus broke down for three hours on a highway in Thailand and I played poker in the aisles with a group of Danish guys to keep from going crazy. You never know who you’ll meet, or how, or when, and isn’t that incredible?
11. You’ll learn how to budget
When it comes down to either taking a 23-hour bus ride across Nepal for $40 or paying $100 extra for a flight, you quickly learn the flight is best, even if you have to live on Ritz crackers for a week to make up for it. (Note: I will never eat another Ritz cracker.)
12. You’ll gain a new-found sense of confidence in your abilities
What was I saying about budgeting? I also learnt I was surprisingly quick at picking up languages. I never dreamed I’d be jabbering away the way I was in Argentina and Bolivia, but the mind works in mysterious ways once you’ve made the mistake of telling a rather hot man you’re pregnant (embarazada) instead of embarrassed.
13. You’ll be treated like a VIP
Other people will be impressed that you’re doing all this alone. I often found myself at the best tables in restaurants and was once even upgraded to a honeymoon suite in a hotel in Bali. I think the staff member who checked me in assumed I’d been abandoned by my husband. I thought it best not to correct her.
14. You will learn what’s really important
Before I left to see the world I valued a stable income, relationship and job above all else, but travelling gave me perspective. I saw that life is about love, feeling happy and spreading that love and happiness whenever possible. It’s also about having a comfy bed in a room with less than nine people in it.
15. You’ll truly appreciate home
Home isn’t a box that houses all your belongings – not to me anymore. To me it’s a combination of all the little parts of me I discovered in different places. As a result of travelling alone, I have friends all over the world to go and visit now. And in every one of them is another little taste of home.
Credit: Getty Images, Becky Wicks