When Mom knew I was travelling solo to Phuket for two weeks, she immediately thought my marriage was on the rocks. She gave me a bewildered look when I reassured her that I just wanted some time on my own. After about a minute of silence, she finally said, “I still don’t understand what’s going on.”
I rolled my eyes and gave her the something-your-generation-would-never-understand look, and hoped she would leave it at that. Luckily, knowing too well her disapproval has often escaped me, she didn’t pursue further.
Mom wasn’t the only one who found it odd that someone should choose to travel alone. While in Phuket, I received puzzled looks from the hotel receptionist to the taxi driver, when they discovered I was alone.
A tour guide felt sorry for me when I had to take a photo imposed by the tour company, while everyone else was accompanied by their spouses, children or friends, that he kindly offered to stand by my side despite my polite protest. I now possess an over-priced photo of me and a stranger.
Travelling solo can make you feel extremely self-conscious, because you are convinced that everyone else thinks you’re a loser. I am not sure that is quite true anymore. There was a woman who spent five minutes cajoling her two infant daughters, who had decided to throw a tantrum of epic proportion into silence, while I looked at them with amusement. Embarrassed, she turned to me and said, “Look what I have to put up with.” Another man grudgingly complained about his teenage children, who apparently love leaving things behind, for him to pick up at every single holiday destination.
My friend, Lim, spent three years backpacking solo across the world. She recalled a life-changing incident, while hitch-hiking in Sivas, a city in central Turkey. Determined not to spend any money on transportation and accommodation, she fashioned a tent out of cardboard at a community garden during nightfall. What was presumably an illegal act had inevitably caught the attention of onlookers. But after finding out that she had no money and was leaving first thing in the morning, they left her. Minutes later, a family came and offered her shelter in their home.
Just as they were leaving the garden, the police came after being tipped off by a local. The family stopped her from being arrested, by claiming responsibility for her. They fed her and took her to a wedding the next day.
When asked what the best thing about travelling solo was, Lim answered, “Restoring my faith in humanity.”
Not many of us will be lucky enough to experience what Lim had in Sivas, but for me, travelling solo has forced me to become a better version of myself.
Here are nine achievable reasons why you should travel solo. You’ll see that many of the reasons are inter-connected but for the purpose of clarity, I have separated them.
1. You learn to swallow more than just salt water at the beach
If you are arrogant about your independence and ability doing to do things on your own, travelling solo can teach you a thing or two about humility. There are times when you are forced to acknowledge that you can’t do it all, you’ll need help from others and this makes it a humbling experience.
When I was on a tour to Phi Phi Island, I learned to swallow my pride by asking a couple to allow me to park my bag beside theirs, as I didn’t want my valuables to be left unattended. Although the request was simple enough, it was difficult for me to ask because I felt like a total loser.
By doing this, I acknowledged I am not invincible and accepted that there will come a time, when I will be at the mercy of a stranger’s kindness and that would be perfectly fine.
2. You discover that the only comfort zone you’re in is your cotton knickers
I have been quite happy with a stable job, a few close friends, a husband and two cats but it has made me lazy. Making conversations and exchanging pleasantries with anyone outside that niche, is an insurmountable task. I may be an introvert but I’ve also discovered that I have missed out on some potentially meaningful social opportunities out of sheer laziness.
Of course, it is easy and effortless to socialise with your close friends because they already know you and understand all the nuances that come from your single grunt, sigh or silence. But when it comes to new acquaintances, it is a different ball game. The longer I shun away from socialising with new people, the more my social skills have suffered.
When you travel solo, you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. You find yourself having conversations with strangers because let’s face it, being alone in silence for a whole day can get pretty boring, no matter how much you love to be alone.
I had an enjoyable time chatting with a guy from Hong Kong on a scuba-diving trip, and my Thai canoe paddler when I was in Phuket recently. I must admit that it was a little difficult in the beginning, as I struggled to piece together a decent conversation but it got better once I got used to it.
3. You learn to economise and discover that money doesn’t buy you the best experience
Travelling solo can be expensive because there is no one to split the cost of your hotel room, transportation and food with. If you run out of money, you’re on your own.
On my fourth day in Phuket, I discovered that my cash was depleting dangerously fast and I still have ten more days to go. I quickly learned to economise by taking the local bus to get around instead of a taxi or “tuk-tuk”. Travelling like the locals also means I was subsequently forced to adopt the local temperament – patience, lots of it.
One day, I waited for close to an hour for a bus to Phuket town. While waiting, I had the pleasure of talking to a Scottish woman, who has been commuting between Glasgow and Phuket to visit his son in Phuket. I gained so much information about Phuket within that hour and in the end, when the bus arrived, I enjoyed another delightful hour of riding through interesting roads which I would have never experienced if I had taken a taxi.
4. You slow down and enjoy being in the moment
Because you are alone, you are not answerable to anyone. You’re free to go wherever you want, and at whatever time you want. You don’t have a child who needs to rush to the restroom, in the middle of a cultural performance. You don’t have to leave the beach early because your husband is not fainting from the heat. Your best friend who gets cranky when everything is off-schedule, is left at home cursing you every single day you’re on holiday.
I really took the time exploring Phuket and it was such a welcoming change, from the hectic life in Kuala Lumpur. It was one of the most liberating moments I have felt in a long time.
5. You welcome your inner-voice and wave goodbye to the gossiper in you
Working in a team and living with someone, can only mean you’re constantly surrounded by noises. There had been times when I felt there were too many noises in my life, which were clouding my thoughts and ability to listen to my inner-self. Travelling solo allows you to get rid of those noises, leaving you completely alone with your thoughts.
When I am with my girlfriends, we tend to gossip or make fun of strangers together. When I travel alone, I am forced to resist the temptation of saying something nasty about someone, else because there was no one there listening.
6. You are amazed by the courage you never knew you had
Lim said that one of the best things about travelling solo is doing the things she would not normally do, when she is travelling with someone else. It is all about stretching that courage bank and crossing boundaries. She has been couch-surfing, hitch-hiking and camping throughout her journey, and she wouldn’t have done it if she were to travel with someone else.
7. You find out whether being truly single is your thing
Spending two weeks alone can really give you a perspective, of how it feels like to be truly single. There’s no one to share that breath-taking sunset you saw at Phang Nga Bay, or the best tom yam goong you had. You have no one to depend on when you’re sick, or rub sun block on your back.
If this is something you can live with when you’re fifty, and all your friends are too busy celebrating life with their families, you’re set to go. If not, you might want to re-evaluate that relationship phobia you always have.
8. You realise your family and friends mean more to you than you care to admit
Travelling solo makes you appreciate your family and friends more. You never thought you would miss them until you’re without them. By my second week in Phuket, I began to wonder why I had felt the sudden urge, to get away from the people I love. Of course, I would never regret my decision to take that trip alone, because I wouldn’t have come to that realisation otherwise.
I know there will come a time when I will feel that urge again, and I will likely succumb to another solo trip because I know it’ll bring me to my final reason.
9. It brings you closer to home. – April 23, 2015.