Benefits of Travelling Solo: My Experience
Updated: Jan 17
There’s been a consistent theme throughout my travelling experiences visiting destinations around the world; they’ve always been shared with other people. Whether that has been with friends or an ex-girlfriend, there’s always been someone there to share experiences with, provide company throughout the trip and collaborate on decisions. So for me, the opportunity to spend a few days away travelling on my own, visiting another country and learning to live with my own company was initially a little daunting. Okay, as far as travelling solo goes, it wasn’t exactly a long trip like departing for South-East Asia for three months or embarking on a six-month tour of South America, but it was still something out of my comfort zone that I felt I needed to do. How would I get by on my own? Would I miss having company? What about the hostel? Where would I visit? Who would I speak to?
All of these questions went through my mind as I deliberated purchasing my flights and booking accommodation, making up random reasons as to why I shouldn't go and agonising over whether to do it. Strangely enough, upon pressing the confirmation button, the fear evaporated, being replaced by excitement and a sense of bemusement at why I’d taken so long to muster the courage. I think as human beings we have a tendency to overthink things, making up imaginary scenario’s in our head that most likely won’t happen, but dissuade us from doing what we ultimately really want to do.
So, the destination for my trip? Barcelona. Truth be told, I’d actually already been there once, back in 2016 on a works holiday incentive. Working for a recruitment company, we’d had individual targets over a three-month period and if they were hit, you’d be taken on an all-expenses paid weekend in Barcelona. Thankfully I hit those targets and enjoyed an alcohol-laden weekend that resulted in me seeing little of the city and a lot of its bars! I’ve therefore always harboured a sense of unfinished business with the Catalan capital and that I’d need to make amends through experiencing it in its entirety.
Flights and accommodation
Wherever you’re looking to travel, whether it be for a short city break or a long-duration tour of South-East Asia or the Americas, the hardest thing you’ll do when organising a solo trip for the first time is booking the flights. It’s at that point that there is no going back, and the foundations are laid to build an amazing experience. My advice? Take a deep breath and do it. Get it done as it’s worth it. I had some annual leave lined up and knew that I didn’t want to waste it stuck at home all day whilst my friends were at work, therefore I’d been looking at flights to Barcelona for some time. Although I got a fantastic deal in the end (£42 return flight from Birmingham), I could have secured the flight for a cheaper price had I not procrastinated in the meantime. Thankfully, the price rise was only by a couple of pounds, but on another day it could easily have become a lot more expensive! So bear this in mind if you do find yourself dawdling; just do it.
A quick google search also helped me when booking my accommodation. After searching, “the best hostels in Barcelona”, I found the Hostel Geeks website that provided three great recommendations for my stay. After reviewing each one and cross-referencing with Hostel World, through which I’ve always booked digs, I chose to stay at Casa Gracia Hostel in a great part of town. Of course, I’ve stayed in hostels before during my trips to San Francisco and Slovenia so I’m used to sharing a room with strangers, but this was the first occasion on which I’d be doing so by myself and without the company of friends. I’m actually quite a shy person when I meet new people for the first time, but tend to open up once I’ve got the measure of someone, so I resolved to be the first person to introduce myself and open conversation with any of my new dormitory companions. Upon saying hello and introducing myself to each of the five people I shared the dormitory with over the course of three nights, I found all of them were very welcoming and friendly. Three of them were in the same situation as me being solo travellers and I think ultimately, we all want to feel comfortable in our surroundings and have a friendly face to talk to. One of the guys was from the Dominican Republic and a second was from Germany; we had some great conversations talking football and other things that ultimately made time spent in the room much more enjoyable and a lot less awkward.
If, like me, you’re more reserved and wonder how you’d start conversation with people you don’t know, that’s understandable. I was in the same boat. My advice would be to just be yourself, take the initiative in saying hello and introducing yourself; most people will immediately appreciate the fact that you’ve done this and respond accordingly. Ask questions like where are they from, how long they are staying and where they’ve visited in the local area - there’s no doubt this will stoke conversation and you may find out useful information or recommendations on where to visit or eat. I was even invited out for drinks on the one evening, which would never have happened if that initial hello and building of rapport had not taken place!
Spending your day
Now for me this is the big benefit of solo travel that can’t be beaten. Your day is yours and you can do what you want. How you want and when you want. There’s no compromising with anybody else over what to do or where to visit, or what time you plan to get up out of bed. The timetable is to your liking and yours alone. As an early bird who likes to be out early doors visiting attractions before the crowds arrive, this was a massive advantage for me. I was able to be up and out of the hostel by 07:30am each morning, grabbing a croissant from the local bakery before taking the metro on my way to each attraction. Whether it be hiking up to Carmel del Bunkers or taking the time to discover the Sagrada Familia in depth, everything was on my terms. I’m someone who does a lot of walking on city breaks as I tend to fit in as much as I can in the short amount of time I’m there, therefore I was able to plan what I would be doing each day and cater for the time it’d take to traverse between each location. Ultimately, it was all invaluable in enabling me to learn about the local culture and enjoy ticking off attraction's on my bucket list.
Even when you’ve got your day planned, you can adapt or alter it on the fly as suits your needs. Fancy a mid-afternoon beer? Why not. Changed your mind about visiting yet another church or temple? No problem, take it off the list. There’s no worrying about what your friend, or partner wants to do, as it’s solely your trip, and everything can be done to your level of comfort. I appreciate it sounds very selfish, but you’re on your own, so if you can’t decide how your day should go, who can!?
Of course, there’s also other perks to travelling on your own. When I visited the Sagrada Familia, I’d booked a ticket that included an experience from the top of the Nativity Tower, providing amazing views across Barcelona’s skyline. It was pretty narrow up there and did not accommodate room for many people, therefore the only way up was by lift before descending via the stairs. The lift was manned by a member of staff taking up around five people at a time; two couples had just gone in and he asked if there was anyone in the queue on their own to fill the fifth spot. Perfect! To the front of the queue and up I went.
Truth be told, the evenings were probably the time where I would have preferred some company. During the day, you’re so engrossed in your itinerary going here, there and everywhere that you don’t really have time to think about anything else. On one hand, there’s the benefit of being able to choose where you want to eat, and what type of food you’d like if you have a particular fancy eg. tapas, pizza etc. You’ve also got the advantage in that you’re pretty much able to get a seat in busier restaurants on your own unlike if you were with a group of people, and it gives you the opportunity to sit down, relax and take stock of your day. However, on one occasion I did briefly think it would be nice to be engaging in conversation with a familiar face whilst sharing a meal.
Of course, one way of avoiding loneliness is to strike up friendships made in the hostel dormitory or out in the common room. The majority of backpackers, especially solo travellers, are like-minded people, welcome conversation and embrace good company. In Ljubljana and Barcelona I found my faith in humanity restored, when on both occasions, fellow dormitory companions invited me out for drinks on the evening. Take the opportunities, make new friends and enjoy the company.
Other benefits of travelling alone
Although my first experience of travelling alone was only for a short three-day city break, I think I’ve taken much more from the experience. Of the many benefits of travelling solo, I’ve taken confidence from the fact that I was able to organise the trip, navigate the transport routes and book any excursions without a problem. I also think I got to know myself a little better, understanding what my interests are and what aspects of myself that I need to develop. It helped me to live in the moment and appreciate every aspect of the trip that much more.
Being a solo traveler took me out of my comfort zone in trying to build the confidence to put my limited Spanish skills to the test when ordering food, as well as something trivial like walking into a restaurant and sitting alone - something I’d never done before. Sooner or later, these initially awkward situations will become a part of everyday life, so much so that they ultimately help build you into an experienced, well-travelled character with the confidence to meet new people and explore new experiences.
Naturally, travelling alone was much cheaper as I was able to dictate my budget in what I spent my money on, where and when I ate and how much I spent each time. It meant I actually ended up coming back home with some money rather than having to stretch my budget as I neared the end of the trip.
Finally, as someone who takes a keen interest in personal wellbeing, I felt the trip was very worthwhile from that point of view. I love traveling - I think that’s a clear message portrayed throughout my blog and its name, “Depth of Mind”, alludes to wellbeing - and it really helped me in developing confidence and self-belief. It also reduced any stress I’ve been feeling about my career and reminded me that I can be a capable, confident individual able to make his own way in the world.
Yes, there are benefits to group travel and never feeling lonely is one of them, but the advantages of travelling solo offer so much more. Of course it has it’s advantages and disadvantages - don’t let social media portray it as purely sunshine and happiness - but one of my biggest travel tips would be to give it a go.
So don’t delay booking that trip. Stop procrastinating and get started on your next adventure. Life’s too short to live with regrets. Who wants to spend the rest of the lives thinking, “what if?”.