Traveling alone? Going solo on a trip of a lifetime? I know how challenging it could be, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to end up alone throughout your journey–if you don’t want to.
TRAVELING ALONE DOESN’T MAKE YOU A LONELY TRAVELER.
It was a hot, cloudy and humid afternoon in the mid of 2012. At around 1 pm, the beach of El Nido in the Philippines was deserted. The colourful boats were floating sleepily, swayed by the occasional waves.
Most tourists were out for island-hopping; or hiding from the scorching sun in one of the many bars and restaurants around town. There was really nothing much to do at this hour. Electricity was cut off from 6 am to 2 pm, forcing everyone to get out of their stuffy rooms.
“Don’t you feel lonely traveling alone?” asked Lani, a Filipino mother of two who sat beside me by the beach.
This was the next question she asked—right after she learned that I was in El Nido by myself.
Maria and Klein, Lani’s giggly children, were the ones who found me first by the hammock. They said hello after spending some time curiously eyeing my DSLR. I signalled them to come closer and showed them how to take pictures with the camera. Once they got a hang of it, they ran around the beach capturing the sky, the ocean, the sand, as well as themselves.
Lani joined us a moment later, bringing over a plate of pink cold coconut jelly she made. She was there to enjoy her military husband’s day off with the kids.
“Even I still feel lonely here at times,” Lani said. “I moved here following my husband. Originally, I came from Nara—my family and friends were still there.”
I looked at Lani in disbelief. “What a coincidence, Lani! Two days from now, I am planning to go to Nara. But I still haven’t found out how to get there.”
“Really? You’re going to Nara?” Lani’s face lit up. And her voice caught a cheerful tone that wasn’t fully there before. “Hold on! Don’t worry. I’ll call a few friends!”
And just like that, Lani left me with a plate of pink cold coconut jelly. She was busy punching her mobile phone’s keypads and talked loudly and rapidly in Tagalog. Her hand is moving comically. She made several other phone calls afterwards. A few minutes later, she came to me with a big grin on her face.
“All is taken care of! You’ll go with a small bus to Nara. They’ll pick you up right here at 7 in the morning. Then you’ll switch to another bus at the terminal. The bus driver who picks you up here will hand you over to the next bus driver. Then they’ll get you off by a small path leading to the beach. There will be a motorcycle there already, waiting to get you to the beach resort you want to go to.”
I was impressed. And touched. I didn’t expect that everything could be arranged so instantaneously. I thanked Lani many times.
On the day of my departure to Nara, all went smoothly—just the way Lani had planned.
The bus drivers recognised me as Lani’s ‘foreign friend’ and always tried to make friendly conversations. On my way to Nara, Lani called the bus driver to check up on me. Even when I had arrived, Lani was still sent me text messages to see if I was doing okay, if I liked the resort, or if I needed more help.
I almost giggled, but then I was swept by a gush of love and affection towards her.
Lani acted like a mother: anxious when having to part with a daughter who needs to travel far for the first time.
That was when I got reminded of Lani’s question a few days before, by the beach:
Don’t you feel lonely traveling alone?
But with people like Lani on my journeys, how is it even possible for me to feel lonely?
TRAVELING ALONE ISN’T ALWAYS EASY. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DIFFICULT, EITHER.
Solo traveling is not forever light and easy.
I have to admit that there are loads of other challenges (apart from ‘being lonely’) need to be addressed when you’re traveling alone.
- budget issue – it can be more expensive when you have to rent a car or a boat by yourself, while when you’re traveling with a group, you can easily share the costs.
- quota issue – some activities, i.e. island-hopping, snorkelling, cooking class, etc. sometimes require a minimum quota of 3-4 people.
- safety issue – when you’re going out late at night or finding yourself in a ‘tricky’ situation, you feel safer when you’re not alone.
- social issue – sometimes you simply want to eat with someone, connect, have a chat or a nice conversation over drinks.
However, lately I started to recognise the most comfortable arrangements for me when traveling alone.
For instance, when I’m traveling alone, I would choose to stay in a hostel rather than in a hotel. Even if I have extra money, I would still prefer to splurge on a private room in a hostel rather than in a budget hotel. Or else, I would rent a room in a local’s house—preferably, with the owner living there.
In Kyiv, for instance, I stayed at a hostel in an artsy stretch of Andriyivsky.
When I got there in the morning, a lady with a blonde hair gave me a warm welcome at the entrance. Her name was Katya. “If you have rested well, this evening just come down to the common room,” she said. “We can go club-hopping together if you like dancing!”
Oh, I really love dancing!
One of the challenges I need to face when traveling alone is going to a dance club by myself late at night. For safety reasons, this particular activity does feel more comfortable to be experienced with at least another friend—except if the club is quite near to the place where I stay; or if I have recognised the surrounding areas really well.
That evening, when I came down to the common room, I didn’t only meet Katya. I also made friends with Fransisco—a Brazilian who traveled around Europe and stayed at different hostels because he wanted to open up a hostel, and his roommate, Francois—a French guy who resides in the UK. There were also a bunch of Russian guys and girls who didn’t speak English fluently—but fortunately, they never gave up in communicating and sharing their stories.
Together, we wandered around the streets of Kyiv at night: laughing, singing, dancing, and sharing taxis to move from one dance club to another—before ending up at a small restaurant, sipping chicken soup at 4 am.
In Mumbai, India, I met Tej.
I knew him through one of those sites that aims to connect travellers.
Since I was in Mumbai for a business trip, I stayed in a hotel not far from the city centre. It’s a nice business hotel, but I still don’t know how to connect with other travellers in a hotel. As I was still keen to discover the city with a local and see Mumbai through a local’s perspective, I was happy when Tej generously made an offer to pick me up at my hotel, and show me the city.
That afternoon, Tej took me for a walk around Coolaba market—helping me to bargain, choosing saris, as well as carrying a bag of story books I bought impulsively. In the evening, he took me to Bandra—an area that is well known for its lines of fancy homes and apartments that belong to Bollywood celebrities.
“Look!” said Tej, pointing to a house with many people crowding in front of it. “That’s Shahrukh Khan’s house. It’s usual for people to have a picnic in front of it. And that one, over there, that’s Karisma Kapoor’s apartment.”
Lani, Katya, Francois, Fransisco, the entertaining Russian guys and girls, and Tej: they were the reasons why I never felt lonely when I was traveling alone.
TRAVELING ALONE? HERE ARE SOME TIPS ON HOW NOT TO BE (AND FEEL) ALONE:
Find a free accommodation, free tour, or a local friend to explore the city with at Couchsurfing.com
Through this site, you can find people from all around the world who open up their houses for you to stay in, for free. Choose a host that has been verified and received a lot of good reviews from other travellers. You can also search for various traveler’s meet-ups or joining a free tour around town that is often being offered by fellow site members.
Meet fellow travellers by booking your stay via Hostelworld.com
Living in a traveler’s hostel is the most comfortable way to meet with other travellers—especially with those who are also traveling alone. Through this site, you can find a hostel with the most suitable location and price for your needs. You can also read reviews about these hostels as well as interesting activities they are hosting for travellers. Having a credit card will be really handy to do bookings through this site.
Stay with a local and experience living with a local family via Airbnb.com
Compared to staying in a hotel, renting a room in a local’s house or apartment can be an option. It will be better if the host is living there with you. You can get a lot of interesting insights about the local’s favourite places to visit, or even get invited to spend time with your host and his friends! Your credit card will be very useful to confirm your bookings.
Meet like-minded friends in the city you’re traveling to by attending meet-up events via MeetUp.com
When you have a particular interest: cooking, dancing, language exchange, developing websites… it’s always nice to bump into a group of people who share the same enthusiasm towards these things. Finding meet-up events in the city you’re traveling to is a convenient way to get connected with people who share the same passion. You can also ask these people about secret venues/hidden gems in the city, based on your specific interests.
Traveling alone means having the opportunity to make more new friends along the way!
PS: You might want to check out this article: Yes, I’m Female. And I’m Traveling Alone. I wrote some safety tips on being a solo female traveler.