If I were a good writer who researches her subject well enough, I’d be opening this piece with a stat on how many people travel solo per year, how many of them feel it’s been the greatest experience of their life and how many of them have also experienced first-hand the negative side to it. But I don’t have stats, I am just ANOTHER ONE of those solo travellers who’s spent the last year of her life traveling and working abroad, alone and has felt and witnessed the pros and cons, the ups and downs, the whirlwind of emotions that is solo travel!
I ummed and ahhed for ages about writing something like this. Did I really want to be that person detailing the downsides to one of life’s largest and most loved luxuries: travelling the world? But this is very specific to travelling the world – alone. As much as I believe there’s some really wonderful information out there and I probably wouldn’t be where I am at this very moment without it, I think the internet could still do with a bit more honesty and a liiiiittle less sugar-coated, romanticized info on the whole solo travel scene.
I have to start by saying that it’s no lie – solo travel is an exhilarating experience that teaches you a lot and brings out things perhaps you never even knew existed. It takes you out of your comfort zone and thrusts you into zones you’ve never entered before, gives you everlasting memories, introduces you to – sometimes – everlasting friends from around the world, provides you with new pockets of knowledge, presents you with endless opportunities and chances to grow. Yet despite all of this, there can be times when it is difficult, isolating, emotional, exhausting and can even reach a stage where one cannot help but feel they have in fact hit a very hard wall.
It could be for a bunch of reasons. You miss home (the obvious one), you feel lonely, you’re running out of funds and haven’t found a job yet, you’ve found a job but the people you work with are toxic, you’re stuck in the worst place ever and can’t get out because of a natural disaster, you’ve caught a sick bug and there’s nobody to look after you besides you, or it could even be situations in your home country that worry you, that you’re struggling to move on from, things that are out of your control from thousands of miles away.
Speaking from my own personal experience, it’s coming close to one year since I left home to travel in and around Australia. And if I’m speaking honestly – although I haven’t kept count – I would say for at least 1-2 months I hadn’t exactly been ‘living the dream‘. The dream for me was the start of my year. The novelty of everything, the exploration, the non-stop travelling buzz. There is no better feeling for me than making a plan, slinging a rucksack on my back and heading out for the day to wander. You challenge yourself, discover new places, you go as far as you like and you stop whenever you like. There are no limitations and no one around you to interrupt or dispute your plans. You’re in control – to an extent – of every minute detail, and that is by far the best thing about solo travel!
After the first 5 months of running around what felt like my playground of Australia, I guess ‘my fun had to come to an end‘ at some point and I needed to find work. If I hadn’t, I would’ve for sure been broke by now. And honestly I reached a stage where I didn’t just need to, I wanted to work as well. I wanted to be in a fixed location for a while. I wanted some routine back in my life. Because yeah, travelling is all kinds of exciting but it’s exhausting too – and that side had finally caught up with me… as it inevitably does with everyone.
But months down the line, there I was craving change again. And that’s the beauty of solo travel, the flexibility that you have with making as few or as many changes to your plans as you like. I say that with such confidence now, but it took me weeks – even months of feeling pretty mediocre for me to finally click and come to that realisation.
I kept trying to remind myself that I’d had my fun, so to speak, and now I had to work – ‘SO WHAT if I feel a bit shitty about it? That’s normal!’ No, it’s not normal. I started to question and doubt that I was doing things the wrong way. But then most of the time I managed to remind myself there was no right or wrong way to live out this experience.
In hindsight, if there was a better way for me to do things, I would’ve worked and created more of a social life around it. I would’ve rented somewhere to live or even bought a car to maintain that little sense of freedom to explore. Instead, I guess I made a series of not-so-great decisions that became like a domino effect until I eventually fell flat. I didn’t really feel the freedom of a traveller anymore, I just felt stuck. And honestly, I left the rut I was stuck in at home to fly 10,000 miles and get away from it – not return to another one on the other side of the world!
And it was only when that very thought struck me – the stuck in a rut one – that I knew for certain I wasn’t doing things the right way. I waited way too long to confide in my friends and family back home about how I had been feeling because I felt guilty. And now I know for sure that I’m not alone in that feeling, that others traveling for a long period of time feel ashamed to admit that they’re not living the dream 24/7, that they spent the last 5 days moping around in their hostel or that they might miss home or even desire going home sooner rather than later. There is a certain pressure attached to it, even more so if you are solo and responsible for every single choice you make. Because as soon as something goes ever so slightly wrong, you blame yourself – ‘why did I do this? I should’ve done that, I should’ve listened to them, I’ve wasted money, I’ve wasted my time, bla bla bla…’
Once I’d woken up to my situation and realised I had just a matter of months left to enjoy my time in Australia, I decided I’d absolutely HATE myself in years to come if I looked back on this particular time of my life with regret that I just sat back and accepted things and didn’t make changes when I know I should have…
So more internet-scrolling and several pages of scruffy scribbles later, I came to a solution I was happy with. Changing things the way I did meant leaving Australia sooner than I was technically able to. I mean, no one would stop me however I could’ve had another month and a half on my visa before getting the boot! But just because there is a ‘maximum‘ time limit on a visa doesn’t mean you have to fulfil it. Plans change and that’s life.
It’s just impossible to predict everything. I came to Byron Bay – where I lived and worked for 5 months – with the best intentions to stay until the very last day I was permitted to but after feeling the way I’d been feeling, I soon realised I was much more concerned about maximising my happiness over maximising the remaining days on my visa!
The truth is; solo travel lacks some pretty vital things that most of us probably don’t even realise we need in order to be happy, but we do. Sometimes or a lot of the time, solo travel lacks a sense of belonging and a feeling of stability. You move around from one wonderful place to the next, witnessing all of these amazing sights and feeling incredibly lucky to be there. And on the other hand, you’re tired of constantly moving, of meeting friends who come and go, of watching groups of locals socialising with family and friends and you realise just how much you miss the interaction with your friends from home because it’s simply effortless. You know them and they know you inside and out. You know what to say to shock or excite them or make them laugh, you can talk ABSOLUTE NONSENSE for hours without any judgement and if you’re not feeling right, you can just tell them and they’ll understand! This is why I believe friends made while traveling – like real, stable friends – are rare to find.
The reason I was in two minds about posting something like this is because I was worried. No one really wants to face the bitter truth to something that’s equally so sweet and incredible and life-changing. I also wanted to make sure I struck a balance in not making this appear to be an article that’s against solo travel or to sway the judgements of people perhaps considering solo travel for the first time. If asked, I would do the whole thing again and I will travel solo again, probably multiple times in the future! But I have almost reached the end of this specific experience, I’ve seen how popular solo travel is and how much of it is in fact NOT hanging out on tropical islands, wearing fabulous outfits while you meander through sleepy villages, candidly posing in giant jungle swings or on the edge of an infinity pool at a 5-star hotel. As I said at the beginning, I just want to share my tiny, honest insight with the internet on this experience as a whole, and not sharing this side of it wouldn’t make it very honest at all!
Now, I don’t think there is any shame to sharing this side of solo travel because ultimately any negatives you experience all become lessons, which you can either dwell on or take positives from. It’s like anything in life that you look back on that seemed horrible at the time, but without it happening to you, perhaps something better would never have stemmed from it. EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON – I hate how cliché those five words are but I believe them. I am PLEASED that I made some mistakes along the way because wherever I travel in the future, I will (fingers crossed) know not to make them again. I’m pleased that I felt sad, turned it around (eventually) and moved on from it. I honestly am SO pleased that I have had times where I’ve missed home and wanted nothing more than a cup of tea and chat with my family and friends, because I can tell you for certain there are plenty of people travelling who do not want to go home or do not miss home and for me, I think that’s sad. I can understand it from other perspectives but I am grateful that, as of this moment I genuinely want to go home – it may not be long before I travel again but I still want to be around my friends and family. I am and have always been lucky to have a very loving home life and being away from that for a long period of time does make you appreciate it much more.
I started writing this week’s ago when I had finally begun to feel productive again (and able to write more than a sentence without rapidly bashing backspace). I wrote it about a past-tense version of me who was experiencing all these feelings. And ever since I gathered myself, heard wise words from those close to me and created a new plan, everything magically improved. The weather had been beautiful, Byron Bay had been beautiful and I was reminded once again how lucky I’d been to live here. The one thing I regret is wasting time feeling down but, hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it?!
I wrote this when I still had weeks to spare in Australia and now I have merely days to count until I board a plane out of the country. I’m feeling reflective and wondering how it’s possible for a year to fly by as quick as this one has. Everything I have done and seen – from the streets of Melbourne to the bush of the Outback – keeps playing out in my mind like a movie montage of flashbacks. Of course, like all good Hollywood films, the scenes flashing through my mind are all the best bits, so fast and colourful and full of happiness. The bad bits I am casting to the back of my mind, like a distant memory – far enough to forget but close enough to remind myself (if I ever need to) or share as advice to others (which I always would).
The moral of the story is: it doesn’t matter what your circumstance, where in the world you are or how beautiful that part of the world might appear – it is still very possible to think and feel negativity and you should never have to feel guilty about that. It doesn’t mean you’re selfish, it doesn’t make you ungrateful, it just makes you even more human.
Are you a solo traveller and have you experienced / are you experiencing anything similar to me on your travels? Let’s chat 🙂