I’m in almost half a year now without working a job and a little less than that without seeing my beloved friends and family. As a single guy (sup ladies) who’s devoutly spiritual and on a personal mission (bye ladies) half way across the world, traveling alone has it’s pros and cons.
For both ladies and gents, here a few words of advice or lessons based on personal experiences to consider should you decide to travel alone some day.
Not For Everyone
Did you ever have a chemistry class where your teacher said “Alright class, go ahead and mix your nitroglycerin and peroxide together”? If you did, and you’re still reading this, congratulations on surviving the explosion. And hopefully your school was shut down for allowing such a practice.
Lesson: Just like not every chemical or element goes well with each other, not every adventure or level of risk is complimentary to every personality.
Connecting with Others – Personality and Hostels
While I’m not who likes to be categorized into a box or type, I will say that the INFJ and INTJ personalities from the famous Myers Briggs Indicator Types test are fairly accurate results in describing my personality. For my point here, I just want to focus on the first letter: I, for introvert.
I’m the kind of person who enjoys time to myself and discovering meaning in things and others. That doesn’t mean I don’t like people, quite the contrary. What it does mean is that I get most of my energy in my quiet times away from people. When I -am- around people, I enjoy talking about deep and profound things, and listening to people’s history, family, values, perspectives, and beliefs. It’s not everyday, however, I meet people who reciprocate such interests right off the bat like I do. This presents a challenge for me personally when talking to someone at a bar or another lively venue where locals and foreigners congregate and I’m looking to connect with others, but others are mostly looking to have fun or already have their clique and company.
With that said, when staying at budget hostels instead of expensive hotels it’s actually very easy to connect with others because you are kind of forced to by sharing a dorm with 3-11 other people. At minimum, you have the opportunity to meet others who may or may not be traveling solo as well in the lobby during the evenings. I’ve made some good friends, both for the short-term and for the long-term, this way so far. You will find that the type of people who stay at hostels tend to understand each other and care about at least some of the things you do, or else you two wouldn’t be traveling. Keep in mind, however, that even with this another barrier exists: culture. People from certain regions of the world don’t open up very easily either to anyone or to anyone outside of their race, so it makes connecting with them more difficult. Don’t take offense, it’s just some people’s natural habit.
Lesson: Take into consideration your personality and accommodations, as well as those of other travelers, when thinking about how easy or difficult it will be to connect with people. Consider how that will affect you as well.
As I said before, I’m a single guy on a personal spiritual mission with a Type A personality. As such it’s been easy for me to stay away from connections that will most likely not end up being meaningful and substantial, or will be an unneccessary drag on my emotional life. That being said, I’m still a guy and I still have interests in finding someone I can share my life with.
When traveling in another country, especially like those of the Middle East, it’s amazing how many beautiful people you meet. They include your fellow countrymen and women, locals, and foreigners with lovely accents. Even more amazing is how these beautiful people think you are something else, especially when you think you’re just average looking.
Tall dark Middle Eastern looking guy who speaks Spanish, can (sort of) play the guitar, and likes to dance? And he’s single?
Girl: Hello there 🙂 *with a twinkle in the eye and swishback of the hair*
It should be said that when it comes to flirting I’m about as dry as SpongeBob SquarePants was in the SBSP Movie a la 2004. You can see that by the fact that I’m referencing a childhood cartoon in talking about playful banter. My genuine kindness and chivalry towards women (thanks momma) has been interpreted before as either emotional interest or lack of interest. Thankfully it’s generally been interpreted in the way I prefer, platonic and respectful unless stated otherwise, but for those who prefer more romantic encounters you will find that it’s very easy to have these while traveling alone.
Being in another country and meeting foreigners in a safe place tends to bring people’s boundaries down and they’re usually open to having fun. Even more interesting: something about traveling alone intrigues people. They either think you’re daring, reserved, or bored, but they’re usually curious enough to want to find out.
Even me, who is not one to easily have heart-shaped eyes over any girl, was caught up by a girl I recently met who was also traveling alone. We spent a few days together, talked about our lives in detail, and one night we made dinner and danced by ourselves to both fun and some romantic/sensual music. At some point it was pretty clear there was some tension in the little space between us. As distractingly cute and interesting as she is though, our lives are too different and I couldn’t in good conscience break the promises I’ve made and held between myself and God now for almost 9 years. Frustratingly I explained myself, yet she understood and said she respects my personal boundaries. We caught up for lunch, and in an odd twist of fate ended up at the same hostel in another city unplanned as well, some time later. Man, she’s going to make some guy very happy someday.
Lesson: Traveling alone makes connecting with others romantically very easy because you can meet who you want, where you want, when you want. Remember though, with great power comes great responsibility (cheesy, but true). A bad interaction could potentially ruin your trip emotionally, depending on how you handle such situations.
Potentially Dangerous Situations – People and Loss of Valuables
With that as a good segway, let’s switch gears. When traveling alone you may be a stud or a babe to reasonably non-threatening people, but you may also be such to threatening people.
For ladies, I can’t say I haven’t heard stories of girls either being raped or attempted to be raped but managed to escape from predators. For gents, being jumped or having a knife pulled on you for your money and passport is real. Before you have a panick attack, know that these are generally exceptions and not the norms.
So what do you do? First, you have to put on your strategy hat to figure out now what you will do in those type of situations later. Second, you have to put on your wisdom hat to acknowledge and follow reasonable precautions to avoid certain situations altogether. Finally, you have to put on your innocent hat and not give ways or reasons for people to take advantage of you as a solo traveler.
That said, not every situation and response is black and white. There will be times that it’s safe to hop in a strangers car to get somewhere with your luggage (i.e., hitchhiking), and there will be times where it’s not safe to go to guarded touristy sites in broad daylight (i.e., church bombings in Egypt on Palm Sunday). The other day I was on a bus and a guy from Oman sitting close starting chatting with me. Having known him for less than 1 hour and arriving to a new city in need of a taxi, I was asked by him to “let’s take a taxi together and I’ll pay, but don’t say anything and I’m only going to speak in Arabic or else they’ll charge me five times the normal amount.” I agreed, and as we drove I noticed on my Google Maps that we were going farther and farther away from my hostel. I didn’t open my mouth or fear, I calmly closed my phone and kept a genuine smile on my face as I took in the sights of the new city. In the end, my new friend paid for the ride to his hotel and helped me and my bag arrive to my hostel for dirt cheap with no problem. He even extended his home in Oman to me in the future and we exchanged numbers.
You have to be what’s called discerning, meaning read situations or people and make good and appropriate judgments in response. Sometimes a gut feeling is good enough reason to trust someone, or to stay away.
Lastly, realize and accept now the fact that if you are in a dangerous situation you may have to get out of it on your own. Do this for the sake of your mental control and sanity. There’s no calling mommy or daddy or a taxi when your phone has been stolen and you’re out in the unknown. There’s no buying food, water, hotel or a plane ticket if your wallet and debit card was stolen and the country you’re in primarily operates in cash (or you don’t even have a credit card, which I will mention now is a huge mistake while traveling). There’s no going back home easily in time for school, your friend’s wedding, or work if your valuable belongings and passport are stolen (or worse, if you are kidnapped yourself).
Solo travelers are targets of thieves and scammers, because of your apparent weakness and naivity. Anywhere I go I have gotten double takes and stares from people, from both those who look friendly but curious as to why I’m alone and from those who don’t look so friendly and are watching where I go. For anyone I notice giving me too much attention, I change my path, look for groups of people to stay with, and or may make it known that I know they’re watching me with a simple stare back and smile. I am also the type of guy to be prepared for most situations and have thankfully not succumbed to overtly dangerous situations.
Lesson: Be strategic (or shrewd) as a serpent, wise as a king, and innocent as a dove when going out into the world. You may just be looking to have fun and learn a thing or two, but unfortunately there are people out there who lust or profit off of causing trouble. Discern and act quickly as necessary.
Time is Yours
The reason you want to avoid dangerous situations, enjoy romantic and platonic connections, and are traveling in the first place, is to see the world and have a good time! If you’re like me, then you’re also seeking after a vision with tangible goals! In essence, what you want is time.
Time is the mother of all resources; uncontrolled, untradable, and uncreatable. What it can be, is managed. When you’re traveling alone you do with your time as you wish. Want to fill your days with tours and excursions? Go for it, though I feel sorry for your wallet. Want to go out on dates with three different girls you’re “prospecting”? You have that option (not recommended, personally) as did a Spanish guy who I met. Want to just sleep in, read, write, pray, walk around the local markets and or do nothing all day like I do sometimes? Go for it. Nobody is your boss, you do as you please.
This feeling of freedom, I tell you, is well worth the fiscal, social and emotional costs of traveling alone.
What will be worth your time everyday, in the morning and evening right after waking up and before going to sleep, is giving thanks that you have another day to breathe and live, and that you will hopefully see your friends and family again soon. Those 3 minutes each are the best investment of time you can make while abroad, really.
Lesson: Time is yours to manage when you travel alone, so you can be as productive or lazy as you want. Life is a delicate balance, and there is a time for everything. Be sure to manage the little time you have wisely.
Conclusion: It Depends
So is traveling solo right for you? The answer is it depends.
Will you manage your time wisely to make the cost of traveling worth it? Will you be smart and avoid or navigate through dangerous situations appropriately? Can you handle romantic connections while abroad? Are you okay with being alone if it’s hard to connect with foreigners or locals in the area you’re in? Can you still have a good time with just you, yourself, and a backpack?
Whatever the answer is, there’s no shame. Everybody is different.
If you have any questions or want council on a specific topic, feel free to comment on my Facebook page or below. If you want to see pictures and videos of what I see and do while traveling alone, follow my Instagram.
Much love, peace and grace.
“Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home.” – Proverbs 27:8