I didn’t used to be cool about this. In the past I’ve been in relationships where the thought of even a weekend away by myself wouldn’t even cross my mind, let alone a 3 month long backpacking adventure..
The first time I ever experienced travelling alone was 8 years ago.. when a break up and a break down at work propelled me to take the leap (like so many others) to follow my dream, quit my job and travel the world.. and I’ve never looked back.
It’s a shame that we often have to experience these “Do or die” type moments to have such a leap of faith but I’m learning more and more to just act on what I want to do rather than be restricted by circumstance, and least of all by another person..
Because that’s just it. To feel restricted in terms of travelling alone, by our partner is no more a fact of them restricting us as it is us feeling restricted by what is seen to be “a bit strange” by not only society but often friends and family too.
And for many people it would seem complete pointless.. why on earth would you want to travel without your loved one or best friend by your side? To share all the amazing moments with.. experience new sights, sounds, smells, food together.. I get that. That’s equally as important too. But there’s something you get from travelling alone that is so much greater and deeper for yourself.. for your mind.. for your soul..
You can do what you want, when you want, how you want..
We’ve all been on holiday with a loved one and had that argument about where to eat, what place to visit, what time we should leave to get to a certain place on time... but it’s not this that I’m necessarily talking about. When you are travelling solo, you literally are on your own time.
You have no obligation to ANYONE.
There is no free-er feeling than waking up knowing you have a whole day ahead of you to fill with whatever you like and nobody else to consider. It sounds selfish but that’s because it is! When we travel with other people, we (and I included) are generally easy going and happy to eat in whatever restaurant or go along with what the other person wants because we genuinely do not mind! And often we put our loved ones happiness before our own without a second thought.
Without even noticing we are into the same things they are into... but are we really?? When you are alone, you only do the things you REALLY want to do.. you follow your passions, without fear of judgement or making sure your companion is happy. You do every single thing for yourself and that’s what brings you back to being YOU.
You Make Deeper Connections
I’ve always been a bit of a social butterfly with new faces, in or out of a couple, but I have found that when I’m alone the connections I make tend to be much deeper. Knowing you don’t have your loved one or best friend to return to each day, pushes you out of your comfort zone and we naturally are pushed to make more of an effort to make friends.
More recently, however, I started to realise how much I also enjoy my own company.. therefore instead of latching on to the nearest passer by for companionship I often find myself being instinctively more selective with who I chose to spend my time with, and therefore the connections I’ve made have been fewer but much deeper.
Just last year I met a 19 year old boy in Huacachina in Peru who was wise beyond his years.. it was one of those meetings where you just instantly have this strong (almost spiritual) connection towards each other that you just can’t explain. It wasn’t sexual at all of course, just a special bond, like one of those people who make your heart smile just when you think of them. I don’t think my mind or heart would have been quite as open to this had I been travelling with friend..
You Develop New Strength and Skill
I’ve been in some weird and wonderful places and some not so wonderful. Inevitably there are ups and downs of travelling solo, but it’s in those dark or challenging moments you find an inner strength.
Hiking through pouring rain and thick mud for 5 hours, camping alone in a lightning storm, being the only blonde white girl in a crowd of Indian men all staring, and being offered money whilst waiting at a bus stop in the dark because some guy thought I was a prostitute (?!!)... there are countless situations I have found myself in that I wouldn’t choose to repeat, but when you have nobody else to fall back on, you learn to push through the tough situations and become a stronger person for it..
Another aspect of this is if you are trying to learn the language of the country you are travelling in - if you are the only English speaking person around a bunch of Argentinians, you are going to pick up Spanish pretty quickly. This was something I was desperate to do, and although I’d have loved to have shared many moments of my South American travels with my boyfriend, I knew that if we travelled together there in the beginning, I would end up relying on his fluent Spanish and quash the need to improve mine.
Instead I threw myself in head first, alone, purposefully booked hostels that didn’t speak English, booked tours even only in Spanish.. and yes it was confusing and lonely at time’s but eventually, each day I learned a little bit more so by the time my boyfriend did join me for a couple of weeks in Colombia, I was able to join in with all sorts of conversations with the locals, instead of sitting on the side line and waiting to be translated to (a scenario all to familiar back home around our Spanish speaking friends!)
Of course there is a flip side...
Travelling alone when you’re in a relationship with someone goes without saying.. you kind of have to be cool with the other person going off and having their own adventure.
In recent years, I have always been the one to be heading off, and my boyfriend has always been fully supportive of it - so likewise I have to be too. I’ll be honest.. in the past I have had all kinds of thoughts running through my head. For example “what if he meets someone else?” is probably the biggest fear any of us could have in this situation... but because I have this huge appreciation of travelling alone and I think it’s something everybody should experience at least once in their life, it’s something I embrace. I mean why wouldn't you want someone you care about to have this amazing experience too?
So when I received a photo earlier this month of him stood by the pyramids, my heart smiled. The old me of 10 years ago would have been insanely jealous... thinking “why wouldn’t he want me there too?”.. but this version, not only accepts the need for people to have their own experiences, I celebrate it. And every point I’ve made above in this blog (that is getting way too long now! - Thank you if you're still reading!) is exactly why I’m so happy for him to be experiencing the same things I have..
Ironically, I write this as I’m about to board a plane to Rwanda, to go meet him for a 2 month adventure, dusty-road-drive through to Cape Town. Camping all the way, it is going to be intense, challenging and full of ups and downs.. Am I freaking out a bit about travelling for so long together in harsh conditions? A little.. Is he? Probably.. but this is one trip I didn’t want to do alone..
Because honestly, there comes a time in your life when you see those type of sunrises that take your breath away, and you don’t wish the other person was by your side. Because they already are.
To be continued...