Question: Why are some people happy to venture afar sans a fellow traveler in tow, while other would-be adventurers pass precious time at home (when they could be away) waiting for family, friends, or partners to find either the time, money, desire, or some combination thereof, to get out and about abroad?
Answer: Sheer fear. Of the unknown. Of potential loneliness. Of who knows what. I can't tell you the number of times a friend has said something like, "Oh, you're so brave to travel by yourself." Or, "I've always wanted to go to _______. But I don't like traveling alone and can't find anyone to go with me." And when I ask if they've ever actually tried solo travel, the answer is invariably, "No."
I can understand the hesitation. The idea of roaming alone used to freak me out, too. And I still can't cotton to the idea of things like remote solo hikes or driving across the country by my lonesome. Too many real life horror stories spring to mind! But anyway. It wasn't until a friend invited me along on a trip to Europe that I finally got to Europe. Had I not had someone to hold my hand on that maiden voyage, I may well still be sitting at home dreaming of gondola rides down the Grand Canal, staring up at the actual Eiffel Tower (rather than that half-pint knockoff in Vegas), partaking of bona fide French pastries - hot out of a French oven, in France, and a million other priceless, cherished experiences, nuanced and not.
Europe in particular - I can say having been now, many times alone - is a joy to navigate without crutches. I mean, travel companions. There's so much to see and do, whether for a fee or for free, getting bored is hardly an option. And though the big, looming-L (loneliness) is a constant possibility, it's not to be feared. Feeling lonely is just a natural facet of being, after all. It's a mood that can strike anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Whether one is actually alone or not.
How often have we felt lonely at a party or among friends and family or with a romantic partner? It happens. C'est la vie, from time to time. And we get through it somehow, don't we? So don't let something lame like the mere possibility of a little loneliness, so commonplace and insignificant - in the grand scheme of things - stop you from taking a trip by yourself. Plus, when you're traveling alone, it's nearly impossible to avoid striking up a conversation of some kind with strangers. You'll meet people. Really, you will. Unless you go out of your way not to interact with anyone, that is! And yes, you can meet people and have a conversation, even if all you speak is English. How do you suppose someone from say, China and someone from Portugal are going to communicate with each other, beyond gestures? Why in English, of course.
Whether it's asking for directions, shop hours, how to find the nearest metro, or any number of queries one might expect from an out-of-towner, you're going to have myriad opportunities to make a buddy. Even if it's just a temporary connection.
And speaking of connections, have you not seen Before Sunrise or Before Sunset? What about Bread and Tulips? Lost in Translation? L'Auberge Espagnole? Surely you got sucked into the Eat, Pray, Love blitz or were at least vaguely aware of the basic storyline.
Where ever it is you've always dreamed of going, chances are it's a trip that you can safely take alone (provided you use common sense). If the destination is a bit more daring, you may have to organize a spot with a tour group or take a class of some kind, but hey - instant travel companions, right? You have only to be open to a different kind of trip, when traveling alone. Take the plunge without expectations and just enjoy it. You never know who you might meet or the kind of time you may have. Essentially, if you have the means and the free time, it boils down to Nike and De Niro - Just do it (Nike). If you don't go, you'll never know (Robert De Niro). And that - not going, never knowing - would truly be a senseless tragedy.
8/24/2011: Celebrate senior solo travel! Solo travel sites and tips for the mature traveler
What is holding you back from a solo adventure afar? If you used to be afraid or hesitant to travel alone, what finally got you to go? How did the trip turn out? For those who love solo travel as I do, what movies, books, blogs, or other media would you recommend to those who are still a bit timid when it comes to this kind of travel?