When you’re planning your trip around the world (“gap year” or your “Big OE”), one of the major things to think about is whether you’re going to travel alone or travel with friends.
Personally I put off traveling for years because I wanted to share my experiences with a good friend. Eventually after being let down several times by people who kept saying they would be coming along with me, I bit the bullet and bought myself a return ticket to Australia, valid for a year.
The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.
The first couple of weeks in Australia were possibly one of the most difficult times I’ve experienced, and I’m not talking about the jetlag which rendered me incapable of doing much at all!
After a few days, having got over the worst of the jetlag, I flew from Sydney to Perth as my intention was to travel up the West Coast of Australia. I spent a few days in Perth wondering what to do with myself. I went to the cinema by myself a few times but when I realized I had no-one to talk to about the film, it also hit me that I’d not spoken to another human being for the whole time I’d been there.
I’d been so freaked out about the whole traveling thing that I’d booked myself into a single room (I was shocked that the dorm accommodation was mixed more often than not) and therefore I hadn’t really found anyone to talk to. (This hostel was also full of long-termers who seemed annoyed by any newcomers to their turf!)
I went and had a coffee at one of the great cafes in Perth and I bombarded the poor waitress with a seemingly endless stream of pointless ramblings. It was at this point that I realized something had to be done…
Prior to arriving in Australia I’d booked a backpacker bus to take me up to Darwin. I’d decided that traveling solo meant that buying a car and driving all the way to Darwin was a No-No (too many horror stories of breaking down and no-one to be seen for days to help you). I also didn’t trust myself to find the right traveling companion. So I went around to the bus companies headquarters and booked myself onto the bus for the next day.
This was the best thing I could have done. Finally I had people to talk to and I’m still in contact (7 years later) with one of the guys who was on the bus that day. I came out of my shell, stopped being shy and realized I had to talk to people to keep myself sane.
“traveling alone meant I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, without (…) having to compromise.”
One of the best things I learned is that traveling alone meant I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, without having to consult anyone else or having to compromise. The backpacker bus I was on was also a “hop-on hop-off” bus, so people would come and go. If you got on particularly well with someone you could stay on the bus and decide to travel with them for a while. If you decided someone on the bus wasn’t your cup of tea then you could hop off the bus and wait for the next one.
It was an incredible freedom and one that I wouldn’t exchange for anything. I met many people on that bus (and subsequent others) who were traveling in pairs or threes and there were constant arguments about where they were going to stay for a few days, what they were going to do and even where they were going to eat that night. I saw many friendships strained to breaking point and also a few major break-ups of what seemed initially like perfect relationships.
The other thing I noticed about people who traveled with their friends is that they were less likely to talk to other backpackers. Not a problem you might think. Why would you need to speak to a complete stranger when you had your buddy with you? Well the people I met, and there were a lot of them, were some of the most interesting people I’ve come across. I’ve met people from all walks of life and had some incredible conversations. I’ve also met my fair share of muppets but they enriched my life in other ways. For example I’ve realized that I don’t like everyone and therefore not everyone will like me. When you come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t like you I think you become a lot happier in yourself.
I’m not saying that you should suddenly dump your traveling companion and travel solo but you should be aware that you don’t have to do everything together. If you want to scuba dive but your best mate really doesn’t want to, why let that stop you? He/she probably wants to do something that you don’t want to do. Go your separate ways for a few days or weeks and arrange to meet up later. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll be proud of yourself for having been able to do it. Don’t forget that most of the travelers out there are in the same position as you, we’re all waiting to share our experiences and give advice (sometimes unwanted but that’s another story).
I also discovered that I’d been very unlucky with my first choice of backpackers hostel. If you’re worried when you first set off and think you’ll find it difficult to meet people, don’t be! Go and surf the web and find reviews of backpackers hostels, find out which ones are friendly and stay in those.
Some hostels are against long term stayers purely because they can become a bit cliquey and make other guests feel unwelcome, others, like the one I ended up in when I arrived in New Zealand, welcome the long term guests because here those long-termers go out of their way to make newcomers feel a part of the family.
All in all it’s up to you whether you want to travel alone or with friends, my personal experience of travelling solo worked for me but we’re all different and that’s what makes it interesting! Share your experiences by commenting below.