Chal­leng­ing the men­tal no­tions of solo travel

What hap­pens when trav­el­ers get lost on pur­pose?


“Hap­pi­ness is only real when shared,” my cousin mes­saged me af­ter learn­ing about Christo­pher McCand­less, the 24-year-old American who chal­lenged him­self to travel around the United States car­ry­ing only a min­i­mal amount of money and be­long­ings. His goal was to work his way from At­lanta, Ge­or­gia to Alaska.

The quote is ar­guably the most pop­u­lar line writ­ten by McCand­less, who was a fre­quent solo trav­eler. He had man­aged to com­plete his Alaska trip but died four months af­ter achiev­ing his goal, al­legedly due to star­va­tion.

My cousin, who was then fas­ci­nated with trav­el­ing solo, fol­lowed up her mes­sage with the re­al­iza­tion that a trip be­comes sat­is­fy­ing when done with loved ones.

Trav­el­ing with some­one or a group is fun, for sure—also un­de­ni­ably cheaper and more con­ve­nient in many ways. But with all my pref­er­ences con­sid­ered, trav­el­ing alone suits me bet­ter.

I’ve been go­ing abroad solo since 2013. And even when I travel with friends and fam­ily, there are days I wan­der off alone by choice. I got the idea—and the guts to ac­tu­ally do

it—af­ter I, along with a col­lege friend, met some back­pack­ers in Ho Chi Minh. Over bot­tles of Bia Saigon, they told us how the ad­ven­ture of solo travel chal­lenges and lib­er­ates the soul, and I took men­tal notes as I en­vied ev­ery bit of their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Their sto­ries clung to me all through­out that Viet­nam trip and kept run­ning through my mind even af­ter we had re­turned. Just days af­ter ar­riv­ing in the Philip­pines, I de­cided to book a roundtrip ticket to Thai­land. “The time to go solo is now,” I told my­self.

Ac­cord­ing to Mary He­len Im­mordino-Yang, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion and psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, “The abil­ity to get out of your own so­cial com­fort zone [helps] you build a strong and ac­cul­tur­ated sense of your own self.”

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have also shown that trav­el­ing boosts one’s psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing by re­liev­ing stress, mak­ing a per­son hap­pier and leav­ing them more sat­is­fied. Be­ing alone, mean­while, also im­proves men­tal health. Psy­chol­o­gist Sher­rie Bourg Carter has said that soli­tude “gives you an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover your­self and find your own voice.”

Why do I con­stantly travel alone? The main rea­son is that I con­sider my trips as a break from the hec­tic and stress­ful life in ur­ban Manila. Once in a while, I en­gage in long solo va­ca­tions to recharge, chal­lenge my­self, re­flect, and eval­u­ate my life de­ci­sions.

Solo travel has taught me things I’d never imag­ined I’d do: I’ve learned to ditch ho­tel rooms in fa­vor of dor­mi­to­ries be­cause it would save me a lot of money. Strangers, re­gard­less of their skin color, gen­der, and age, could ac­tu­ally turn into good friends. I be­came un­afraid of get­ting lost be­cause it some­times leads me to un­ex­pect­edly beau­ti­ful places. Most im­por­tantly, I gained con­fi­dence and courage be­cause I had no one but my­self to rely on for sur­viv­ing the whole trip.

Trav­el­ing solo has its fair share of stress­ful mo­ments, too. I once booked the wrong ho­tel in Kolkata, In­dia and ended up sleep­ing in a dirty, damp room with no proper mat­tress. In Kam­pot, Cam­bo­dia I un­for­tu­nately stayed in a guest­house packed with bother­some ston­ers. I got stranded in the mid­dle of nowhere in Ba­gan, Myan­mar af­ter my e-bike’s bat­tery died. Nev­er­the­less, I con­sider these mishaps “good sto­ries to tell.”

Some say trav­el­ing alone is bor­ing and fool­ish; I beg to dif­fer. Peo­ple who choose this kind of jour­ney al­ways have in­ter­est­ing sto­ries to tell. They come back prob­a­bly a lit­tle bruised from the ad­ven­ture, but what they take home are unique ex­pe­ri­ences and life lessons most likely gained from the free­dom to choose their own ad­ven­tures.

I al­ways en­cour­age peo­ple to travel solo. Any­one can do it. It’s not just a jour­ney hinged on see­ing new places or tak­ing beau­ti­ful pho­tographs but also a process of dis­cov­er­ing and im­prov­ing one’s self.

“The abil­ity to get out of your own so­cial com­fort zone [helps] you build a strong and ac­cul­tur­ated sense of your own self.”

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