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Aug 28 2012

When Is Travelling Solo Not Travelling Solo?

people, travellers, china, solo travel

One of my biggest concerns before I set off on my round the world adventure was the fear of not meeting other people and being on my own the whole time, particularly as an older than average traveller (older as in approaching 40).  I had no idea what to expect.  It really was a big adventure for me because I had never travelled on my own before.  In my mind, solo travel meant being on my own.  That might sound crazy to some of you but that’s what the word ‘solo’ means… to do something alone or unaccompanied and I took that literally.  I know that other first time travellers feel the same because this issue of travelling solo is often raised by people of all ages and it’s understandable because we are, by nature, social beings.  To go from being around family, friends and work colleagues or schoolmates to not knowing a soul in a foreign land where everything is different and unknown can be really scary, especially when you are going it alone for the first time.  I decided to write this post to allay some of the fears people have and show that travelling solo really doesn’t mean being on your own all the time and highlight a few of the ways you can meet others (travellers and locals alike).

Obviously, we are now in the technological age so this is one way of meeting other travellers heading in the same direction.  There seems to be an ever-increasing number of websites popping up that allow people to meet others or ‘match’ people who want to travel or are travelling and open to meeting up with others.  I am not particularly keen on some of them because they have a dating site feel about them.  I got in touch with some people before I left through Couchsurfing and TravBuddy.  I did so because of my concerns but, as I found out, there really was no need to worry.

Commonality

When you travel, you have something in common with other travellers which transcends age, race, nationality and language barriers. You are all in a similar situation (travelling in a foreign country) and have similar interests (travelling, finding out about other cultures, places etc.).  I met lots of fellow travellers from a number of different countries of varying ages as I travelled around the world and spent varying lengths of time with them, from a few hours to a couple of weeks.  The great thing is that all the usual barriers to meeting people seem to dissolve because you are all in a similar situation.  When I think back to how I met people, it amazes how it happened so naturally.  I met people in the strangest ways and circumstances and, as I travelled the well-trodden routes, I sometimes met the same people again in a different town or country.  That was bizarre; travelling in a different country and meeting people I knew!  It was like meeting up with old friends.  There’s also the opportunity of meeting and connecting with local people.  They are often intrigued by travellers and want to find out what you’re doing and where you are from.  The initial commonality is the interest you have in each other.  As you talk, you may find you have other things in common.  For me, connecting with people is part of the appeal of travelling.

Ways to met others while travelling

There were three main ways I met people.  Most of these encounters were serendipitous, which is the most interesting way to meet people in my opinion: where I was staying, travelling from one place to the next, and whilst eating out.  I have included just a few examples of how I met people to give you an idea of how it can happen by chance.

Accommodation
  1. I met lots of people at the places I stayed.  Hostels are a great way to meet other travellers, especially at breakfast or at evening events.  It gives you the opportunity to exchange stories and travel ideas and find other travellers going to the same places.
  2. One day, I arrived in Siem Reap by bus and started my usual trek to find accommodation.  I came across one called the Dead Fish and went in.  There was local guy working there who was about to show two other female travellers around and said I could go with them, so I did. He showed us around and pointed out that this room could be for the two girls and this one for me, or this one for the two girls and this one for me; you get the picture!  Then, as he showed us the last room, which had 3 beds, and said we could all share this room if we so wished.  I wasn’t fussed and, to my surprise, neither were the two girls.  As it was a cheap option, we decided to take it.  We got on really well so it was a good decision.
  3. I met a few other female travellers whilst staying in a hill tribe village.  I continued travelling with one of them from Thailand into Laos.  Once in Laos, we met a guy where we were staying and he was going the same way as us.  We then met two other girls on the 2-day boat journey so, for a few days, there were 5 of us travelling together.
  4. I couchsurfed some of the time and that gave me the opportunity of meeting local people and travellers.
Transport
  1. I kept meeting a Spanish guy on my travels around Southern China.  I first met him on a train.  The second time I met him, I was arriving as he was leaving a hostel.  The final time we met was when I had just checked into a hostel as he was walking down the stairs.  He said that he had met some other travellers and they were going to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next day.  I decided to go with them and, on the way there, we met another female traveller on the bus who joined us.  There were 6 of us for the trek by the time we got off the bus.
  2. I met a guy on a bus whilst travelling from Argentina back into Chile and ended up spending a couple of days exploring San Pedro de Atacama with him.
  3. I was on a train to Agra and I met a mother and daughter travelling around India.  We spent the day exploring the Taj Mahal together before saying our goodbyes.  I continued my journey to Jaipur and they returned to Delhi.  Amazingly, I met up with them again by chance as I was walking around Rishikesh so we spent time together exploring the area.
  4. I met a local girl on a long bus journey in India.  She was on holiday and travelling to where her family were on holiday.  We chatted for the latter part of the journey.
Eating Out
  1. I got talking to an English-Italian couple at a local vegetarian restaurant when I was in Vietnam.  We met up the next day and explored the area together.
  2. Having found a hospadaje in Puerto Natales, I went out for dinner on my own.  A traveller approached me and asked if I was intending to go to Torres del Paine National Park and very kindly gave me information about a trekking talk that was taking place the next day at one of the hostels.  I went along and found it very informative.  At the talk, I found 3 other solo travellers to do the trek with.

It’s up to you

Whether or not you meet people is up to you.  If you want to meet others and are open to that possibility, it will happen.  For me, it’s all part of the experience.  It’s great because you meet up for a period of time, whether it is just for a few hours or a couple of weeks before going your own way again.  Sometimes, I found it difficult saying goodbye to people I met en route but that is part of travelling solo.  I believe it gives you the best of both worlds: the opportunity to spend time with fabulous people in amazing places but also time on your own and the freedom to travel the way you want to.  I enjoy meeting up with other travellers but I also relish the time I have on my own because it gives me time to process the experience I have just had and prepares me for the next.

So, if being on your own is a concern, it doesn’t have to be because travelling solo doesn’t mean being on your own or unaccompanied for the whole time.  There are so many ways of meeting people, providing you want to meet others and are open to it.  Obviously, you must consider your own safety when travelling solo and meeting others.

For more information about independent travel, which includes travelling solo, check out my review of the book ‘Women on the Road’.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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  1. Life is a Journey - Independent Travel Help

    […] I started this blog about independent travel, I had been on an extended trip around the world, travelling solo for the first time.  I envisaged the blog being only for people interested in extended journeys. […]

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