Fear of Traveling alone: What’s It Like to Travel Solo?

What's it like to travel solo? Kevin Hayler in the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia
Yours truly traveling solo in the Simien Mountains

Does the fear of traveling alone hold you back? There’s good news, it’s never been easier to travel alone. The truth is, you are seldom alone for long. If you make an effort to say hello and smile, the world will come to you. ,

The fear of traveling alone is rational anxiety, yet the reality of solo travel is very positive. You’ll meet interesting people, have rewarding experiences, and discover endless opportunities opening-up around you. Traveling alone builds your character and opens your eyes to the ways the world.

Step out of your comfort zone and start planning your first solo trip. The world has shrunk. Most travel destinations are only a few hours away and the internet allows you to stay in touch with family members and your best friends. It’s not as daunting as you imagine.

If you want to do the same thing, read on.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Why Travel Alone?

My first trip alone was in 1987 and I’ve managed to get away most winters since that time because I made a part of my work. For over 20 years I’ve traveled the world looking for wildlife, making art, and selling them as prints to fund my trip the following year.

It all sounds straightforward as if it was my grand plan and I fulfilled my destiny. It was nothing like that, I had a few dreams and ticked them off as best I could. Like most people, I’ve bumbled along.

That first trip was life-changing for me. I was a very shy young man and overcoming my fears gave me confidence that I would never have found at home.

Traveling alone forced me to reach out when all my instincts are to shy back.

When I traveled I discovered another part of me. I could be the person I wanted to be and I wasn’t confined by the rules of my own culture. It was liberating.

I could live from day to day and put my worries behind me. I was free to dream and make plans.

I had great adventures, saw fantastic wildlife, and met great people. There was only one thing missing. I needed a better way to fund it all.

It was when I was backpacking in New Zealand that the Ah-ha moment hit me. I watched a local artist selling prints of his drawings and realized I could do that.

That’s how I started, and it was all because I was far from home and not weighed down by the everyday humdrum and responsibilities of everyday life.

This is how I make the money to go traveling

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Is it Lonely to Travel Alone?

This is one of the first questions I get asked when someone finds out that I travel alone.

The answer is yes – sometimes.

When you head off for months at a time, you’re not on a constant high. You have your ups and downs like anyone else in life. There are times when you have the sunset all to yourself and all you want is a travel buddy to share it with.

It’s at times like these when some travel companions would be welcome, but travel experience kicks in. I know from many years of traveling around the world that everything is temporary. It’s only when you accept that people will come and go all of the time that solitude ceases to be so lonely.

Your next best friend is just around the corner, if not today, then tomorrow. The longest I’ve traveled without company is about a week, not so bad in 30 years of solo travel.

And when I say ‘company’, I mean companion backpackers. The truth is you’re never alone if you fully engage with the locals. Yes, foreign language barriers can be problematic, but technology allows you to communicate like never before. It’s so easy.

You don’t have to be fluent in several languages, all you need is Google Translate and you’re all set.

Loneliness is a mindset.

When I first traveled I was often lonely. I was young and had this self-imposed pressure to have the time of my life. I thought that socializing, partying, and meeting a few girls along the way was everything, and to that end, I gravitated towards ‘popular’ places.

That was a mistake!

I came to learn that real loneliness only occurs in crowded places, and the best times to be had are away from that superficial hedonist crap.

The best places and most interesting times, are to be found off the beaten track. I look for new places that have some basic infrastructure, like a few homestays and guesthouses, and are run by friendly and informative hosts. I especially like places that provide communal dining so it’s easy to meet new friends

In short, you meet more interesting people, and have a better time, in quiet places.

Is it Safe to Travel Solo?

By and large, this world is a remarkably safe place and I say that having traveled to some very unstable places. With a little bit of research and common sense, you can avoid trouble.

I travel to Asia a great deal and when I’m asked about safety I reply that it’s a damned sight safer in most of Asia than it is in my own country.

You are unlikely to be physically harmed in most places, and SE Asia is particularly safe. You are far more likely to get hurt in a road accident than by being mugged.

Normal precautions still apply and you must get travel insurance, but with that said, I first went away in 1987 and in all that time, I’ve only made a claim once, and that was to fly home from Bali at the start of the Pandemic.

Have I ever been mugged? Yes. And it happened because I broke every rule in the book. Everything bad thing that’s ever happened to me was my fault in some way or another.

Blame it on naivety, and pointless bravado, but all my mishaps were avoidable. I didn’t ask for trouble but on the other hand, I needlessly put myself in harm’s way.

If you are told that a place is unsafe, FOR GOODNESS SAKE LISTEN! because it’s probably true. If you are approached by strangers in a big city, unannounced and out of the blue, they are probably up to no good.

You wouldn’t walk off with a stranger who approached you at home, so why do it abroad?

Every society has its conmen, predators, and low-life. Parasites are a subset of society and just because you are in another culture doesn’t mean that things are so different. People are the same everywhere even if the rules and customs are not.

South-East Asia is by far the easiest, cheapest, and safest destination.

If security and personal safety are your greatest concerns, then look no further. There are a few anomalies, notably parts of the Philippines and perhaps Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia but nothing much to worry about if you’re diligent.

India is also pretty safe. Anyone would think otherwise if you listen to the news, but in truth, physical harm to tourists is very rare. Trickery, however, is an art form. There are so many common scams, it should be included in their GDP.

Women have a much harder time than men. Solo female travelers do get hassled in India. The term Indians use for molesting women is ‘Eve-Teasing’. Western women, in particular, are regarded as loose and promiscuous, but Indian women have to deal with these creeps all the time too.

Some respite is to be had by having ‘women only’ train carriages and separate lines for queuing. In the south, they even segregate the buses with the women at the rear and the men up front.

How does a lone female cope? The answer is to be assertive. Indian men find it hard to deal with assertive women. Many Indian men are immature around women, and those women who fight back, send them scampering.

It’s unsurprising that many women decide to team up and travel together, not just for the company, but for the added security.

There is no need to be paranoid, your main fear is the unknown. When you don’t know what to expect your mind goes into overtime. Your first solo travel adventure is a leap in the dark and you’ve every right to be nervous.

You’re at your most vulnerable when you first land in a different country. I always try to land in the middle of the day and I pre-arrange accommodation. It’s far safer to have a clear destination to head for, in broad daylight.

I get the directions to my accommodation and research my transport options from the airport. This is the crucial point. If you are going to get cheated anywhere on your trip it’s likely to be exiting the airport using a local taxi. You don’t know the city and you don’t know the prices.

Thank goodness for cab-hailing apps and Google maps. They have changed the game. It’s so much easier now than it was. Major airports have wifi and most sell sim cards for tourists.

Now you can download the local apps, get your bearings, judge the distances, and check the right taxi fares before you even leave the airport.

How Do You Meet People When You Travel Alone?

The rules and social constraints about meeting people at home hardly apply when you travel on your own. You’ll meet and greet new people in a way that quickly becomes second nature

In fact, it becomes so normal to smile and say hello that it comes as a sobering shock when you return home to miserable faces.

All traveling solo, Backpackers all sitting looking at their devices
A chatty bunch of solo travelers

The only fly in the ointment is the mobile device!

It has never been easier to get away from home and never been easier to take home with you. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

We all use our smartphones and laptops but it’s often a cop-out and an excuse to be shy.

If you want to meet people you have to be proactive. That means when you enter a dorm, you say hello, ask questions, and make eye contact.

You have to leave your reserve at home.

As I stated before, the most effective way to meet the best travelers is to get off the backpacker treadmill entirely. As soon as you get off the beaten track you’ll meet more people, not less.

If a place is a hassle or inconvenient to get to, the masses stay away and you get to meet the few guys that made the effort. The guys you meet tend to be more interesting and, in turn, more interested in you.

Breaking the ice is easier in offbeat places tool. If nothing else, you have one thing in common, you are both in the same obscure place, at the same time, and probably for the same reason. You’ll have plenty to talk about.

I don’t go on many organized tours but if you are fed up with your own company, a group trip is often the easiest way to meet new people. Day walks and excursions can be great fun.

The best advice I can give anyone is to always say ‘Hi’, even if sometimes you get nothing back. If you wait for someone to come to you then you might have to wait a very long time.

There is no time to waste on a trip. It’s either instant friendship or a waste of energy.

The best advice I can give anyone is to always say ‘Hi’, even if sometimes you get nothing back. If you wait for someone to come to you then you might have to wait a very long time.

There is no time to waste on a trip. It’s instant friendship or a waste of energy.

Where Do Lone Travelers Stay?

I prefer homestays and guest houses. I like my own single room, preferably with a porch or sitting area outside. I look for a common dining area and/or a communal garden, places where there’s a good chance to meet the other guests.

I avoid places with a central TV, pool table, and a bar. They are anti-social. It’s not just an age thing, I hated them when I was younger too. If something is ‘cool’ let the ‘cool’ have it.

What Do Travelers Do All Day?

That’s a tricky one to answer easily because on a long-haul trip you often have days of doing very little. You can’t be on the road all the time, sometimes you just want to stop and chill.

Days are broken up doing domestic things, eating, and chatting. Your pace of life slows down so things take longer to do than they would at home. For instance, I’m quite happy taking an hour to shave and doing my laundry by hand.

I might read or write. Go for a swim, rent a scooter, or go for a stroll. It’s nice to team up with others for a day out. We might end up in a beauty spot, like a waterfall or a viewpoint, or catch a bus to some landmark or other.

We might go for a hike along a trail, a beach, or perhaps to the top of a hill.

For your interest: My Budget Camera for Wildlife Photography

Time drifts by and before you know it, the day is done.

When you decide to move on, traveling itself is something to do. You must pack your bags, arrange transport to the bus or train station, and when you arrive you must find a taxi to your hotel and settle in.

After you’ve freshened up you will find out what to do in and around town and where’s best to eat.

The next day you’ll have breakfast and set out to see the sights or do the activities that brought you there.

And so it goes on. If there is no one to share the day with, I will go alone, but usually, you meet people along the way.

The traveling experience is the only way that I can live in the moment. There’s only the present to occupy your thoughts, and that’s highly addictive.

Is it Boring to Travel Alone?

Yes, boredom can kick in. I find that after 3 months I hit a wall. I’m fed up with traveling, tired of small talk, all the temples look the same, and everything gets repetitive.

I like to stop and gather my thoughts. I want to see the same faces every day for a while and get to know people on a less superficial level. My motivation will return in a week or two. Traveling is very tiring.

I find that having an objective or project helps me to focus and alleviate boredom. I used to take a sketchbook on every trip. These days I have a laptop and I write. I will develop drawing ideas, take photos, and make plans.

When I’m really bored I’ll watch a movie or catch up with news from home. This is one area of the traveling life that has really changed. Now you have entertainment on-demand in most places and it is very comforting.

There was a time when all you had was a reading book or an old newspaper to read. If you were very lucky you might pick up a signal on a world radio and listen to some crackling rubbish. Then if all else failed you sat down and wrote postcards or your travel journal.

That all seems like a very long time ago now.

Is Traveling Alone Expensive?

Travel in some parts of the world is as cheap as chips. Everyday life is very affordable, it’s the activities that will eat your budget.

Everything depends on how you spend your money and how much you are prepared to compromise.

Are you independent enough to arrange your own transport, hotel room, and tour guides? If so, you will save a fortune on tour fees.

Do you mind staying in the occasional dump if it means being able to afford something else? Will you camp? Will you eat street food?

The more corners you can cut the cheaper things will be. Now there comes a point when the savings you make are not worth the pay-off. In that case, you have found your limits and you can budget accordingly.

There really is no point in denying yourself the real pleasures if you don’t experience what you came for.

Do you want to know how I can pay for my trips? Read this: How Can People Afford to Travel?

Set yourself a target sum of money and save like crazy. If you are motivated and have a clear end in sight you can save up enough money to get away for months at a time.

Cut down on booze

One way to waste a chunk of your budget is to drink too much. Many people drink their way around the world and spend a fortune in the process. Is drinking so important that it should represent a significant percentage of your budget? It does for many, but why? I’m not sure.

Take local transport

Many travelers spend unwisely on transport. Public transport is very cheap in much of the world and the vast majority of places are accessible. The poorest people have services available to them so why not use them too?

Many backpackers choose the easy and ‘safe’ option. A tourist minibus picks you up at your hotel and trundles you off with the other like-minded ‘adventurers’ and drops you off at a tourist trap of your choice, that’s if you’re not cheated. You pay a premium for convenience.

Another expense occurs when you travel too much. By that, I mean moving from place to place frequently and not staying in one place for any length of time.

First-time travelers tend to rush around ticking off new destinations and experiences as if there was no tomorrow. Quite apart from being exhausting, it’s a sure way of spending more money and meeting fewer people.

It’s better to do fewer things and to do them well.

The trick is to slow down. Enjoy where you are and who you meet. You’ll save money by eating locally and on transport. If it means missing a few sights and changing your travel plans, does it matter much? Come back another time or just accept that you can’t see or do everything in life.

Choice of accommodation

Single travelers are at a disadvantage when it comes to a bed for the night. If the price is per room and not per person your bills will be double that of a couple sharing.

If you team up and are willing to share that’s great. You can save, but you don’t always want to sleep in the same room as a travel mate.

Dorms are the obvious answer but they don’t exist everywhere.

Typical Guest house in the Banda Islands, the spice islands, Indonesia
The window on the right was my room in the Banda Islands

In general, I don’t take a tent with me. In most parts of the world, they aren’t essential or, where they are, they can often be rented.

I do take a tent to Africa. The only way to cut costs dramatically is to camp in the national parks. It does mean lugging around Kilos of extra gear but that’s the price you pay for traveling affordably.

The Advantages of Traveling Alone

There’s no doubt about it, you’ll have more incredible experiences traveling alone. You’re forced to reach out and take a few risks. There aren’t constraints holding you back.

If solo adventures are to be had, the chances are, you’ll be alone when they happen. You’ll meet more locals and end up in situations you’d never experience back home. You’ll encounter the hospitality and kindness of strangers and be welcomed as a guest, and as a friend.

Lone travel is alien to most societies and especially so regarding single women. It flies against cultural norms. Anyone traveling alone is a curiosity, and even more so for a woman. It may indeed be the cause of some concern. Your safety will be important to people and help is usually at hand.

Far from being a threat, most people are pleased to meet you, proud of their country and/or community, and happy to guide you safely on your way.

You will discover that your material needs are few in life, and your home really is where you lay your hat. You’ll learn to say hello and make friends at lightning speed. You’ll also be saddened by saying goodbye far too often.

Some days will be so action-packed you will look back and wonder how you managed to do so much. Time blurs and you’ll get confused about what you did, when, and where. Days will roll into one and weeks will fly by.

Your world can change in the span of a single journey. A new world is only a few hours away.

Travel hits your senses in every way, there is nothing else like it. It’s addictive and the freedom of going where you like, and doing what you wish, is only possible alone.

Are There Any Bad Travel Experiences?

You bet. Not everything is wonderful, but isn’t that the point of traveling, to see all sides of life?

Some poverty is distressing, some tricksters are out there looking for victims, and some officials are corrupt. These are the travails of travel. Will you be kidnapped? Very unlikely.

You will get cheated at some point. It’s usually petty. You will get angry, you will get tired, and occasionally, you will get ill. It’s almost always very minor ailments.

You will lose and break things, sometimes you’ll get things stolen, no matter how careful you are.

Bad things can happen.

The best way to cope, in my experience, is by turning your negative experiences into a story. Let’s face it, no one cares about the great time you had, they want to know the dirt!

Experiences are your anecdotes, and if you have insurance, have you lost much? Not really.

Fear of Traveling Alone: Final Thoughts

Should you travel alone? If you are shy it will build your confidence. If you are young, it will strengthen your character. It will open your eyes to the world around you.

The vast majority of encounters and experiences will enrich your life. Even the everyday hassles can be a life lesson.

You will learn to appreciate the good things about home. Traveling alone will put things into perspective and help you to prioritize the most important things in life.

If you really want to travel, don’t let the fear of traveling alone stop you. If I hadn’t battled against my insecurities and got on that first flight I wouldn’t have had the experiences and life that I’ve had.

Set yourself the challenge, change your life, and give it a go.


Pygmy elephants pencil drawing
‘Kindred Spirits’ My drawing of the pygmy elephants I saw in Borneo

I’ve paid for my trips by selling my art. I’ll show you how if you want to do the same thing. It’s not a dream, you can do it, just copy me.

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