Travelling alone was the only option when I went to Asia for two years. It was what I aspired to, what I planned for and what I built up to. The first page of my book, 9 Months in Tibet, is about overcoming my fear of travelling alone.
Although I had a loving girlfriend before I went on my travels in didn’t occur to me to ask her to come with me on my trip to Shanghai, a destination I planned to reach by hitchhiking. I told her that when I left that was it: the relationship was over (that’s not how she saw it, but that’s another story).
I have always believed that independent travel is something you do on your own, and I was inspired by the old saying “he who travels alone travels farthest.”
It was only when I got to India that I realised the obvious: most people travel with their “significant others” (as the politically correct would say). I noticed that most of these couples looked thoroughly fed up which wasn’t surprising considering that they’d been living on top of each other for months.
Back home I met people who were planning trips to the other side of the planet with their boy/girlfriend and it would have been unforgivably rude to say to one of them: “I suggest you dump the partner and go on your own”.
But I do urge anyone who is considering future travel to seriously think about doing it on their own.
1. You Meet More People
Part of my fear of travelling alone was the prospect of being lonely, of being ignored and not being able to meet people. In fact, I met people continually and often it was a challenge to find a moment of peace. It’s not hard to work out why this is the case: it’s so much easier to talk to someone who’s alone than a couple, or a group, especially if they’re both looking rather pissed off with each other. In two years of travelling alone I don’t remember one moment when I was lonely; I made friends almost every day.
2. It’s Cheaper
When I’m travelling on my own I can really economise and this is essential when travelling on a budget. When I’m travelling with a loved one I am much more inclined to visit restaurants and stay in comfortable hotels now and again – somehow to indulge in these luxuries seems more justified when someone else wants them. I find it a lot easier to impose a strict regime on myself than a partner.
3. More Flexibility
When you’re alone you can change plans and adjust schedules whenever you please. You don’t need to ask, discuss, cajole, persuade and argue. With some partners making changes is effortless but with others it can result in nasty clashes, and when these happen frequently the whole journey can be spoiled. I remember doing cycle tours with other people – there was always a mismatch about speed: with one partner I was too fast and with the other one I was too slow. In both cases, someone felt slow and humiliated. When I travel, or cycle, on my own I can find my own pace, work out my own routines and have a much more interesting time.
4. Avoid Poisonous Relationships
After travelling alone for two years in Asia I have three observations about “traveller’s relationships”: living intensively together for several months puts the most stable relationship under tremendous strain; it’s difficult to end a relationship when you’re on the other side of the world (one, or both, of the partners usually don’t want to be left to fend for themselves – so they’re stuck.) My third observation was that I avoided getting entangled in a relationship when I was travelling; it would have restricted my freedom of movement too much.
5. It’s More Creative Alone
When you’re travelling alone there is a much bigger chance that your creative side will come out. When I travelled I used to write a page-a-day diary, for years, but when I got married I found it really hard to sustain. I also got into restoring Tibetan frescoes but you’ll have to get my book to read about that. Some people like to draw, paint or write but these are rather solitary activities that are best done alone. A disgruntled partner who makes sarcastic comments about your work can be totally discouraging (and the usual “I was only joking” apology does nothing to rekindle your lost sense of creativity).
That’s what I think. What’s your opinion about travelling alone? Please add your comments below.
Photo credit: Manuela Boghian
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