Backpacking alone – my thoughts as a solo traveller

Backpacking King Taskin National Park

I hear questions all the time about backpacking alone. Is it safe? Don’t you get bored on your own? Don’t you get lonely? How do you meet people? The types of people who ask these questions are usually people who struggle to be outgoing without the comfort of their friends. I used to be the same, until I got sick and tired of being let down, or put in situations I didn’t want to be in. I wanted to go the cinema; I wanted to go on a night out around town; I wanted to go to a music festival; I wanted to do a lot of things, but my friends were not always available. This used to mean I just didn’t go, until one day, I thought, “you know what, I’m not waiting around for anyone anymore, if I want to do something, I’ll do it with or without my friends.”

That for me was a turning point in my life, the point where confidence in myself started to grow. I remember the first time I went on a night out on my own, I was so nervous, hoping nobody would realise I was alone. After I overcame the initial nerves, I actually enjoyed more, going out on my own, than with my friends. Why? Because I was free to do whatever I liked, and it improved my confidence, as I was put into a social environment which forced me to socialise. It was either that, or be the “weird” guy who stands in the corner all night. From that point on, I stopped caring what others thought of me, and most of my interests I pursued alone. Whether it be going the cinema to watch a film, going fishing for the day, or going to a musical festival, being alone just didn’t matter anymore.

Backpacking Mae Sariang

So when I took an interest in backpacking, going alone was not a problem, but from knowing the person I used to be, I can totally understand why people would ask me such questions regarding my solo travels. Is it safe to go backpacking alone? My response to that would be, “Do you have any common sense?” as that’s all you need to help avoid dangerous situations. Of course, sometimes you might end up in a dangerous situation, but if you have done your research, and you’re prepared for the situation, then you’re more likely to come out of it safe and well.

People have asked, “Don’t you get bored on your own?” Of course I get bored, but being alone doesn’t make it any more boring. Actually, I probably get less bored on my own, as I am always doing the things I want to do. If I find myself getting bored, I remind myself of all the things I enjoy doing, and choose one to pursue for a few while. If I find myself becoming bored too often, it’s usually time to move on to a new place. Some places just feel right, and I will stay for longer than usual, feeling very content. Others will not, and I will leave after a few days.

Half way up woop woop

Another question people ask is, “How do you meet people?” For me, I’ll talk to anyone, as I now find conversating easy, but I can understand the question if you were shy and not used to talking to people you didn’t know. The best way to meet people is to stay in hostels, preferably dormitories where you’ll be surrounded by likeminded travellers. All you have to do then is open your mouth, and more often than not, you’ll start hanging out with your new travel buddies around town.

Backpacking alone was never meant to be easy, you’ll take on all the problems you face alone, but I can assure you it will make you a stronger person with more life experience, and a better understanding of yourself, your values, and hopefully, your overall direction in life. Now I’m not saying backpacking with others is a bad thing, it’s great to share experiences, but you will find a lot more opportunities will be open to you if you’re travelling solo, all you have to do is take them.

Good luck and safe travels.

Peace and love,

Jonathan x

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15 Responses

  1. Pandi says:

    Brilliant! I also started with concerts and clubs and I travelled alone to other countries on the train when I was only 16. Didn´t have common sense at that age but I have developed it now. I agree that you need to confront fears. I was quite withdrawn and used to being on my own so there was a lot to overcome in terms of opening up to others. Most of all, the experiences with others have enriched me, whereas being on my own made me aware of certain thought processes and reactions. One more thing, to quote my favourite movie (Into the wild) Happiness is only real when shared 🙂

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I don’t agree with the quote though, I think happiness is real whether experienced alone, or with others. I think that the level of happiness is likely to be heightened when shared. I don’t need others to validate the existence of my happiness, I know when I’m experiencing happiness, I only wish it would stay with me longer. Perhaps more meditation is required 🙂 Please share your own thoughts on that quote.

  2. Louise says:

    I like this post Jon San, very candid and encouraging for budding solo travellers 🙂 xxx

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the kind words Louise. I hope my post will inspire others to give it a go. I would love to hear more feedback and thoughts on this subject, it would make an interesting conversation.

  3. Niki says:

    Great interesting post! I used to let my friends stop me from doing things I wanted to do too – if they weren’t going to a party I wanted to go to, more often than not I would stay home. But when I did go alone I always had a great time! Since then I’ve been on short trips alone in India, China, Hong Kong and this month I’m going to Cambodia for two weeks alone and I can’t wait. Recently I’ve been discussing with a friend my jacking in my job and flat etc here in the UK and going on a proper travelling jaunt for a few months next year – and the reaction from him has been all negative. It was assumed that I must be “running from something”, that “everyone is in the same boat”, “everyone must have a job” etc etc. Very much this ‘work to pay bills’ mentality, and just be happy with the weekends and a two-week holiday a year if you’re lucky. He even suggested that, if I was so unhappy with my current life (boring as hell 9 to 5 grind) that I should seek counselling! And, I’m sad to say, I was almost convinced by his opinion. Maybe there really was something wrong with me for not being able to enjoy this kind of life like so many others seem to… It’s easy to be turned away from things you want to do or be convinced that your travelling ideas really are crazy by the opinions of people you care about, and who care about you – you assume they must know what they’re talking about. But then I realised that I was STILL letting my friends (and family for that matter) try to move me away from what I want to do, from something that I know will make me happy. So please excuse my language, but I suddenly thought f**k this sh*t. I’m going. Giving everything up and travelling may not be right for your family or friends, but if it’s right for you then just do it! Be careful, be safe, have common sense as Jonathan says. But take my advice – if everyone around you is telling you no, don’t discuss it endlessly with them, trying to convince them that you know what you’re doing, as chances are it won’t work. If you’re sure this is what you want to do, just quietly book a flight, start planning, and tell them that this is what you are doing, so they’d better just accept it. It’s your life after all.

    God bless (and thanks Jonathan for all the wonderful inspiration you’re giving to everyone)

    P.S. And I love Into the Wild too, but I also don’t agree that happiness is only real when shared. You know when you’re happy, whether other people are there or not. I guess it’s just a social human need to share experiences that can make it seem more valid… but not more real.

    • Jonathan says:

      Niki, you’re totally right. I’m exactly the same. I would tell my mum (I tell her everything) what my plans where, and all I would hear were negative comments. I suppose it’s natural for her to worry about me, but I knew that it was just that, and went ahead with it. Now, I do what you say; I take action, then tell her afterwards when it’s already done 😉 Your friend sounds like he’s been sucked into the trap of ‘everyday’ life, and it made my laugh how he told you that you needed counselling 😀 funny shit! Thanks for you kind words, and keep me up to date on your adventures in Cambodia 🙂 Happy travels, Jonathan.

  4. Rob says:

    Hey mate been keeping up with you posts but got to say really like this one glad your haveing fun and hope to hear from you soon also sent you an email like a month ago did you get it?

  5. Pandi says:

    Love this discussion Niki and Johathan. I guess the reason why I quoted Into the Wild is well, a long story… I started travelling in 2009 when I did my working holiday in New Zealand…alone at 26! Everybody thought I was crazy because I was excited about living in a tent ( whichI did for 6 weeks) and picking apples o_0 I did a lot of hiking (tramping as kiwi´s call it), hitchiking (a great way to meet people) but even though it was so isolated there I always met amazing people along the way. I think the state of mind you are in determines the outcome. I have been happy on my own, and I have been happy with others, But now after Asia, Eastern Europe, and finally Africa (where I live now) I do feel the downside of living and moving on a whim;as a rolling stone. The lasting friendships are with people on 3 different continents, my family is still in the same place and I never can afford to see them, nor can they afford to see me (They live in the USA and I have seen them once since 2009) and what little family I have in Europe is too tied up in their “grind” to visit me so I try to scrape up what little money I have to visit them but it def feels like I am somewhat lost and forgotton. well write me back! adious

  6. Zaid says:

    Great post and sound advice. There is so much to see and do out there – no reason to ever say you are ever bored in life. I like sharing the experience, and travelling with others, but if nobody is willing to visit at the same time / go to the same place as me, then I don’t mind going alone.
    People always say that they can’t believe how I do things alone- but I don’t… well not always. I try to go to places where I can meetup with others / make new friends, and move around with like-minded travellers. Just havent hanged out at a club / party alone yet.
    With travelling, I’ve traded my need for objects / expensive materialistic possessions for new experiences and adventure. I wish more people at home “got it”!

    • Jonathan says:

      When you decide to go clubbing alone. You’ll realise how much more fun it is to be free to roam without worrying where your friends are. I met my girlfriend whilst out on my own – the best way my friend 😉

  7. Dec says:

    Good insights.

    A great way to meet people is to go on adventure trips. I have been on a few tours with Exodus and Explore and they were excellent. My other main tips for solo travellers are…

    1. Stay in hostels, they are THE BEST place to meet other travelers.

    2. If there are no hostels, go on 1 or 2 day activity outings, e.g. diving, climbing, canyoning, etc. They are another great way to meet people.

    3. Carry your smartphone with you and join websites like Travlbuddy, and VivTrav to help meet other people (like me 🙂 None of them are perfect, but they are useful.

    4. Go on a backpacker bus, e.g. Paddywagon or Backpacker tours. They are brilliant also and a great way to hook w the ladies 🙂

  8. Roshan says:

    Hello, I am currently working/travelling in Oz and as a first time solo traveller. I find your post very comforting knowing everyone else is in the same boat. I have been staying at hostels and met a few people but still am struggling to find a good set of friends. I hope this is something that will eventually sort itself out but as a first time solo traveller I still feel pretty nervous! Sometimes It feels like this nervousness is hindering my enjoyment. Thanks for the post, its very helpful

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for stopping by Roshan. Just concentrate on yourself and what you enjoy doing, meeting new people is only half the fun of travelling solo! Good luck on your travels, I’m glad my words comforted you.

  9. Katelynn says:

    I love this! It kinda inspired me to realize that yes! Your never alone if you have yourself! Its so awesome to see that you have had such an amazing experience traveling solo. Do you ever wish you could enjoy certain moments with another ?

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