Often times, I tell my friends and family back at home that I am venturing off to Vietnam & Cambodia for a few days, or I am going to try backpacking through Myanmar (Burma) for some odd number of weeks, or that I have decided to run away to Thailand to see every city from Chiang Mai in the North to Ko Phi Phi in the South. And believe it or not, the questions are always the same; Where is (insert destination here)?What’s there to do in (insert different exotic destination here)? Why don’t you just go someplace closer? Isn’t that too long of a flight? Is it safe? Whom are you going with?
And while the people I may be telling are a bit biased Americans who have not left the country much, nor have much of a desire to travel, it never fails that I end up answering these questions more than I should. But that’s more then alright, because to me part of the fun of traveling to these exotic destinations is being able to talk about all these exciting places I am jet-setting off to with my friends and family. I enjoy getting to share all of my experiences I incur on my travels, and always come back with a plethora of unprecedented stories.
But more often than not, I am heading off to a lot of these exotic destinations alone, and people are genuinely concerned about my safety and well-being traveling to countries they’ve barely even learned about in school. However, I am not writing this blog post to discourage you from traveling, I am actually trying to do the opposite. You see, I have spent a greater portion of the last few months backpacking around various destinations in Asia alone, and within the last two years I’ve backpacked through five continents, alone. Within the last couple of months or so, I’ve been to Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam- alone. As in completely alone. And since I fly for an airline and generally use my staff travel passes, that usually means I’m not just doing this alone but also on a standby basis. So in other words, if there is an extra seat on the aircraft I get to go, and if not I have to wait for the next flight, which is sometimes a day or two later, so my travel plans have to be extremely flexible. Actually in reality, flexible is an understatement.
However the point of this post is not to explain to you the joyous life of flying standby, I am writing this to convince you that you also, can do it alone. More and more, I’m starting to notice a bunch of millennials that are doing this. Millennials that are around the same age as me, which would be twenty-three years old in case you are wondering, who have just decided to up and leave their lives at home, to see a bit more of the world. And while it is rare that I see an American in Southeast Asia that has had this revelation, the amount of Europeans, Australians, and even Brazilians I have seen is immense. A bunch of young kids in their twenties that just want to have a good time, see everything that the world has to offer, and ultimately settle down where ever they please when they are finished.
So why do it alone, you may be wondering? For starters, it is really hard to get some one to do it with you. It is extremely hard to get a friend that has little or no life commitments at this very moment in time. Unfortunately most of us are all so busy working to live, and most of our friends have careers, families, university, or something else that ties them down from just abandoning their life and joining you.
In reality, you would be surprised at how easy traveling is for a “solo traveler” as we’re known, and how hostels are ideally set up with us in mind. I’ve met more people over drinks in the hostel bar during happy hour than I have from any other environment, and these turn out to be genuine people who most likely have the same interests as you. Most of us want to see the sights, trek off somewhere exotic outside the city, enjoy some beers from the pubs, and even check out the local nightlife scene. Which you would actually be surprised how vibrant of a nightlife scene South East Asia has.
There are a multitude of people who are in the same situation as you, that have close or similar itineraries to yours, and would not mind some company while completing their checklist items. What is even better about this is sharing the information you both have about the city, and learning about things you had not even heard of before. Sometimes you will even meet people who are traveling for quite some time, with flexible plans similar to yours, and you can travel to destinations together. I just recently met two friends that said they met only a few weeks ago in Chiang Mai, and had decided to change their plans a bit and travel around together. And even though it seemed as if they were best friends and had known each other forever, they just met a few weeks ago.
But I still haven’t quite hit the nail on the head so to speak, about why you should travel alone. And oddly enough, it’s just one of those things that’s enormously hard to put into writing. A lot of people live there entire lives thinking ‘what if’? What if I would have done this or that, would my life be different now? And they spend what seems like an eternity questioning if they have made the right decision. You see, if you keep waiting for what may seem like the right moment to go abroad and travel, chances are you will keep finding excuses of why you should not go. Something in your life will always stop from you from jet-setting off, and you will eventually fall complacent to the idea of never being able to do what have always dreamed of doing.
It is through the more I travel that I really understand and learn about the world in different contexts then you would expect. I have found that the more I travel, the more I understand and become more tolerant of different cultures. The more I learn to adapt to unique situations that arise, which has helped me tremendously with problem solving skills, especially at work. It is through this type of solo travel that I have enhanced my own education in ways that studying at university and reading from textbooks could not have taught me.
Traveling alone has made me an extremely independent person as well. I have noticed that while I do enjoy my time hanging out with my friends, that I also enjoy my time with myself. I no longer mind doing activities alone that I may have once thought were weird for people to do alone, such as going to dinner or seeing a movie. I have discovered that I am no longer going to allow being alone as an excuse for not doing something that I want to do. Additionally I have noticed that I am enjoying my everyday life more, and I am generally more happy knowing that I have the flexibility and freedom to do what I want to do alone, and I am not scared.
Interestingly enough, lately I have read a few news articles online about employers who prefer hiring potential candidates who are well-traveled versus their peers. Employers understand that traveling is one of the best ways to understand cultures and customs, improve your multitasking skills, and enhance your problem solving skills. Simultaneously it shows that you are willing and able to take initiative if need be, which is a strong desirable trait in potential job candidates. So ultimately if you are worried about up and leaving your job for some time, just know that the opportunities for finding a new one are available and enhanced when you decide to settle down.
I am not saying that traveling alone is not going to be hard at times because that would be a lie. But I will say that every time I have traveled to these destinations solo, I have always made friends extremely fast, and usually never feel truly alone. Some of the greatest friends that I have now I made from traveling solo. You will notice that most people are truly kind and when you are alone you are setting yourself up to really meet people from all different parts of the word. When you travel as a group of two or more you tend to isolate yourselves to just each other or your group, and often times you miss the cultural aspect of traveling. You are so involved with your friend or group of friends that you do not actually separate from them and have a chance to meet the locals or other travelers.
It is honestly from traveling the world alone that has helped to shape the person I am today. I have learned essential life skills, which help me in my everyday life. I have experienced strange and exotic cultures that have allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the world, and have learned how to interact and communicate with people better. They say that a person is defined by their character, and I believe that there is truly no better way to define your character then to see the world.
After all, Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Until next time, XoXo.