The most common question I’m asked when discussing my solo travels is “Aren’t you scared to travel alone?” Even though I hear this pretty frequently, I’m honestly surprised every time. I wouldn’t consider myself to be exceptionally brave. (My fear of heights is so bad I almost got stuck on my garage roof because I was afraid to use the ladder to get down. Only the extreme embarrassment at the thought of having to call for help when there is a ladder right there got me back down.) Most bad things that could happen to you when you travel are equally likely whether or not another person that you knew before getting on the plane is with you. (Remember, you can meet people when you get there, who can become your friends.) Pickpockets can rob you whether or not you are with someone. Or, something really catastrophic can happen to your plane, your hotel, or the café where you are eating dinner. Knowing the person next to you doesn’t prevent those things from happening.
I was first approached to write a blog post about solo travel a few months ago — writing is not something I do regularly, so I kept waiting for the right time to put my thoughts together. In the wake of the recent Paris, Mali, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kenya, et al. terrorist attacks, I realized the time is now. If you are afraid to travel internationally, you let the terrorists win. It goes beyond just changing your behavior as a direct result of your fear. Travel exposes you to different cultures, religions, customs, food, language, art, and music. It connects you to people around the world and broadens your understanding of global events, both current and past.
There is no substitute for travel. Reading books, magazines, news stories or watching documentaries doesn’t scratch the surface of what is out there to see, experience and learn. Giving all of that up robs you of deeper understanding, but also robs the people you would have met from interacting with you and learning more about your culture and beliefs. (It’s a lot harder to hate a whole group of people after meeting a few who are pleasant and respectful. This is a two-way street.) Positive cross-cultural interactions weaken terrorists. Isolation and fear make them stronger.
Traveling alone forces you to reach out to people in a deeper way than you do when you have a companion—you are forced to seek out conversation without built-in entertainment. You’ll find yourself talking more personally to your tour guide, the bartender, the hotel staff and random strangers and getting to know a place better because of it. (Also, you’ll get much better restaurant/shopping recommendations and because you are alone, there is almost always one empty seat for you without much of a wait.)
If you’ve never taken a solo trip, do it. Now is the time. Leave your significant other/friends at home and push yourself out of your comfort zone — it’s how to grow as a person. Don’t be afraid.