What happens when you travel alone

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We tend to think of solo travels as a scary and lonely thing. You are all by yourself in the big, big world. But once you take the step and just go for it, you will discover the adventure, excitement, and opportunities that solo traveling offers you. Obviously, you don’t need to travel alone to have an amazing trip and create unique memories. But in the end, most stories would have turned out differently if you would have traveled with company. I wrote about reasons to travel alone in my other article. Now, I want to share my personal experiences of my solo travels with you. There are good, unexpected things that will happen only when you travel alone. Here are some of the things that happened to me because I was traveling alone, and I am very glad these things happened.

China: an unexpected tea ceremony in Beijing

One of my first travels alone was a two week trip to China when I was 20. I flew to Beijing and had a Hotel booked only for the first two nights. As soon as I arrived it became obvious that I was the only western person walking through the city center on its own. This made me feel a bit like an outcast at first, but that feeling totally vanished as soon as two young ladies approached me to practice their English language skills. After some fun conversation, they invited me to attend a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. They poured boiling water over different kinds of leaves and threw the water away over and over until the leaves were very smooth. It was so special to experience this Chinese tradition with some local people I just met on the street! These nice people became my friends and helped me to arrange a bicycle to get around in town. Later, they even helped me out with booking inland flights to other places. We are still in touch and see each other every now and then around the world. It was an experience that I will never forget, and it is good to remember that this happened only because I was walking on the streets all by myself.

Poland: a new friend from Chernobyl

During my stay in Kiev, I decided to go and do a guided tour to Chernobyl with a small group of fellow travelers. On the four-hour bus ride, I sat next to a girl my age. She lived mainly in Krakow, Poland, but sometimes had to stay in Kiev for work. She turned out to be the only solo traveler, besides me. On this day, we explored the abandoned ruins of Chernobyl and Pripyat together and we got along well.

A few months later I passed by her hometown Krakow in Poland. I stopped by to visit a friend, and it appeared that I found myself the greatest host and tour guide possible! She showed me the best local spots and told me many stories about this beautiful old town, before having a drink with her friends and colleagues. You see that just by going on the tour in Kiev as a solo traveler, I found myself a great new friend.

Namibia: hitchhiking family in the Namib Desert

While traveling through Namibia, I was driving alone through the Namib desert without seeing any other cars or people for hours. Therefore, I was obviously thrilled to find this young family on the side of the road, hitching a ride. The family included a Polish couple and their son. I was very excited to see people here, and without hesitation, I invited them to join me. During the ride, I got to know them better and their story is simply amazing. It turned out that this inspiring family was on a hitchhiking journey around the world! They travel always together and if they hit the road for a longer period of time, they just homeschool their son. We exchanged so many interesting stories and talked hours about the nomadic lifestyle. They joined me all the way up to the Fish River Canyon and we hiked there for hours together along the rim. Again I found myself new friends which really inspired me with their years of travel experience and way of life.

me with my new friends from Poland at the Fish River Canyon

California: snowboarding in the Sierras

A while ago I went to live alone in San Francisco for three months (Article: Living in San Francisco). A good old friend of mine had some Chinese friends who lived in an outskirt of San Francisco and referred me to them. It was nice to get to know some people in this new place so I made a plan and visited them for dinner one night. There I met a group of eight Chinese people including a young couple. It turned out that my new Chinese friends were very enthusiastic novice snowboarder. As I was born in Switzerland, I learned to ski and snowboard while I was a little kid. We talked a lot about snowboarding and they invited me to join them on one of their trips. I ended up going on a trip to the Sierras with my new friends for no less than three times, in Dodge Ridge, Northstar and Heavenly Ski Resorts!

South Africa: meeting great new travel buddies

After living one month in Cape Town, I took off alone towards Mozambique. The first night on the road, I spent at a magical place in Natures Valley, along the garden route. I placed my tent on a large lawn next to another random tent. After being settled, one of my neighbors appeared and we had a quick chat. Later in the evening we met again around the bonfire and continued our conversation. It turned out, that my tent neighbors were two German ladies who were heading in the same direction as I was. They already had made plans to drop off their rental car the next day and move on without. A meaningless joke to team up turned into two weeks of joined travel. We had a great time together, having deep conversations and laughing half the time.

A lot can happen when you travel alone

People tend to only see the negative side of it though. They spend too much time worrying about safety and loneliness. But if you open up as a person and take the chances given to you, you will discover the positive things that can happen when you travel alone. There are great people all over the world, you just have to meet them. From my experiences, I can tell that it is much easier to fully dive into an unknown environment when traveling alone. Every moment and experience are what you make of it, be open and let it flow.

People tend to only see the negative side of it though. They spend too much time worrying about safety and loneliness. But if you open up as a person and take the chances given to you, you will discover the positive things that can happen when you travel alone. There are great people all over the world, you just have to meet them. From my experiences, I can tell that it is much easier to fully dive into an unknown environment when traveling alone. Every moment and experience are what you make of it, be open and let it flow.

Adrian Sameli founder and editor of aSabbatical.com
Travel mindfully to meet local people around the world and embrace new cultures. Get inspired and inspire others!