Solo Travel Didn’t Work For Me, and That’s Okay
“Are you finding your way around okay? Make sure you know where to get WiFi when you need to use Google Maps.”
“Are you making friends? Don’t be too weird or no one will like you.”
“Are you eating properly? Remember Emily, everything in Japan is sugary and sugar is the devil.”
“Ok Mum, you need to chill.”
I’m one of those people who can’t really stand to be alone. I hate having the entire house to myself, I’m more productive when surrounded by friends and I dread having to go in public without someone – anyone – by my side. Even so, I see myself as an outgoing and social person and always knew I wanted to give that whole “travel alone and find myself” thing a crack one day.
As you can imagine, I was a little hesitant to commence my first solo trip. Was I really ready to venture into the world alone? What if I didn’t learn anything about myself? How am I going to cope navigating a strange city alone when I can’t even buy groceries without someone to help carry the bags to my car? Solo travel has become so heavily romanticised that when I finally plucked up the courage to attempt it myself, I started to feel guilty about wishing I had some friends or family travelling with me.
The internet is host to a plethora of people bragging about how travelling solo is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, as if travelling alongside a friend is a crime. If I had a dollar for every time I saw an article with the whole “travelling alone changed my life” bullshit, I could afford to buy a house in suburban Sydney.
Why should I feel ashamed about wanting to travel with someone I know? Stories of friends travelling together also exist (shout out to all the lads on tour), but these don’t seem to have the same type of hype attached to them. Maybe it’s because solo travel is seen as courageous and inspiring, whereas travelling with mates is seen as more of a cop out.
The first few days of my solo travelling debut, which took place in Japan, were an exciting blur of visiting tourist hotspots, eating foods I could barely pronounce and trying to remember the new names and faces I encountered. Tokyo’s perfectly arranged highrises seemed to have their own personalities, each with neon signs flashing in sync with the beat of whatever pop song was blasting inside. Waves of people efficiently flowed through the city, minus the salespeople stationed on street corners. Despite my best efforts, they would still yell at me in Japanese to buy their clothes, eat their noodles or take the company-branded fan they shoved in my face. It was a sensory overload, which made Brisbane’s confusing maze of dull grey buildings and murky brown river seem so dreary in comparison.
On my second afternoon in the city, I was exploring the quaint suburb of Nippori with some girls I’d met. We were sitting on crates on the side of the street, drinking terribly-poured beers and getting to know each other better. Numerous people strolled past taking their dogs for a walk, but the a Shiba Inu came along that was being pushed in a pram by its owner. I got so excited when I saw him that I rushed over to take a picture. As I returned to me seat, gushing about how cute he was, I noticed none of my new buddies seemed to be as invested in this dog as I was.
It was then that it hit me just how much longed for the company of someone familiar that I could share all these strange and bizarre experiences with. It was getting tiring feeling like I always had to explain myself and worrying if my jokes were going to offend these people I hardly knew. Sure, I can send a Snapchat of clothing with hilarious English translations to my boyfriend, and we can still laugh about it all the same. I can message my sister about the lady who almost fell asleep on my shoulder on the train, but I would’ve preferred if she’d been sitting beside me laughing in my ear. I’d rather say, “Remember when we did this thing together?” rather than “Let me tell you about this thing that happened to me.”
It’s a strange feeling to be abroad by yourself, counting down the days until you can see your loved ones again – especially when you had initially been counting down the days until your holiday. Despite what people may have you believe, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to travel with mates. It’s no mystery that people will often explore the world solo in an attempt to explore themselves, and that experience can be invaluable. Sometimes though, travel can be even more rewarding when it’s shared with someone familiar. Trotting the globe solo can make you feel like a fearless world conqueror, but that doesn’t mean travelling with friends has to make you feel like a pathetic loser.
Cover by Quentin Dr