Everyone says, “find your niche” within the travel blogging world. It’s challenging for me, as I’ve been an every-kind-of-travel, traveller. A jack-of-all-travels, one might say. Everything from budget to luxury travel, developing to developed countries, and immersive cultural travel to parking my ass at an all-inclusive resort. I’ve travelled with just Nick and I, friends and family, my kids, girls only… and even solo. This post is about my experiences as Dani: the lone traveller.
Travelling alone is my least favourite form of travel. I’ve only done it because my desire to continue travelling outweighed the fact that I had no one to go on with. These trips started with other people and ended with just my backpack and me. I wasn’t ready to go home.
I’ve travelled in four countries alone – Malaysia and Singapore at age 21, and Czech Republic and Germany at age 26. This post is about what I did as a lone traveller, and even more so, how I felt.
I’m an extrovert – I love being with people. So it’s no shocker that I felt lonely. Although I have some introverted tendencies, they max out at a few hours. I didn’t have social media or a smartphone when I did these trips. If I wanted to connect with someone I knew, I had to pay too much money at a payphone, or go to an Internet cafe. You know, those places with a roomful of desktop computers where you pay per minute to type out long emails to friends and family? No? Ok, I’m old. Half of me misses payphones and Internet cafes (because back then you could actually disconnect), and the other half wonders how the hell I survived without a smartphone until I was 27 years old.
Malaysia – 2003
On my nine-month Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand working backpacking trip in 2002/2003, I spent time alone in Malaysia and Singapore on my way home. My plan was to check out Sumatra, Indonesia, but there was unpredictable weather at the time and I deemed it a no-go zone. I spent a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – a city I didn’t especially love. I’m not entirely sure why, but that city just didn’t ignite me like Bangkok, Singapore, and Hanoi did.
I booked a decent hotel I couldn’t afford, because I was too scared to stay somewhere low budget by myself. Being in that hotel alone after spending nine months with friends and other backpackers sucked. It was also the first time in my life I ate at restaurants by myself. I wasn’t enjoying Kuala Lumpur alone (I was 21 and less experienced; it would probably be different now that I’m pushing 40 and more comfortable with travel). So I decided to head South to Singapore.
Singapore – 2003
Smartphones didn’t exist yet and I didn’t have a mobile phone with me, so I was disconnected from the world as a 21-year-old blonde alone in Singapore. I had to find an Internet cafe to communicate with anyone (which involved asking someone, because I couldn’t Google it), and going back later to check for a reply. If I had disappeared, it would’ve taken a long time to find me.
I stayed in a small dorm room hostel with a diverse mix of people, most of whom I couldn’t communicate with due to language barriers. I love diversity and appreciate all different types of people, but not having anyone to connect with in my hostel like I had in Australia and New Zealand made it harder to be by myself. And I’m saying it – I hate hostel dorm rooms. They were fun the first few times, but got old FAST. I’m a trusting person, but I don’t want to hear you, smell you, or wonder if you’re secretly a psychopath. Sorry, strangers.
*For the record, every hostel dorm I’ve ever stayed in had nice people. The worst things that happened to me were bedbugs and hearing hook ups…
Singapore was a super cool city though, and I felt safe exploring it. People were all too happy to offer help or directions. But after a couple days of sightseeing, my loneliness got the better of me. It was the end of nine months away from Canada and I was ready to go home. I remember being the only white person in a packed, massive food court, eating Singapore-style noodle soup, and feeling extra homesick – a feeling I rarely experience. At one point I even watched a movie in a theatre to take my mind off being alone and the fact that I had no one to further experience this fascinating city with.
Czech Republic – 2007
Five years older and in an easy continent to travel in alone, I found myself sans Nick in the Czech Republic. He could only stay in Europe for four weeks and I wanted to stay longer. I had just finished my communications degree and knew that once I started a “real job”, I’d only have two or three weeks vacation time each year. So I stayed in Europe an extra two weeks by myself.
I had an old friend living in Prague who I travelled with to Austria and Hungary for a few days, but the rest of the time I was alone. Staying in hostels helped me meet people (that was the last trip I ever stayed in one and I can’t say I’m upset about that). On a day trip to to picturesque town of Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, I met a girl my age from England who was also travelling solo. We became temporary friends, having dinner and going clubbing together, along with others from the hostel.
But in the evenings alone with strangers, I felt isolated and started to miss Nick. For me, the hardest part about solo travel is being away from those you love most.
Germany – 2007
On the same trip as the Czech Republic one mentioned above, I spent time alone in Berlin. Like Prague, it’s a safe city with tons of sights, so I didn’t get bored. I just got lonely. I sat in restaurants by myself trying bratwurst and schnitzel, wishing I had someone to share it with, feeling insecure and like a loser (I wouldn’t feel like one now; I think it’s perfectly fine to dine alone). At night I didn’t sleep as well, a tad worried about being a solo female traveller in an eight-person co-ed dorm room. Back then I didn’t have the money to stay in nice places for a six-week trip.
When I visited important museums and historical monuments like the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum, I had no one to talk with about the horrific, unthinkable exhibits I saw. I’d love to be able to say to someone, “Remember the Jewish Museum in Berlin? Remember how awfully sad it was?”
Future solo travel – would I go alone?
I love travelling with family and friends, so I would not choose to go on a trip alone. But I’m not opposed to solo travel, and since it’s been a long time, yes, I’d try it again. Today’s technology allows me to be connected almost anywhere. I could FaceTime family, chat with friends on What’s App, or catch up via social channels. It would be much less lonely.
When I travelled alone, I felt awkward at times. I felt insecure as the only blonde, caucasian person as far as the eye could see. I even felt scared at times. But it was also empowering. Travelling has shaped my character and personality in so many ways.
Now that I’m older and have travelled more, I imagine Dani: the lone traveller would be a heck of a lot more confident out there.
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