There came a time in my life when I realised that solo travel was the only way I was ever going to get to see all the places I wanted to before I die. I’ve had a few trips with friends but planning a trip with others tends to be all talk and no action on their part. However, I was extremely timid and experienced frequent social anxiety, and I began to wonder how it could be possible to travel solo as a shy person.
I always say that travel is the best therapy in the world. It’s helped me build so much confidence and I have learned so many valuable life lessons over the years. I’ve made wonderful friends all over the world and experienced so many things that a lot of people may never get the privilege of experiencing. But I can appreciate how difficult it is to take the first step- travelling across the world alone is pretty scary for anyone, let alone a shy person. Here are some of the things that have really helped me since I started travelling solo:
Stay in a hostel! This is always the first thing I tell people to when they’re asking me for travel advice. Hostels really are not what movies make them out to be- sometimes they’re even nicer than a hotel would be but for much cheaper.
I tend to stay in 8 bed mixed dorms but that’s just my preference, there are lots of options available. I find it easier to start a conversation with someone I’m sharing a room with rather than a stranger in the lobby for example. Most people in hostels are travelling alone and looking to make friends too. If you don’t have the courage to start up a conversation, it won’t take long for someone else to. I’ve made friends in the strangest of ways whilst travelling alone- I even went out for dinner with one girl after I’d spent about 20 minutes chatting to her in a laundry room!
When I took my first trip ‘alone’ I booked on to a tour group called Thai Intro. This gave me the best of both worlds- I got to travel to Thailand on my own but also have a guided tour along with other solo travellers once I got there. This was a great introduction to solo travel but I tend not to book on to tours anymore as I dislike having such a rigid itinerary. I now prefer going alone as it means doing what I want, when I want.
As well as set tour groups I used to often book day-trip excursions. Most of the time I was completely content with doing the trip by myself but always ended up making friends on the bus to wherever we were going. People are a lot friendlier than you might think.
Go somewhere that isn’t full of tourists
One of my favourite trips I ever took was to Ghana. The locals would see me in the street and shout “oburoni” (which means foreigner). This may sound intimidating but I was never made to feel uncomfortable. They were simply amazed by seeing a white, Scottish girl in their country. I spent about 95% of my time there with locals which I think is what travelling is all about! They always had plenty of smiles for me and loved asking me questions about Scotland. The children loved to braid my hair as it was so different to theirs and they loved learning Scottish phrases. I loved their Ghanaian dancing and the delicious food. Our differences really helped us to connect with one another and I felt so welcome there, like a true local and part of a family.
Couchsurfing is a website which was set up for people to find a host when travelling to a city or to be a host to a visitor in their city. All for free, too! It can be a great and easy way to meet locals and get a true feel for a place. Obviously, use caution and common sense if arranging to stay at someone’s house. I’ve never used the site for this personally but know a lot of people who do and love it.
I have however used the website to meet up with other travellers through the forums- when I was in Toronto I got lots of great help and offers to stay from locals when I was searching for a place to live. The forums enabled me to meet up with a girl who had also just moved to Toronto alone and she is now one of my best friends.
Solo travel can mean just that- you don’t always have to meet people when you’re travelling. Sometimes it’s nice to just be by yourself. There’s something I love about exploring somewhere new completely on my own. It allows you to just enjoy your own company and learn about yourself.
There are a lot of places in the world where shy people are celebrated. It’s strange how shyness is seen as a negative thing in Western cultures, just because it’s different to the majority. I know that in many parts of Asia, being shy or quiet is a really attractive trait. There are also plenty of silence retreats there- I’ve never been to one but it sounds like a pretty cool experience! I’ve also had lots of people in the crazier parts of the world (Miami, Mexico, Vegas) tell me that they think it’s refreshing to meet someone who isn’t so ‘in your face’. I tend to always get described as calm which I love.
These are some things that have helped me along my journey but honestly I think the best way to get over a fear is to just jump straight into the deep end. Embrace who you are and be proud of your personality. Solo travel is SO much better than I ever imagined and has helped me grow immensely over the years.
Travelling solo is possible for anyone- even us shy folk. And the great thing is, the more you do it, the more travel buddies you make for future trips. If you have the opportunity to, I’d highly recommend going for it!