There is an undeniable freedom that comes with unaccompanied travel. When traveling alone, the only desires to consider are your own—but this also means there is no one to help you. You are entirely responsible for your journey, which can lead to some momentous outcomes. Ask any solo backpacker and they will surely tell you that they have experienced at least one (if not all) of the following.
Independent travel removes us from our social networks. Humans are highly social creatures, and it follows that we establish our lives accordingly. We develop a network or friends, family, and other acquaintances—many of which influence us in ways we may not even realize. Have you ever had a good friend who you tended to act a certain way around? Or notice that you talk differently when you’re with your parents? Or maybe you have a different sense of humor when you’re with certain co-workers? We absorb a lot from the people we are frequently exposed to, and this can have a significant effect on our mindsets, attitudes, and behavior (regardless of how independent we might feel). When you are traveling alone these influences begin to dissolve, and you begin to uncover a very pure, unedited version of yourself. Because of this, solo travelers may experience a deepened sense of self-knowledge, becoming more in tune with their truest psyche. And when this “Essential You” is trekking alone through a foreign land you begin to develop a strong sense of…
The independence one feels while traveling solo is nearly unparalleled. This is due to the autonomy and accountability that is imparted upon a lone backpacker. When you leave your social network there are two facts that become immediately apparent. First off, you have no “tribe”—nobody has your back. You are surrounded by strangers and the only person you can depend on is yourself. This level of unassisted responsibility yields self-reliance, which is a cornerstone of independence. Secondly, you are not answering to anyone else. Every decision is yours and yours alone—you epitomize autonomy.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “independent” as:
1) not subject to control by others
2) not requiring or relying on others/something else
See the correlation? The self-reliance and autonomy gained through unaccompanied travel combine to (literally) create complete independence.
Unless you are on a fully guided, all-expenses-paid trip, you’re probably going to run into some challenges while traveling in a foreign country. Travel challenges come in all different shapes and sizes, from navigating an unfamiliar subway to climbing Kilimanjaro. As you maneuver through various obstacles throughout your journey, you begin to build a repertoire of situations that you’ve handled successfully and autonomously. This repertoire, in turn, begins to affirm your independent capabilities and boost self-confidence. Although we are often faced with plenty of challenges at home, traveling solo can be a catalyst—it can increase the frequency and variety of events and challenges that create independent confidence. A solo traveler has ventured into a place that is completely unknown to them, and they alone must guide themselves through it. It is in these most unfamiliar environments that we may quickly realize how resourceful and self-sufficient we truly are. The driving force behind this is the departure from one’s comfort zone. When we are encapsulated in the familiar or routine settings of daily life at home, we run the risk of developing a crystallized or limited understanding of our capabilities. Without exposure to new and unique challenges we may lose sight of our full potential. Independent travel is an excellent remedy for this. By immersing yourself in an environment filled with new challenges (and void of familiar faces) you have many opportunities to test yourself, subsequently broadening your perception of your skills and competencies.
Traveling by oneself is hardly an introverted endeavor. On the contrary, independent travelers often meet many new friends on the road (driven by a lack of acquaintances to revert to for socialization). In my personal travels I have learned that the people you meet along the way are often the most profound determining factor in the overall experience of the trip. However, with the freedom that is granted by solo travel one always maintains the ability to pursue solitude when feeling introspective—and these periods of withdrawal can be very rewarding. Of course, you don’t need to be traveling to find solitude. Simply locating a remote park bench or uncommon walking trail in your hometown can technically provide the same seclusion one would find anywhere else in the world. But solitude on the road is different—there is an added layer of isolation that comes with the subconscious knowledge that the nearest member of your immediate social network is hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. And in this state of amplified aloneness one may undergo very meaningful introspection. Building on my previous notions, the relationship between self-knowledge, confidence, and introspection is symbiotic. When one reflects deeply upon themselves and their lives during times of enhanced self-awareness and confidence the result can be highly beneficial, therapeutic, and even enlightening.
As you can probably tell, I am writing this from a standpoint of extreme appreciation for independent travel. My personal travels of this sort have given me immense happiness, created treasured memories, provided learning experiences, and have arguably contributed to the formation of the person I am today. For these reasons I encourage everyone to travel alone to discover these benefits for themselves.