Why Backpacking Solo is the Best Thing and Only Sometimes the Worst Thing

Hello again friends!

What a delightfully convoluted and awkwardly worded title. I'm keeping it. My blog, my rules. 

I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about why I choose to backpack, and the pros and cons therein. I should start off by fully acknowledging that I am very lucky to be able to do this at all; travel is never and should never be considered a "necessity"; anyone who tells you otherwise is a lying, irritating prat. It won't define your life and it won't make you a better person than anyone else (it will make you a poorer person, that's for damn sure). I am super fortunate to have a job I don't loathe that offers me the means and flexibility to flee the country every few years. Even though serving slowly chips away at my soul and makes me want to stab who I'm sure are actually lovely humans in real life in the eyes because they ask me for the 100th time that day if our pork tenderloin has meat in it oh my Christ, I do appreciate it for those particular gifts.

But I digress. 

When I thought about starting this travel blog I immediately thought "Oh lord, I don't want to be one of THOSE people, the ones who lowkey humblebrags about their adventures and talks about how Travel Is Life and all that bullshit". Who doesn't hate those people? (Don't worry though, my new "wanderlust" tattoo is looking great. I got it done by a Tibetan Faith Healer in the mountains of...um...Tibet. Look, you wouldn't understand. #travelislife #blessed) 

Here, have my favourite hilarious video of the very person I was terrified of coming across as: 

She's actually the worst. I'll do my best not to become her. HOWEVER. If backpacking is within your means, and something you've always wanted to try but never quite worked up the guts to do, then here are some things to think about. 

I love backpacking because it gives me freedom. I'm like Jack Sparrow on his boat, only less drunk (or am I). I get a sense of delicious excitement when I step off a plane, or a ferry, or a Tibetan mule (gonna keep this Tibet gag running, you're welcome, don't ask me why because frankly I don't know), and it's just me, myself and my heavy-ass backpack (I'm planning on doing a post soon about what's in that backpack, for those who are curious about how to pack for medium-length jaunts abroad). No phones, no tech, no real gameplan- or, even if I have one, it's generally fairly subjective and open to change. That change usually comes if I happen to miss a bus because I got lost on the Paris subwayNOT THAT I'VE DONE THATand need to decide if I really wanted to go to that city I had planned on visiting, or hey, maybe that one seems cool and oh look! the train for it leaves in half an hour, let's pray to (insert your god of choice here) it has a hostel! Or at the very least, somewhere out of the rain that isn't overrun with feral dogs! I'm looking at you, Literally Everywhere in France.

I get that not planning ahead is actually the epitome of hell for a lot of people. But I find that travelling alone can often give me lovely tidbits of insight into who I am at my core when I remove myself from every comfort zone that I am used to back home, and good god does that sound pretentious, I'm sorry. What happens if you get somewhere and every hostel is booked? What if the ferry you thought was leaving the random Irish island you found yourself on doesn't actually leave today, but tomorrow, and you don't have a plan for that, you fool!? What if you get abducted by sheep? I'm a weirdo who likes those challenges, and boy, travelling alone is full of 'em. 

So, without further ado, here are some pros and cons of travelling alone:

PROS

  1.  Hostels! Ah, hostels. I freaking love them. They terrify and excite me in equal measure. I'll do a more in-depth post about them soon, but rest assured: you'll meet some of coolest, and weirdest, and nicest people you'll ever encounter in these places. Hostels are cheap, friendly, and great when travelling alone because they give you the option of having adventures with new friends from all over the world for those inevitable times when you get lonely. When you travel with friends from the start, I find that I meet fewer delightful strangers because I don't have to put in that extra effort to make those social connections.  
  2. You can do whatever the hell you want to do, and ain't no one gonna tell you otherwise. I'm 100% a control freak. I know this. I embrace this. I don't like compromise when it comes to travelling because goshdarnit my places to see are cooler than yours, okay, so we are going to the goddamn East German Museum of Randomly Pickled Body Parts Throughout History and I don't want to hear another WORD about it, do you hear? 
  3. Forced Self-Reliance. You really do get to explore how you handle challenges and problems when you're alone in foreign countries where you don't speak the main languages, and there are 15 subway lines and holy shit German is a terrifyingly confusing language and hey, that man is 6'4" and has a tattoo of a vulture on his face, he looks trusting, let's ask him for directions, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH THAT. 
  4. You have more what I call "fuck it" moments. What I mean by that is, when you're overseas, alone, in places you've never been before, with people you'll probably never see again, you automatically give yourself permission to make decisions and choices that you might not make at home because you fear you'll be judged for them, or if you fuck up it'll define the Rest of Your Life. You have more chances to throw your middle fingers to the air, internally (or externally, you do you) yell "Fuck it!" and make ridiculous life choices that you won't have to worry about when you get home. Unless those life choices are like, really bad ones, such as murdering someone or getting a tattoo of a vulture on your face. Don't do those things.  Or do, but know that they might follow you home. There are always exceptions to the Fuck It rule.

CONS

  1. Hostels. Do you really KNOW the one you're sleeping in isn't the one the movie "Hostel" was based off of? Are you in an Eastern European country? Are there strange feral children around trying to force you to stay there? Are strangely attractive people trying to buy you drinks that are probably drugged? You might not want to choose that hostel! (Please note: I was made, under duress, to watch the movie once, was scarred for life, and have since tried desperately to forget everything about it. I thus don't actually remember if it was set in an actual hostel, or even based on a true story, but for the sake of this argument let's go with yes for both.)
  2. You're truly on your own. This can sometimes be a bad thing. Case in point, when you get to a random town in France that has no rooms available in the entire goddamn town, how is that even possible, Rennes, you're not that cool anyway and no one likes you, and you need to somehow figure your life out on your own (or you call your parents panicking and crying, which is TOTALLY a thing I did NOT do seven years ago because I am an ADULT). OR when you're 3 miles into a 6.5 mile mountain trek without a phone, surrounded by murderous sheep and in possession of a back that MIGHT give out on you any second. It's moments like that when self-reliance becomes less romantic and more scary. But you'll make it through! Or you'll be murdered by feral children in the aforementioned Terror Hostel! The choice may or may not be yours!
  3. Remember that "fuck it!" attitude I mentioned above? Sometimes that causes you to have an inflated sense of confidence leading to you doing things like, oh, say, booking what you think is a flight, all in Italian, to discover later on that you have, in fact, booked a train located in a completely different part of the city, all because fuck it, what could go wrong with the fact that you can't Google Translate an online booking form? ...Don't be like me. Learn fluent Italian. 
  4. Loneliness. This is totally a real thing that I have, and will continue to experience in my travels to come. You're all hyped up on your newfound independence and the sense of magical wonder that travelling brings you, and then you arrive at your hostel to find all these cool people with all their cool-looking friends who you're suddenly sure won't like you, and maybe you should just sit in the corner and read your book and oh man, what I wouldn't give for a friend right now this is all of a sudden the actual worst. To that, I say: Breathe. Remember how you had the balls to travel solo in the first place and that makes you an AWESOME BADASS. And seek out that other person reading their book in the same corner as you, who also keeps looking over at those "cool" people with longing. Chances are, they'd love to talk. And they probably don't run a Terror Hostel. I'd say it's like, a 50/50 shot. 

xo,

Clare