Travelling solo is one of the most rewarding things a person can do, but at times things can get tricky. One minute you’re partying at the hostel bar with the international friends you met that day, the next you’re on the floor of the hostel bathroom realising you probably shouldn’t have tried that questionable street meat earlier. Life comes at you fast! As a solo traveller you’ll encounter both incredible and incredibly awkward situations, and though the pros will always outweigh the cons, the struggles of solo travelling are real AF. If you’ve ever given it a try, you’ll definitely be able to relate to these 10 most relatable solo travel struggles!
1. Explaining to friends and family why you’re travelling alone
As a solo traveller, expect your mum to ask you for the hundredth time: “what do you mean ALONE?! Don’t you have any friends?” (thanks mum). Getting questioned by friends and family for choosing to travel alone is an uncomfortable struggle that every solo traveller has likely faced. No matter how many times you try to explain that you’re ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and see the world on your own terms, you’ll still get some funny looks and some silent (or not so silent) judgements. They just don’t understand that there are so many reasons to love solo travelling, like not being on anyone else’s timeline and having the freedom to do what you want. These things make it pretty easy to ignore the haters!
2. Being nervous that you won’t make friends at your hostel
For me, the most anxiety-inducing thing about travelling alone is worrying I’ll get stuck at a hostel where everyone goes to sleep at 10pm and I’m left sitting at the hostel bar alone, scrolling through Tinder. Try chatting with your bunkmate, starting a game of beer pong, or signing up for the hostel’s walking tour to meet some new people. But whether you end up making hostel BFFs or not, you know you’ll have an amazing time exploring a completely new place!
3. Eating at a restaurant by yourself
Have you ever been stood up by a date and ended up sitting alone at a restaurant? Well, imagine doing that by choice. If your belly starts rumbling before you’ve had time to make any friends at your hostel, you’ll face the classic struggle of having to eat alone at a restaurant. Don’t worry, in the backpacking world this is the norm – but if you’re still feeling awks, try eating at the bar or researching restaurants with a more social vibe. If all else fails, use your alone time to reflect on your day and appreciate the incredible place that you’re in (and of course take advantage of the free WiFi).
4. Having to navigate on your own (and getting lost)
When you’re on your own, navigating can be a little rough. I’m talking about those times when you’re trying to get from Prague to Krakow via flight, train and mini bus, but you end up getting off the mini bus in the wrong city because no one speaks English, so you have to take a train to your final destination hundreds of miles away. Hasn’t happened to you? Weird! Well, most solo travellers have definitely struggled through something similar. The best thing to do is stay calm and remind yourself that you’ll eventually get where you’re going. You’ll be able to look back in the future and laugh (like I’m doing now….ha ha ha).
5. Not having anyone to take your picture
No one wants to be that obnoxious guy with the selfie stick, knocking people in the face and looking like a blatant tourist. Asking strangers to take your picture is another awkward struggle we face when travelling solo, and I never feel brave enough to ask for that artsy pic even though I obviously want it! It’s polite to learn how to ask for a photo in the local language and make sure you ask if they’d like you to take one of them in return. You just might end up with that artsy shot after all – and hey, pics or it didn’t happen right?
6. Sometimes you’ll go an entire day without saying anything out loud
We all know solo travelling can get a little lonely at times, and some days you’ll get back to the hostel and realise you’ve barely said a word all day. The best way to get out of a rut like this is to post up at the hostel bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender and your fellow travellers. Ask where they’ve been and what they love about the city, and you just might end up with some insider tips. Putting yourself out there and meeting new people is all part of the experience, and is one of the best things about solo travelling!
7. Leaving the hostel after dark
Travelling alone in a foreign city can be scary, especially when you’re female and you feel like hitting the town. You want to check out the city’s nightlife, but you don’t want to do it alone (because that’s both awkward and potentially dangerous). This is when the hostel’s bar crawl is an absolute godsend, hooking you up not only with cheap alcohol, but also a group of friends who’ll all be coming back to the same place at the end of the night.
8. Getting sick while travelling alone
I’ve definitely been the one who keeps the entire dorm up all night with constant sneezing, coughing and sniffling. That person is the worst and it sucks even more when that person is you! You call your mum at odd hours asking what to do, try to explain your symptoms to the local pharmacist and struggle to decipher the instructions on the back of your medicine bottle. Luckily, being sick while travelling alone forces you to slow down, get some rest and take the break your body has been begging you for. It may be time to treat yourself to that hostel private room!
9. Having to bring your bags with you everywhere you go
Waiting in an endless bus queue and thinking of quickly running to the bathroom? Think again! You’ve got all your bags with you and no one to hold your place in line. Unless the guy standing behind you looks like he wouldn’t mind, you’re completely stuck. If you decide to go for it, then it’s wrestling all your luggage plus yourself into a tiny bathroom stall and hoping for the best. No one will be stealing your stuff today!
10. Seeing something totally amazing and not having anyone to talk about it with
That moment when you’re gazing at the coolest, most awe-inspiring force of nature you’ve ever seen in your life and are dying to share it with someone, but alas, you’re alone! This feels like one of the loneliest struggles of solo travelling, but don’t be discouraged! These moments are perfect for journaling and self-reflection, and will help you learn to appreciate your own company. Recognise that some experiences are that bit more special when you’re truly doing them just for yourself!
From eating your third kebab of the day to avoid sitting alone at a restaurant, to navigating your way through a new city with a severe case of food poisoning, there’s no question that solo travelling comes with its own set of obstacles. But for all the struggles, the experience is 100% worth it. Solo travelling teaches you how capable you are and will make you realise that if you can do this, you can do anything. Go find out what you’re made of. Get out there and solo travel!
My name is Sophie Mendel and I’m an American wanderluster currently residing in Chicago, Illinois. I have travelled to over 40 countries and lived in 5, am fluent in English and Spanish (and always in the process of learning more languages) and love lugging my guitar around the world with me! Read more about my adventures on my blog: The Unbounded Traveler.