Travelling solo? You may want to think again
Travelling solo is often seen by millennials as a means of self-discovery. A simple search on Google brings up a multitude of articles touting the benefits of solo travel and how it will change your life forever. But while travelling alone is enticing, its drawbacks are often downplayed and its benefits exaggerated.
The first time I cried during my ongoing student exchange programme in Sheffield, England, was after I was pickpocketed. I had been exploring the city alone when I suddenly realised that my wallet, which held my credit cards, flat key and cash, was gone.
I was shocked as I did not expect something like this to happen.
It was nearly 8pm there, which meant it was 3am in Singapore. I did not want to disturb anyone back home, so in between tears as I sat on a bench in a park, I called up the bank to cancel my credit cards.
Even though I eventually managed the situation on my own — including making a police report and walking 20 minutes back home — I wished throughout the episode that someone was there with me.
Travelling solo is often seen by millennials as a means of self-discovery.
A simple search on Google brings up a multitude of articles touting the benefits of solo travel and how it will change your life forever.
Google Trends shows that from 2015 to 2017, there was a worldwide increase of about 50 per cent for the search term “solo travel”.
The Telegraph also reported that searches for the same term on Pinterest rose nearly seven-fold in 2018.
According to travel guidebook publisher The Lonely Planet, the number of solo trips taken has increased by almost two and a half times since a decade ago.
But while travelling alone is enticing, its drawbacks are often downplayed and its benefits exaggerated.
Travelling solo is expensive. You never realise how much you save by sharing costs with a friend until you bear the full price alone.
Solo travellers can be asked to pay up to two times more for a hotel room. This premium charge, called the single supplement in the travel industry, is often imposed as most accommodations are priced for at least two people.
Travelling alone can also be dangerous.
After joining the hiking society in my exchange programme university, we went on a 26-kilometre hike at the Peak District in England.
Midway through, I stepped into a deep hole covered with overgrown grass and suffered a ligament tear in my left ankle.
As we were in the countryside, there were limited road or public transport networks to take us back to the city. There was also no mobile phone signal.
If I had been alone with my heavy day pack, I probably would not have made it back to the city. But having company meant that I had help — my friends ended up taking turns to carry my day pack as I slowly hobbled back to civilisation.
Being with friends also enabled me to do things I would have never dared to do alone, such as climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh during a snowstorm, which turned out to be an amazing adventure.
I later continued my trip alone, and was surprised to realise that, despite being an introvert who values her me-time, I really missed having someone constantly by my side.
To be sure, solo trips can be learning experiences.
I learnt how best to manoeuvre myself and my luggage into a minuscule toilet stall, how to strike up conversations with strangers, and most importantly, how to make the best of any situation.
But what was missing was someone to share the experience with. Even though friends might ask about your trip after you return, there is only so much they can glean from living vicariously through the stories you tell.
Attempting to describe the feeling of tucking into a hearty Sunday roast after hiking in the dreary English winter cheapens the experience. It’s just one of those “you had to be there” moments.
In Oct 2014, a study published in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal showed that having someone by our side makes our memories more vivid and meaningful. This “sharing effect” also minimises the impact of negative experiences and elevates the impact of positive ones.
So if you are still keen on packing your bags and leaving for a solo trip, by all means, go ahead.
It is an experience I would definitely recommend trying at least once in your life.
But if you’re simply yearning for a solo trip just because you have bought into this idea of “discovering yourself”, then think twice.
Remember that when you scroll through your Instagram feed and see solo travellers having the time of their lives, it probably is just a show of their highlight reel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adele Chiang is a third-year student at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University. This is adapted from a piece which first appeared in Nanyang Chronicle, the university newspaper.
Read more of the latest in