Ever since I started traveling as an adult, I’ve mostly done it solo. By now, it’s like second nature to go on a trip by myself to foreign countries and explore cities, historical sites, or travel around. I enjoy this a lot and I hardly feel lonely or strange. While solo travel seems to have become more popular worldwide, not many of my Asian friends do it, and I don’t often see other solo travelers on my travels, so I don’t think it’s common in Asia. The solo travelers I often see are from the West while in my many trips in China, I only met two solo Chinese travelers and one from Hong Kong.
Though I’m from Trinidad, as an ethnic Asian, sometimes I get some weird and noticeable reactions in Asia probably because locals don’t think I’m from the West and judge me like a local or an Asian. When I was working Hong Kong, I got stunned reactions when I mentioned to local colleagues (it was so incredibly unusual that some of them gossiped about it) I’d gone on a trip by myself (this was just one of many issues I had with those HK colleagues). I’d say there’s definitely a stigma attached to solo travelers in Asia, moreso if one is Asian and less so if one is say, white. I kind of get it, because of the strong emphasis placed on group interaction and behavior in Asian cultures. Whereas in the West, sometimes you want to be on your own and value some time alone to do things and ponder your own thoughts, in Asia, being by yourself and doing things alone is terrifying.
Despite this, it’s great to travel solo. There are a lot of advantages compared to traveling with other people. You determine everything, you set your own schedule, and you go wherever you want or do whatever you want. To me, it’s the closest you can come to absolute freedom. You are also fully responsible for what you do and can’t blame anyone for any mishaps. Traveling solo also makes you independent and helps you feel more focused on the places you visit and sights you see. When you are walking around and exploring places by yourself, unless you are daydreaming about something, you tend to pay more attention to things going on around you. Being able to set my own schedule is really important since I don’t like waking up early and I often don’t want to spend the whole day outside.
That said, I don’t mind talking to people I meet while traveling, whether on a long-distance bus or a half-day-tour or while hiking on a mountain. There have been times I’ve met good people while traveling, such as on my first trip to Southeast Asia several years ago or even in China last year, and we’ve visited places or hung out together. Ironically these were all mainland Chinese, though they weren’t traveling solo.
One thing that is key to having a good solo trip is to always have an idea of what places to visit and what to do. I never spend an entire day relaxing (not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s just not for me) or trying to find out what to do (yeah, I’m not spontaneous). I’ll always prepare a list of places to check out before my trip and then decide on my daily itinerary based on that list the day before. It’s the same with travel arrangements and accommodation – I always try to do it in advance.
There are also a few minor setbacks, of course. For instance, as I mentioned above, you can get strange reactions from some people in Asia (people in Asia can be very judgmental about a ton of issues). In contrast, I hardly got any awkward reactions in Europe (presumably there is more of a culture of solo travelers in Europe as opposed to Asia). It might be a little awkward to eat at fancier restaurants, though as I’m not a foodie and I usually eat at small eateries, this isn’t an issue for me. You have less room to haggle when getting rides that don’t have a fixed price since if you are the only passenger, you need to pay the entire fare. In some hotels, single en-suite rooms (with its own bathroom) are for two persons so you are paying for two even if it’s just yourself. But this also is relatively minor if you budget accordingly.
When I first started traveling, especially when I went to China by myself for the first time or to parts of South Africa by myself, I did feel a little wary about personal safety and being scammed. Since then, I’ve become much more confident. Of course, I still read up on potential problems and take necessary precautions such as being aware of where I am and not being too naive (for eg, if you need to look at a map, don’t do so in the middle of the pavement or an open area; don’t have all your money in one spot; watch out for pickpockets etc). Women might need to be a bit more careful with safety, especially in certain parts of the world like India. Ironically, when it comes to my Asian friends, I know a few girls who have traveled solo (including a Canadian-Chinese who traveled to India by herself more than once) whereas none of my Asian male friends have done that.
If you want to travel by yourself, whatever your age or gender, just do it. Ignore the skeptics and discouragement.