The internet is filled with tips for first time backpackers. Bring this, ditch that, roll your clothes, pack bottom heavy. Tips and tricks for making your first trip backpacking solo as smooth and worry free as possible. But the number one thing I wish I’d known before taking my first solo trip is this:
You’re not alone!
Sure, I’d read Lonely Planet forums reassuring first timers like myself that we’d meet plenty of other travelers. But I still had this image in my head of myself wandering the streets of Latin America alone, forced to take selfies at the Mayan ruins and eat lonely dinners in the hostel kitchen.
Luckily my experience couldn’t have been more different. During my first solo backpacking trip I spent the first couple weeks with a friend living in Mexico. It was the perfect transition and I was grateful to see a familiar face when I landed at the airport. But after our time together was up, I knew I’d be out on my own. Wearily, I directed my taxi to take me to the busiest sounding hostel in my guidebook, even though it was the most expensive. I felt like I had newbie written all over my face. I nervously walked in, eyes darting around trying to assess the friend potential of each of the other travelers, praying I’d make at least one friend.
Spoiler alert: I did. I made many friends! I made friends that night from all over the world that I ended up traveling with for the next few weeks and some I still even chat to today. Because, that’s what happens when you travel.
Backpacking ‘solo’ is often anything but. Of course, if you prefer to be a lone wolf, it’s entirely possible to keep to yourself. But if you’re looking for travel-mates it’s pretty difficult not to make friends. And no, I’m not talking about just for the social butterflies and chatty Cathy’s. Even the shiest travelers can find a like-minded group to connect with. I guarantee it.
How do I know?
Because when you travel, you discover that there is a whole community of other backpackers traveling the world. It’s almost like a secret society, except anyone can enter and there’s no creepy initiation. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been backpacking. And yes, I realize how ridiculously pretentious that last sentence sounds. But I don’t mean it in a snobby, exclusive way. I just mean that before I took my first trip I had no idea there were so many other backpackers exploring the world. And they’re all waiting for you to come and join them! Anyone who is considering traveling but is too nervous to go alone, don’t be. Going solo pushes you to get out of your shell and talk to people you would otherwise never connect with. By the same token, being a solo traveler comes with a strange gravitational pull that attracts other travelers to you. A person by themselves is much more approachable than a couple or group. You’ll find yourself being asked to join on day trips, share a taxi or grab a meal.
That’s not to say that you won’t ever be alone. Because you will. It’s an inescapable fact that at certain points you’ll be by yourself. Even if you meet other backpackers to travel with, at some point your paths will diverge, you’ll give heart felt goodbyes outside of the hostel, and you’ll find yourself standing on the side of the road, waiting for the next bus going to the border, anxious and excited to see who you’ll meet next. But any solitary situations you might end up in will be worth it, because at your next destination you might find your new best friend, your soul mate or just an incredible group of people to explore the world with.