What do you do when you have the chance to YOLO and go on one of your biggest bucket list destinations, but you can’t get any one to go with you? You finally force yourself to check off the other bucket list item of “travel solo.”
I was not trying to do a solo trip to Patagonia when I started looking into flights and time off. I had “travel solo” sitting on my bucket list for a while, but I was honestly too scared to ever do it. I thought it sounded cool and adventurous, but realistically, I was afraid I would get lonely or bored by myself. My weirdest fear was that people would think I’m some weirdo with no friends, and to be completely up front and honest, that’s still the same thing that makes me feel weird about solo travel. I don’t know why this bother me so much, especially, since I have met soooo many people travelling solo over the course of my travels. I have met some Americans travelling solo, but really a lot of Europeans travelling alone. Among Europeans, it seems to be more of the norm to travel alone. They travel alone from one town to another, maybe meet some other solo travelers and latch on to each other for a few days to a few weeks and travel around together until they eventually go their separate ways. This mode of travel is so different than how Americans travel, with all of our planning, and advanced bookings, and never going alone. It is interesting that this is so common with Europeans, but considered kind of a stigma among Americans. People have told me “it’s sooo cool” that I traveled by myself, but I don’t know if they are being polite and just think I’m weird, or sincerely think it is admirable that I went to Patagonia by myself.
When I couldn’t convince anyone to come with me to Patagonia, I almost decided to not go, but then, I realized if I waited my whole life on other people to be able to travel with me, I was going to miss a lot of opportunities to go places I’ve been dreaming of. I might never go to Patagonia, let alone some other far off places. So I took a word of advice from a Lonely Planet, founder, Tony Wheeler, “All you have to do is decide to go, and the hardest part is over, so go!” So I just yoloed, bought my ticket, and then kind of put it out of my mind for a few weeks (other than excitedly wearing my Patagonia fleece around, and taking snapchats with it). Leading up to the trip is when the nerves actually hit me. I wasn’t nervous over my safety, just nervous about whether or not I was going to be lonely, or happy. (Spoiler: It was the latter)
I ended up loving my time in southern Argentina. It was probably one of the best trips of my life. I think that’s partially because of how amazing Patagonia is, but also because traveling solo opened me up in a whole new way, as cheesy as that sounds. I don’t know if traveling solo to a city rather than the mountains is more challenging/isolating, or if it brings more opportunities to meet people (I feel like traveling alone to a city sounds more difficult, but I met people who said traveling solo to a city is much easier than a hiking trip alone), so while I can’t remark on what it’s like to travel alone to city, I can give my honest thoughts on what it was like to travel alone for the first time, for better or for worse.
Logistics Were More Stressful
Some of my friends would tell you I’m very easy-going and for the most part that’s pretty true, but as long as I can remember, I have found logistics extremely stressful. I don’t know why but I get very anxious over travel logistics, like I am that person that cries over a flight delay because I’m freaking out about missing a connection, missing hostel check-in, missing whatever it is that was on my itinerary that is now getting pushed. Not sure how I have traveled so much and not been able to let go of these anxieties. Usually, I have a friend with me to distract me, or I know we will be fine because we have each other, but when you’re alone in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you find yourself wondering what the worst case scenario is and how you are going to deal with that. One of my overnight buses was picking me up from some random hotel, and it was running 30 minutes late. I was the only passenger waiting and during that time I was really missing having a buddy with me.
I was the Master of my Day
One of the greatest parts of solo travel, as anyone will tell you, is that you get to do exactly what you want. You don’t have to accommodate anyone else’s desires. For example, I was planning to go horseback riding one day in El Chalten when it was predicted to be rainy. I woke up and the weather was absolutely beautiful, and knew i needed to do the big Cerro Fitz Roy hike that day. So I immediately changed the date for the horse ride and headed for the mountains – no having to wait and discuss with someone else. Hiking solo was especially great. I could break as much as I wanted or as little as I wanted with no one complaining about being tired, or complaining about me being too slow (depending on how fit my theoretical hiking partner is). One day, on my way back from the most grueling hike in El Chalten, I decided (probably stupidly) to take a long cut home, which would have more scenery, but added a lot of time to the route. I maybe could not have done that if I was with someone else. Also, when planning my whole trip I could decide to go anywhere I wanted! I don’t think I would have had a lot of luck convincing someone to take an overnight bus back to back to and from Cueva de las Manos, but I could do it since I was alone.
I was More Outgoing than Usual
Being by myself kind of forced me to make friends in my hostels, or any tours I was on on. In El Chalten I was very very lucky to end up in a hostel room with two American girls around my age travelling together and another American girl travelling solo. I would talk to them, share photos, or go to dinner with them some nights. When I travel with a friend, I might be friendly with the other guests, but I never spend that much time getting to know them. Even though I will likely never see any of them again, I really enjoyed making new friends if only for just a week. You really have an opportunity to meet interesting people when you travel and hear short snippets of their life. Like the Scottish girl working for a mining company as a geologist in the DRC, or a girl living and working at a non-profit in Rwanda. And all the friendly Europeans I travelled to Cueva de las Manos with for the day, many of whom have been travelling for many many months and have already seen almost all of South America! It actually felt really exhilarating to meet and talk to so many new people. I usually consider myself shy, but this really forced me to put myself out there, and it was exciting.
I, Surprisingly, Never Felt Lonely
No matter where I was or what I was doing, I didn’t feel a second of loneliness, even when I was eating alone. I would just kind of take the opportunity to reflect on the day or think about what I wanted to do next. Whatever tour I was on, there were other people I could talk to. My very first day in El Calafate, I signed up to go on an ice trekking tour on glacier Perito Moreno, and was lucky enough to find a seat next to another female solo traveler. We buddy-ed up for the day and made nice small talk as we hiked, and took photos for each other. Hiking alone did not feel lonely at all, it was so nice to just listen to the forest, the sound of my hiking boots on the dirt path, and the birds. In fact, I think I was lucky enough to see more wildlife because I was alone and didn’t scare off birds as easily.
Although, There Were Times I Thought to Myself, It Would be Cool to be Sharing This with Someone Right Now.
Despite feeling at ease being by myself, there were those moments when you think about how it would be nice to be sharing that moment with a friend. Mostly, the thought would occur to me when I was just enjoying something simple, like strolling around town, and sometimes, when I would reach a special view on the hike.
I Felt Like I Had to Keep Explaining to People Why I was Travelling Alone.
When I first met two of my American dorm mates in El Chalten, and they asked of I was travelling alone, I answered yes, and immediately launched into this whole story about how it was my first time and none of my friends could make the trip, but I decided I should go anyways, blah blah blah. After my self-conscious monologue, they told me that they had both traveled solo before and loved it (which made me feel pretty stupid for assuming they thought I was weird for being alone.) Even back home I still feel like I need to explain to everyone why I decided to travel alone, trying to reassure them I’m not some loser with no friends. I’ve started to care less though.
It Felt Empowering.
When I boarded my plane back to America, it hit me, “I DID IT.” I couldn’t believe I personally funded, planned, and executed a solo trip through Patagonia. Every day I got myself from one place to another, climbed some huge mountains, and met a ton of new people. And I didn’t die. I felt like I had really kicked some ass.