I met Bernard, a lawyer from Amsterdam, in Mumbai in 2009. He was enjoying success in Bollywood as an extra in adverts and I was enjoying drinking my body weight in Kingfisher beer on a daily basis (horses for courses). This guy went big for his first solo adventure, proving that there’s no limit to first timer travel possibilities.
What age were you on your first solo trip?
I was relatively old, 24 or something. When I was 18, the age that most people seem to take gap year trips, travelling the world solo seemed to me both tedious and daunting.
Where did you go?
I travelled the full circle of South America, except for the Guyanas, as these weren’t that easy to physically get to at the time.
How long did you travel for?
I was in South America for about nine months, but half of that was spent living in Rio with the obligatory Brazilian girlfriend that all blonde male backpackers in South America appear to end up with.
Why did you decide to travel alone?
It wasn’t really a decision, as much as the fact that I was done with my studies, bored with my job and ready to travel, and not many in my social circle would have been able to take nine months off to join me. Mind you, although I love my friends to bits, spending nine months with any of them squabbling in some desert about what places to visit does not sound very appealing. You need to be very similar people to enjoy travelling together for that amount of time.
How did you feel before you set off on your solo trip?
To be honest I didn’t have that many preparatory feelings, and I had a hard time picturing me actually being away from it all. I was quite busy working in a bar nearly every night to save for the trip, that I didn’t really feel scared or elated until I boarded the plane.
What did you love most about travelling alone?
The people and the freedom. It’s a pretty well known fact that you meet lots more people when you travel alone, possibly because couples scare off strangers, or possibly because you unconsciously just make more of an effort to get to know people. The freedom is the other great part. With others you always need to plan and discuss what you are going to do next. You need convincing arguments to win the others over, and that makes people mostly end up at safe and predictable places. Alone, you can just decide on a whim, and even a stupid whim. You are the complete emperor of what tomorrow is going to look like. I hope heaven is a bit like that.
Did you dislike anything about solo travel?
No, not really. Things can get a bit dodgy alone sometimes, but then again, having another middle class European with you is unlikely to actually make a truly dodgy situation safer.
What tip would you give to fellow first time solo travellers?
Just buy the ticket, get your vaccinations and go. It’s the only way you’ll ever do it.
What learnings have you taken away from travelling alone?
I think the amount of lessons you learn from travelling is probably overrated. I learned a lot from many people I met travelling, but it’s quite possible that I could have learned as many lessons from people in my street here in Amsterdam, if I would bother to get to know them. If anything, it’s that people are very different, yet pretty similar all around the world. And most of them like to drink with foreigners.
Where would you like to travel solo to next?
I would love to say Turkmenistan or some other exotic locale, but to be very honest, I would probably return to South America. I just love that place to bits…