"I'm off travelling around Mexico, Central America and Cuba for three months!"
"Wow - how amazing... who are you going with?"
"Oh, just on my own. I can't wait!"
I watch as their interested expression switches to one of disapproval and surprise. There's an assumption that my route home will be in a body bag, or that I'll join a drugs cartel.
I love going on holiday with friends. If I'm going to lie on a beach and eat and drink myself into oblivion for a week, there's no better company. But when it comes to travelling and really seeing the world, I think solo is the way to go. Over the last few years I've ventured across Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. I've travelled alone but booked onto a group tour for some of the time I'm there. It's been a great way to see some incredible places, feel safe, and end up with a brand new group of friends.
It's amazing how quickly you get to know people when you're away from home. By the end of my first group tour, we had held hands as we jumped into a lagoon, made up radio shows in the back of the minibus on a long drive, salsa danced 'til dawn, invented games that made us laugh for hours, drunk a bar in the jungle dry, been swimming with turtles, eaten some amazing food (and one of the most revolting meals of my life) and so much more! The memories will stay with me forever.
I returned from the trip and immediately Facebook sprung into action with 12 new friend requests, endless photos being tagged, funny comments bouncing back and forth, and messages about meeting up. It filled a big gap while I was adjusting to reality.
In just one week I set off on my next adventure. Five weeks travelling on my own, six weeks on a group tour and one week with a friend. As I prepare for my trip, I thought I'd share with you why I think travelling solo is the best way to really see the world.
1. You're on your own time.
Travelling solo is very liberating. No more waiting around for people to get ready, or missing out on things you want to do. If you want to get up at 6am to watch the sunrise - you can. Or if you want to stay in bed all day watching Orange Is The New Black (even though you've travelled 10,000 miles away) you can!
2. You live by your own rules.
Ever gone away with best friends, only to fall out or feel friction after a few days? You can forget this kind of stress when you're travelling solo. Perhaps you always wanted to learn to scuba dive, but none of them did - now there is nothing standing in your way. Time to tick off that bucket list!
3. Just because you're travelling solo, you don't have to spend all your time alone.
If you choose the right places to stay, you'll meet other people doing the same thing as you. There's always someone who wants to go for a drink or a trip to the beach. The only difference between travelling 'solo' and travelling 'alone' is a state of mind.
4. You can be who you want to be.
I don't mean 'change your personality', but if there are things you've always wanted to say or do, you won't be judged like you are around your friends and family. These new traveller friends of yours don't know your character, so you can relax and be yourself.
5. You'll build your confidence.
So you have to have some confidence to pack up and travel solo... but not a lot. Once you're stuck out in the middle of nowhere, you'll be faced with various challenges and awkward situations. 'Table for one please' - you wouldn't usually do that back home would you? How about trying to ask for something in a pharmacy in jumbled Spanish, knowing the locals are laughing about your dodgy pronunciation. But if you can get by in a foreign country, life back home will seem a doddle.
Travelling solo is a really enlightening experience. While friends returned to work after lying by a pool in Spain for a week, I came back with amazing stories of exploring Rio's favelas, hang gliding over Copacabana Beach, seeing howler monkeys in the Mexican jungle, and more. All that, and I avoided ending up in jail!
Recently I came across this quote by travel writer Tim Cahill which I think sums up what it is to travel solo:
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.