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Backpacking Solo? You'll Need To Learn To 'Travel Ditch'

Unless you're socially inept, travel ditching doesn't come naturally to most people but it's a valuable skill to have when backpacking and can make your trip infinitely more enjoyable if you learn to politely extract yourself from the company of unwanted travel buddies. Who knows, maybe they're trying to travel ditch you too.

Travel ditching is the act of extracting yourself from the company of a travel companion you have acquired but no longer wish to share your trip with. Unless you're socially inept, travel ditching doesn't come naturally to most people but it's a valuable skill to have when backpacking and can make your trip infinitely more enjoyable if you learn to politely extract yourself from the company of unwanted travel buddies. Who knows, maybe they're trying to travel ditch you too.

After a few days hanging out with the same people, I sometimes got itchy feel and felt compelled to break free from the pack and go it alone again. Perhaps this is a symptom of having travelled so much of the world solo or perhaps this is just human instinct to desire time alone. Maybe it's even a sign of maturity when you feel secure enough not to need constant company and can politely decline offers to tag along with other travellers when you'd really rather set your own agenda.

Photo: author's own

Here are my tried and tested rules of travel ditching... And remember, it's not being selfish or mean, better to travel ditch than to resent their company or worse still, your time away.


My friend, Chris, who I met in Sri Lanka, taught me the art of travel ditching and as an experienced backpacker, he's now completely (and admirably) unapologetic about having to do so. In fact, he travel ditched me a couple of times during our trip when my plans didn't quite coincide with what he wanted to do. I didn't take it as an insult and it meant that when he did initiate plans to meet up with me again, I knew it wasn't because he felt obliged. I took his advice and tried it myself. And I've never looked back.


I recently discovered a book called 'The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F**k' by Sarah Knight and it pretty much echoes the sentiment of travel ditching. Summarised on the cover as being a book about 'how about how to stop spending time you don't have doing things you don't want to do with people you don't like' it offers practical tips and candid advice on how to live a more content existence by refusing to feel obliged or guilt-tripped into saying 'yes'. What I most took away from this book is that you can politely (but firmly) decline offers and invitations to participate in activities, events or occasions ... without being an a**hole. And this same basic rule applies to travel ditching. You don't have to be rude or unkind, people should understand if you travel ditch them in a firm but polite manner.

Photo: author's own


Backpacking is an expensive pursuit. So remember this before you get cajoled into going on a depressing tour of a genocide site or paying to take a dip with sweaty strangers at a 'natural hot spring'. Travel ditching is an important money-saving tool. If you find it impossible to say no, you'll quickly burn through your travel fund and regret not having travel ditched your friends at the 1st temple and gone for a beer on your own on the top floor of the Mandarin Oriental instead.


They're common in the backpacking community, those nervous, first-time travellers who will latch on to you and enthusiastically go along with ALL your plans. It's easy to let travellers like this piggy-back onto your itinerary. They're generally non-offensive, amenable and are useful for taking photos of you and sharing the cost of transport. But this is no reason to hang out with them. If you're not feeling inspired or interested by someone's company, it's time to travel ditch. Travelling is about making genuine connections with people and places, if you don't feel that - you know what to do.

Photo: author's own


Just because you meet another backpacker of the same nationality going on similar route to you, it doesn't mean you are in any way obliged to spend time with them. Just because you met someone in the last hostel, doesn't mean you're indebted to hang out when you bump into them in the next town. And just because you want to go to Machu Picchu or Ayers Rock tomorrow, doesn't mean you have to go TOGETHER. Have explanations pre-prepared (however thinly veiled) to avoid having to point-blank turn down their company. Note: avoid 'it's not you, it's me'. This is not a break up. I find that telling someone I need to catch up my travel journal or get in touch with family is a plausible excuse.


According to Psychology Today "in today's constantly connected world, finding solitude has become a lost art. But seeking solitude can actually be quite healthy... there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone.". So there you have it, being alone is good for your mental wellbeing. Tell that to the annoying GAP year student who wants to sit with you on the bus.

Photo: author's own


But what happens if you went away WITH that person but things just aren't working out as hoped? It's also fine to part ways with your mate from uni or school and agree to meet up in a few weeks time. This type of travel ditching is infinitely harder but travelling is an intense experience and spending 24/7 in one person's company can be a huge strain on even the most long-standing of friendships. Coming to a mutual decision to spend a week or so doing your own thing might be just what you both need.


The travel ditching rules are also applicable to romantic liaisons you have on the road. Just because you have a holiday romance with someone, it doesn't mean you have to stick it out for the rest of your time away - in fact, that's a sure fire way to go from honeymoon period to arguing married couple within just a few weeks.


If you really can't bring yourself to speak the truth, you have two options. My friend Chris (the Godfather of travel ditching) suggests 'ghosting' - where you leave the hostel early in the morning and get on the first bus out of there. The problem with this option is you could bump into them in the next town and have to wriggle out of a pretty awkward conversation. Or secondly, you wait for them to make or suggest their onward plans and then firmly decide on doing the exact opposite.

If you can't bring yourself to act on any of my advice, just post this all over your social media and hope they get the not-so-subtle message.

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