Over the years, travelling solo has gradually lost its ‘spark’. In my 20s, backpacking, staying in hostels, and meeting new people all the time felt exciting. This was a novel experience, after all, and in many ways, it sated my curiosity like nothing else. Eventually, staying in hostels became more of an annoyance than something I looked forward to (and many hostels felt increasingly less social, with common areas and dorm rooms filled with people on their phones and laptops).
The typical backpacker conversations (e.g. “Where have you been?”, “Where are you going?”) also became a lot less interesting. I started to lose the motivation to make the effort to interact with other backpackers, as some (but not all) of these interactions and relationships felt somewhat superficial, and I knew the connection had an expiry date. I think knowing that you will soon say goodbye to a fellow traveller can make you feel a bit disillusioned about these kinds of connections. Moreover, it is always more difficult to say goodbye to someone you have a genuine and meaningful connection with, and I think this bittersweet feeling can sometimes feed disillusionment (was it worth it?).
Wanting more privacy and better sleep, I started to opt for hotels, guest houses, and Airbnbs when travelling solo. But not staying in hostels anymore did make solo travel less social. I would still meet people from time to time, but I could easily go a whole day without having a proper conversation with anyone. In some sense, this shows how the ‘backpacker bubble’ can create a feeling of safety and camaraderie, as there will always be some backpackers in a hostel who are open to conversation and making connections. Leaving this bubble may offer an opportunity to form more connections with locals, although this means doing so through other means, such as couchsurfing, using Meetup.com, attending language exchanges, joining social media groups, or using apps like Bumble BFF.
In any case, I found myself putting in less effort to meet people and strike up conversations with strangers, something that I used to do easily and gladly. So as well as solo travel becoming less social, I found that being in a new country or city was not in itself as exciting as it used to be. I worry this may sound like an ungrateful attitude, but I feel it is a natural and common thing that happens to many travellers. It is a sign of becoming so used to something that you become acclimatised to it: the novelty and shock factor wanes. Many other types of experiences lose their ‘magic’ or ‘spark’ once they become familiar, ranging from relationships to drug experiences.
The experience of solo travel and my attitude towards solo travel are both very different in my 30s compared to my 20s. I have wondered whether the magic of solo travel could be reanimated by seeking out different experiences, as opposed to just travelling to new countries to check them off a list. This might include novel forms of travel (such as long-distance train trips, which I find appealing) or new experiences (such as learning a new language or being exposed to a more unfamiliar setting and culture). I think focusing on personal interests and passions while travelling can re-energise that feeling of excitement as well (personally, whenever my trips focus on nature and hiking, they feel a lot more memorable and fulfilling than just being in a new city and taking in the sights).
But still, in my 30s, I find I have less drive to leave home and travel for an extended period of time. Whenever I do feel this urge, I sometimes suspect it comes from an escapist tendency, rather than healthy novelty seeking (I have written about the link between travel and escapism here, here, and here). I now value home, being grounded in one place, and my existing relationships to a greater extent, whereas travelling on my own feels like a more inconvenient and lonely experience. There is a lot less pushing me to embark on a solo trip, whatever the duration may be. This feels somewhat strange, given how meaningful solo travel has been in my life, from the experiences it has offered to the positive changes it has made to my personality and outlook on life.
Maybe that strong desire to travel solo will return. Maybe it won’t. But there’s no point trying to keep it alive just because it feels like it ‘should’ be as exciting as it used to be. The loss of the magic of solo travel might also feel difficult if being a ‘solo traveller’ has become an aspect of your identity. But people change, and so do their interests. Solo travel doesn’t seem as important to my life satisfaction as it used to be. But its most vital lessons and effects still remain: a fascination with other cultures and an openness to new people, ideas, and experiences. Its other lasting impact has been a new appreciation for the opposite of novelty: routine, familiarity, and existing connections.
The process of being at home, having the urge to travel, going away, and returning home has brought up many questions about how to find the balance between novelty and routine. I believe this balancing act is essential to psychological well-being. However, as we and our preferences change over time, so too does this balance. This makes the relationship between home life, travel, and well-being a complicated one, but it is important to continually consider it.