My first solo travel was in Bohol in 2014. Seeing the world-renowned Chocolate Hills spread over the horizon before my very eyes was an exhilarating experience.

I have traveled a few more times since then, and every time I go all by myself, people always ask, “Who’s with you?” “Alone,” I tell them, and almost without fail they reply, “Why?”

In this society where family and community are above individuality, traveling alone looks perplexing to many, and even frowned upon. But the question should be, “Why not?”

Fun is something within our hands, and we can never be always reliant on others to experience it. Friends come and go, while our family can be too preoccupied to be always with us. In the end, it is only with our selves that we have all the time, and learning how to be joyful in the absence of others is a sign of maturity and strength.

Certainly, you do not wish to miss another river-rafting season in Davao or the cold amihan winds on the rolling hills of Batanes simply because a few people won’t keep you company. With the power of the internet and our ubiquitous smartphones, traveling alone has never been easier.

Budget airlines regularly offer ridiculously low fares, multiple websites compete for the lowest hotel prices, and tour guides will undoubtedly rush at you right after exiting the terminals. All you have to do is set up the time and resources, then you are on your way.

As any traveler has experienced, planning a group tour induces headaches. The conflicts in schedule, budget constraints and ningas-kugon commitment of many plague any dreams of a group journey even before the down payment has been settled.

Memes mocking travels plans that did not pan out pepper social media.

“Para sa travel n’yong hanggang group chat na lang,” says one caption of an edited picture, showing a group of people swimming in a pool that looks like a smartphone.

These hindrances are nonexistent when you travel alone. There is no need to wait for someone to confirm whether they can file a leave or check if they have the budget. No need to deal with someone who is too polite to say “no”and that she’ll go over it first.

At the hotel, you don’t need to shout at someone occupying the bathroom to hurry up because the tour van has already arrived, or be forced to leave a scenic place early only because others have had enough of it.

Besides, the experience is thrilling and inspiring in a unique way. Without anyone in tow, one is free to engage with the locals and learn their history, customs and problems.

My Batanes tour guide, for example, shared that they sometimes face higher food prices from the increased demand brought about by tourists. His friend, who shared a free lunch with us in a barangay fiesta, was worried that only the old natives now know how to weave vakul and kanayi, the iconic Batanes vests, and that the skill are not being passed on.

When I pressed why, he lamented that the work is labor-intensive and consumes two to three days just to finish one.

I think it’s also not as profitable as touring visitors, but I could be mistaken. There is also pride in going alone. “I did it all by myself, dude,” you can always brag to others.

It shows your independence and strength by jumping into an unfamiliar place without a familiar face. Perhaps, it may even make you look mysterious and enigmatic. (Though, hopefully, no one will accuse you of being sponsored by a wealthy benefactor, if you know what I mean.)

Finally, there is a chance to reflect. Drinking coffee early in the morning in your hotel’s beachside balcony allows for a distraction-free moment to reflect on your successes and failures.

Quietly breathing in the strong wind in a fast-moving boat will make you realize the majesty of our tiny planet in this vast universe. Seeing the scenic view on top of a mountain will make you say, “Ang ganda ng bayan ko.”

I don’t think this can be easily experienced with a friend who’s always nagging for another picture to post on Instagram.

“But it is not fun!”I’ve heard that said one too many times. Traveling solo is like going commando, as in not wearing underwear. You will feel free and refreshed, but expect weird stares from people when you tell them. No matter what you do, people will always talk. Go out and explore anyway.

Bon voyage!

* * *

Rob Julian M. Maghinang, 26, is a student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila. This essay was written at dinnertime inside the quaint Café de Tukon, Fundacion Pacita, in the awe-inspiring province of Batanes.

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