I was by myself the first time I went abroad and I would not have had it any other way. Here’s why-
The feeling of knowing I only had my wits and gut instincts (and very detailed itinerary) to guide me through the adventure of a lifetime made my soul feel like the explorer it was always destined to be. I learned, experienced, and lived more than I could ever put into words (I still try rather unsuccessfully).
However, I know not everyone wants to travel, especially not alone. If you aren’t sure you want to travel alone, or at all, here are five reasons you should face your fears, and do it anyways.
1. You live solely on your own schedule
As much as we don’t want to admit it, traveling with others means we will always have their opinion to consider. It doesn’t matter how understanding your travel partner is, the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, will inevitably be more restricted. This isn’t always a bad thing, but there is a unique liberation that comes from being in a new country with no restrictions, outside opinions, or expectations. You can stay out as late as you want. Sleep in until noon. Get junk food at 2am and no one is the wiser (or silently judging you). Visit your favorite sites and not worry if you’re lingering too long, or moving too quickly.
I know It’s easy to think you would be the exception. Even when traveling with people who know us particularly well, I believe we still accommodate their wishes, whether we want to or not. I am not saying compromise is bad. There are a time and place. But getting to do something that is solely about you and your happiness is a feeling that revitalizes every cell in your body.
2. You meet more people
Traveling with others means the desire to find belongingness in a new environment is already being met by a person you’re comfortable around. Since you’re already comfortable, you aren’t going to push yourself to meet new people. I get it. Why engage in awkward conversations with a stranger when you can do it with your travel partner?
However, when you are by yourself, your desire to find belongingness pushes you to start those awkward conversations with strangers. Somen of these conversations turn into lifetime friendships, and others become ‘that person you met in that pub that one time.’ There are people I met at the beginning of my travels that I am still talking to and can’t wait to see again. Then, there are people I met, saw dance on a stripper pole in a button-up and sweater vest to Ignition by R. Kelly (we don’t listen to this song anymore), and whose name I couldn’t remember if my life depended on it.
If you’re a shy person, don’t worry. Odds are everyone else is looking to make friends too and will have no problem if you inject yourself into their conversation (politely). If all else fails, beer is usually pretty cheap abroad, and a little liquid courage goes a long way.
3. You find strength in temporary loneliness
I have never been the kind of person that fears loneliness. In fact, I find I tend to crave it after I have been around people for long periods (read: more than one day). So, I try to understand that some people truly do not like being alone. However, I think there can be power found in solitude.
Sometimes our identities become lost when we are constantly around friends or spouses. Solitude enables you to understand, or be reminded, who you are when no one else is around to tell you otherwise. You find you’re more driven to seek the things that bring you happiness without having concern for if it brings others happiness too. Those periods of loneliness provide the space for you to truly be yourself. Or find who you are, if you aren’t quite sure yet.
4. You feel an immense sense of triumph
This is my second favorite part about solo travel (extremely close first). That post-trip feeling of ‘wow, I really did THAT.’ The feeling that it was all worth it and you just gave yourself the trip of a lifetime. A feeling so indescribable, if I could skillfully articulate it, it would convince you in an instant to take the leap.
A good solo trip starts with the planning, or lack of planning if that’s what you prefer. It’s the thought, idea, or dream you’ve had that keeps you randomly checking flights to find the best deals. The anticipation created by looking at things to do, places to see, and food to eat are almost unbearable. You’re constantly fantasizing about what it’s going to be like to finally be in your chosen destination.
Then, the day finally comes and all that hard work of planning, saving, and waiting finally pays off. Some of your plans go perfectly, and others not so much. Either way, you still have an experience unique to YOU. The glorious feeling of knowing you planned it, lived it, and only you get to keep it forever. And the sense of triumph that comes with it all? Indescribable, and something you have to experience yourself to truly understand.
5. You become your own hero
This part of solo traveling is by far my favorite and something you absolutely can not experience with others.
Knowing you have only yourself to rely on in times of distress unleashes this resourcefulness and independent power we often forget we possess. It’s when plans go wrong that I find you learn the most about who you are and what you are capable of. Like taking your first train and scrambling to find the station at 6 am while still drunk from the night before with only minutes to spare. You find a way and walk with newfound confidence (shame?) once you do.
It’s the split-second decision you make on which direction to go as you run late for yet another train. A choice that sometimes leads you in the correct direction and you dance a little for just knowing it was the right thing to do. Or, more times than not, it goes wrong and you scream internally (or externally), turn back, and then try again. If you get it wrong, it’s okay because then you learn a little about resilience as well.
Sometimes, when we travel with others, we force difficult decisions on them so we don’t feel the blame if it goes awry. We don’t want to be held accountable when things get tough. Our fear kicks in.
When you’re by yourself, you’re forced to gather your bearings and assess the options. The pressure to make the “right choice” for the group is taken away. And the best part, no one will even know you did something dumb unless you tell them!
When you take away that safety net of always being able to turn to others, you see how unequivocally resourceful and clever you are. Or, you screw it all up and have a hell of a story (I personally have a lot of stories).
Ultimately, traveling solo can be a lot like swimming. If you wade in too slowly, the fear builds up, like cold water, and can force you out. The discomfort slowly magnifies and creates the appearance that it’s all too much so you quit before you’ve had a chance to really experience it. But, if you jump in, you don’t feel the cold anymore because you’re completely submerged in your new reality. Your newfound empowerment, triumph, and kinships surround you with a blanket of warmth and contentment like nothing you have ever experienced.
While I am now cringing at the simplicity and cheesiness of that ‘jump in’ metaphor, it’s honestly true. And, if I have yet to convince you that solo travel is worth it, I hope I have at least brought you closer to the diving board (GAHD so corny). But, If I have managed to convince you to make the jump, congrats! You will not regret it and I wish you happy solo travels!