Solo Travel- taking the plunge!
Updated: Feb 2
Travelling alone can be a really rewarding experience, but when I talk to folks about travelling I am often surprised how many people say they would be afraid to travel if they didn't have someone to go with, assume it would be a really lonely trip, or even state that they have always wanted to go to a specific place but have never done so because they didn't have anyone to go with. Given all of this I wanted to share a bit about solo travel: why I enjoy it, some of the misconceptions around traveling alone, and how to prepare for a solo trip.
I have really enjoyed trips I have taken with friends and family, but some of my favorite trips have also been ones I have gone on without knowing anyone. Some of these have also been group trips where I didn't know anyone (more on that later) and currently, I am preparing for a long- two month- trip that is almost entirely on my own.
Here are some of the things I like about solo travel:
1. You get to do what you want!
Planning a trip and travelling alone are great because you get to plan it and live it out however you want to. Are you a foodie? Plan exciting meals out. Do you want to walk everywhere? Go for it! Do you secretly hate museums? Skip em! It's your trip and if you want to go to the same bar for a drink every night you get to. It's also really easy to plan on your own because you can make choices and book things without having to consult with others.
2. You meet new people!
Sometimes when I travel with a friend I spend the whole time focused on that person- we chit chat in bars, we plan everything together, and it can be easy to just stay in our little comfort zone. When I am alone I talk to more people, am approached more often, and can be more open to changing plans and joining others. I actually met one of my now closest friends while on a trip to Bali alone- how special is that!
3. You get time to learn about yourself, self reflect and grow!
We can sometimes have a tendency to build our identities in relation to those around us and to fall into familiar patterns of interaction and behavior. Being far from home, facing challenges, and having time to reflect helps you to learn a lot about who you are when you are not in your comfort zone. This has helped me to feel more confident, self assured, and I've learned that I'm able to handle things myself that I probably would have had asked others to do for me had they been there.
Being alone has also helped me improve my social skills with new people and brought me a bit out of the shy shell I can have. Plus, long walks and airplane/train/bus rides give you time to think about all kinds of things- what you want out of life, what makes you happy, where you'd like to grow.
4. You might notice more!
My friends and I like to chat. A lot. I notice when I am hiking with friends or travelling in a new place I can get so wrapped up in the content of our chats that I don't spend as much time taking it all in. It can be wonderful to be present and not distracted.
5. You might inspire someone- and they might even join you!
Sometimes planning something you want to do without anyone else just because it excites you inspires others do the same. I've had friends share that they took a dream trip because they saw me overcome my fears of going alone. And twice- in both Cuba and Tanzania- I had friends join me after I'd signed up because they decided they too wanted to dance across Cuba or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. In Cuba this was an old friend I hadn't seen in years and it was wonderful to reconnect.
6. You don't have to deal with anyone's bad moods!
This is obviously a mixed bag because it's also wonderful travelling with others and they can bring joy, happiness, excitement, love, and intimacy to a trip. But you know what's worse than missing a flight? Missing a flight with someone who is super angry about missing a flight. Enough said.
Misconceptions about Travelling Alone
1. You will be alone all the time.
There are a lot of ways, beyond just chatting up folks, that you can travel without knowing anyone. One way is to book group travel or activity related trips. For example, my trip to Nicaragua was an agricultural service trip so I was travelling with a group of volunteers and in Bali I went to a specific retreat, so there was a built in community there. This helps you to have a consistent group of people you're interacting with and you'd be amazed how sharing these experiences can help you built close relationships very quickly. If you prefer more autonomy you can also travel on your own and book activities in small group tours through sites such as Viator or AirBNB Experiences. I have done this to book underground lave tube cave explorations in Iceland and a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher in Dublin. This gives you a few hours in a small group and if you connect with your fellow travelers you can always keep hanging out after the excursion is over. I'd also recommend staying in travel hostels- even if you get a private room there are often areas where other travelers are spending time, playing games, etc and you can meet people there.
2. It isn't safe.
Travelling alone, just like all forms of travel, requires you to be aware of your surroundings, the areas you are visiting, etc. As I mentioned, I just planned a 2 month solo trip so I only booked places where I felt it would be relatively safe to travel alone as a woman. I probably won't go out for a bunch of drinks if I am by myself or hike in the dark woods at night alone, but I wouldn't do that at home either.
3. You'll be lonely.
You might be. But you might be surprised how good it feels to spend time with yourself. Learning to enjoy being alone can be a great lifelong skill to develop. There are so many ways now to keep in touch with loved ones while travelling. Unless you are going super rural or doing a camping trip, I have encountered wifi in most places I have traveled to. I can use this to check in with friends and family, share my photos and stories on social media, and still feel connected when I am away. And when I have been internet deprived, such as while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or travelling in Cuba and Nicaragua, I have actually realized how GOOD it feels to have a break.
4. You can't handle everything on your own.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed thinking about how you will navigate a trip alone. Even something like arranging transportation from the airport first thing can feel like a lot. In my experience, however, most people are helpful and kind. Certainly you need to practice discernment in who you ask for help and talk to but I have found airport staff, hotel staff, bar and restaurant servers, along with plenty of random strangers, are often happy to help you and often speak a fair amount of English. You can also arrange things ahead of time from home if that helps you to feel like there are less logistics to manage while you are on the road. For example, I can get flustered right after landing in a new place when I don't speak the language so I booked a pickup through my hotel in Chang Mai and it feels good to know someone will be waiting for me when I land.
Strategies to Prepare for Solo Travel
1. Do some activities alone at home.
When I turned 30 I realized I was totally oriented around doing things with people. If I wanted to see a movie and none of my friends wanted to see it I didn't go. Practicing taking a hike, eating a meal, or checking out a show took time for me. It turns out there were people I kept in my life just because I needed activity partners. Now I have plenty of friends but also enjoy doing things solo and I have learned more about what I really like by trying new things.
2. Do your research.
There are some places I probably wouldn't travel alone (even if plenty of women have) because I am a bit nervous about cultural views towards women or because the logistic needs are high enough that I want a consultation partner. But there are tons of places where it is easy to travel, very safe, and people speak your home language that are easy to maneuver on your own.
3. Bring your people with you (symbolically).
When I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro I asked my close friends and family to each write me a card. Every day as I hiked up, knowing it would be emotionally challenging, I opened a card from home. This helped strengthen my connection to those I love and was a sunny spot in my day. This is just one idea, but it can be helpful to have a plan for how you want to keep in touch, to have a photo to look at, etc., especially if you are not used to being on your own.
4. Make connections abroad while at home.
There are lots of Facebook travel groups, couch surfing websites, etc., in which you can meet other travelers- use intuition and judgement of who you connect with and how, of course- even if you just arrange to meet for a coffee at some point it can be helpful to have a person you've connected with at the other end or even if you never meet you can get local suggestions and tips.
5. Buy a selfie stick.
No seriously, these are great for capturing your favorite places when you don't have anyone to hold a camera for you!
Thanks for reading! I hoped this offered some helpful insight and, mostly, I hope if you have a dream destination but have been nervous to go alone you take the plunge!! I'd love to hear any feedback, questions or comments!
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