Over the course of my life, I have spent hours daydreaming about adventures. As I got older and life took over, it became harder to make those dreams reality. I would run into issues like feeling like I couldn’t take time away from school and work, thinking I didn’t have enough money, and feeling like no one I knew wanted to take the same trip. For the longest time, that last one troubled me. I realized I could use my vacation days didn’t need to save as much cash as I thought, but I didn’t know anyone who was ready to take the same trip I wanted to. I constantly wondered – why can’t I just travel solo? I didn’t know anyone who had taken that leap by themselves, and I had the constant background noise in my head of family and friends telling me it wasn’t safe to travel alone.
Ignoring these “problems” I created in my mind and booking my trip to Iceland was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I still had to deal with friends and family telling me how frightened they were for my safety and being the only one responsible for making plans for my trip, but the benefits of traveling alone far outweigh any worries or inconveniences. I want to share the things I gained from solo travel in case someone else is in the same position that I was before my trip, in hopes of squashing any fears and providing the push needed to book the trip.
Get To Know Yourself
Today, it’s incredibly easy to live life distracted. With access to technology and our whole social networks in our phones, even when we’re by ourselves we’re never truly alone. Being actually alone with yourself and your thoughts can be challenging – especially if you’re not used to it. Spending hours in a car by myself, cruising around Iceland gave me more time to think than I’d ever had – no radio DJs and commercials, limited music selection, no cell reception for incoming calls, no distracting notifications. Instead of wondering “who was that bing from? is it an important email? do I need to pull over and respond?” I could spend some time with myself, uninterrupted.
It’s surprised me how many people bring up the aloneness of solo travel before anything else, and admit they have never spent time alone or don’t think they could. It feels uncomfortable at first, but some of my most enlightening moments of self-revelation come when I’m removed from others, and my confidence in myself has skyrocketed.
Meet Other People
Although I’ve just said how amazing it can be to have time with yourself, new social situations that come from traveling alone are also an awesome perk. Flying solo means that if you do want to be social, you have to make the effort to meet people. I’ve found it’s much easier to meet people in a new city or country than at home. Especially if you’re staying in a hostel, hit up a hotel bar, or an internet cafe near one. In my experience, most locals are open to chatting as well after they realize you’re visiting.
I’ve met friends on my travels that I’m still in contact with and have met up with in other places around the world. I have a stash of napkins and scrap papers with lists of recommendations from locals, from the group of professors I sat with in Paris to the owner of a tiny pizza shop on the Snæfellsnes in Iceland.
You Make the Plans
Or travel without any plans at all! That’s the beauty of traveling alone – you can do whatever you want. While I love my family and friends, sometimes I just don’t want to compromise when I limited time in a new place. Of course, I will when we’re traveling together, but I appreciate the freedom I have when going solo – there’s no obligation to make the trip great for anyone but yourself. It’s also much easier to change plans at the last minute if you change your mind because no one else is depending on you to follow thru.
Similarly to time obligations, traveling alone removes any burden of financial obligations to other people. I’ve found during group travel, sometimes not everyone agrees on where to spend money. I’m usually fine with cheap accommodations to use my money elsewhere like expensive restaurants, while some of my friends prefer a luxury hotel and would eat budget meals. Sometimes it’s a toss-up because you could save money by splitting a car or apartment rental, but I’ve found overall that I have fewer unexpected expenses and end up spending less when I travel by myself than with a group.
Grow Out of Your Comfort Zone
This part ties into the rest, but the number one reason I encourage everyone to travel alone is that it pushes you outside of your comfort zone in the best ways. I’ve gained so much confidence in myself and decision-making because I had to depend on myself. Walking off a plane in a place where you don’t know a soul or speak the language can be terrifying if you let it, but it can also show you how much you’re capable of.
Before I took the leap, I would see how easily other people seemed to bounce from country to country. When I first went alone, I had such an overwhelming feeling of “Why am I here? Did I make a mistake? I want to go home.” and I felt like I had done something wrong or maybe I didn’t actually want to travel like I had thought. But really, I now know, I was uncomfortable and hadn’t tested myself in that manner before.
I still get those initial feelings when I take a big trip, or even just enter a new place here at home, but having had practice tackling things by myself, I’m now able to ditch those feelings quickly and trust that I’ve made the right decision.
Have you traveled solo yet? What’s holding you back?