How solo travel might surprise you
By Liz Carlson, Young Adventuress
The first time I ever travelled by myself was when I moved to Spain to study abroad for a year when I was just nineteen years old. This was back in the day of internet cafes and calling cards, making travel logistically more complicated than it is now. My flights were delayed. I missed my pickup. I had to make my way to a new town without any help, in a language I was only just becoming familiar with. But, it was an experience that really shaped me and taught me everything. A month later, once I was settled in, I began to plan trips on my weekends. Sometimes I went with new friends, but more often than not, I went on my own. Compelled by places that weren’t high on the bucket list of others, I could either not go or go alone. I opted for the latter.
Sixteen years and one hundred countries later, I’ve become a diehard solo female traveller. I moved to a new country (New Zealand) a decade ago, and I’ve travelled to all seven continents since. Sure, I’ll still travel with others from time to time, but at the end of the day, I love exploring on my own for many reasons. I feel like we’re so often conditioned to feel safer in groups, or we’ll have more fun with friends. Sometimes that’s definitely true, but I’ve also found the opposite to be true too. Once you embrace exploring on your own, it’s so empowering. In fact, I am a strong believer that everyone should travel solo at least once in their lives. Solo travel has so many benefits, from teaching you life lessons, to making you feel good, to improving well-being. Here are some of the ways solo travel might surprise you.
1. Solo travel is empowering and makes you feel good
I know, I know, I know. Blinding flash of the obvious, right? But seriously, nothing makes you feel quite so strong and self-assured as travelling all on your own without anyone else to lean onto. You’ve got this! From logistics, to getting around, to managing money and everything in between, every time you achieve something on your own feels like a little win. Self-reliance is a great feeling. You call the shots and make all the choices. Any mistakes or messing up are all on you, which means you have to fix them. The first solo trip I took while living in Spain (way back when) was to Paris. I made so many mistakes, the worst of which was missing the last late-night bus to the airport for a 5 am flight which meant I had to walk around the streets for a few hours. It sucked, but I survived and learned a lot. Troubleshooting in real-time, with real consequences teaches resilience and strength. And you don’t have to compromise on anything, how good is that?
2. It opens your mind
I am a big believer in the transformative power of travel, and I love experiences that help shape and mold you, even make you into a better person. One of the most important skills I’ve acquired from a decade of solo travel is empathy. Solo travel opens your mind because you quickly learn how to relate to the people you meet on the road. Spoiler alert, they’re often completely unlike you and hail from entirely different cultures and belief systems.
While I consider myself to be a massive introvert, I love talking to strangers and connecting with new people on the road. I’ve made it a point in all my years of travel to be open-minded. Whether I’m riding horses with an eagle hunter in Mongolia or learning to cook with women who wear hijabs, or even meeting people from all walks of life who couldn’t live or be any different from me, I still want to be able to sit down and talk to them and share stories. Being able to connect with someone so different than yourself while on your own is one of the best things you can learn while travelling.
3. Travelling on your own is easier than you might think
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Solo travel is not hard, guys. In fact, it’s so much easier than travelling in a group or with friends. You’re in charge. There’s no negotiating, compromising, or back and forth, which causes delays. There’s never any drama. You just have to go with the flow. You make the plan, and you execute it yourself. Without relying on friends to figure things out together, you quickly figure things out. Being on your own also gives you a lot more opportunities. I often can get a single seat at bars inside restaurants that have no reservations available. You can regularly go on last-minute cancellations for different things and have priority because it’s only one person. Solo travel gives you more freedom to wiggle around schedules since it’s just you. Embrace it.
4. You meet more people travelling alone
This might sound counterintuitive, but I’ve found that I actually meet more people and make more friends than if I was in a group. Single people are easily approachable. And solo female travellers? People are MORE open with me and more welcoming. I suppose I am not very intimidating, and oftentimes I hear the whole “oh you crazy” for going around the world on my own, so I think people often take a protective, almost motherly attitude towards me, which is fine by me! I’ve had so many incredible experiences being invited to join local families, or tag along on adventures I wouldn’t have been asked otherwise. Like dinner with the most amazing older local women while I was backpacking in Turkey. It’s also easier to put yourself out there when you’re on your own. Sometimes you even make friends that you travel with for a while. When you don’t have a travel buddy by your side 24/7, you’ll be much more inclined to reach out to new people. Join a pub crawl, or hop on a walking tour, or stay in hostels or hotels that have a community environment to them. Solo travellers often congregate around places like this, many of whom are looking to make new friends on the road.
5. You’ll learn so much about yourself
One of the best surprises when it comes to solo travel is how much you learn about yourself. You’ll learn how strong and brave you are. That you’re willing to put yourself out there without someone else to lean on and see what happens. You’ll quickly hone your instincts and learn when to say yes or when to get gone. Trusting your instincts is much easier to learn when you’re travelling on your own. You’ll also probably learn to err on the side of caution. I have long had an unwritten rule that if I feel uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form, I’m out. This intuition can’t be taught - it comes from experience. Travelling on your own is so empowering. It also gives you a lot of time to just be with your own thoughts. Some of my best decisions in life came from periods of travel, where I’ve been able to disconnect from a busy work life and just immerse myself in a new place. You realise what’s important and what really matters. The benefits that come from connecting with yourself while travelling are enormous and long-lasting.