The Joys of Traveling Solo

The idea of traveling solo in a foreign country (and not within the confines of a all-inclusive resort, mind you) might scare the living bejesus out of you. Maybe you’ve never even gone to the movies alone or dislike having lunch at a table for one in your own town.

I’ve not seen a movie by myself in the theatre (yet). But I have traveled abroad by myself. Traveling solo has the potential to be a game changer: you come home as a better, more confident version of yourself.That’s what my trip to Paris last year was for me, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. If you’ve never done it, here’s why you should consider it.

You’ll take a lot of self-portraits. Luckily I like doing that, and it’s a sign I’m having a great time.

When you travel solo, you are on no one else’s agenda but your own. You do what you want, when you want. And if you want to change your mind, change it and then change direction! In the unfamiliar, you will rely more on your wits and abilities, and therefore, will learn tons about yourself. You will be laid bare to take in a new culture and new experiences. The edge of comfort and expectation is where growth happens.

Like many of us fond of wandering far from home, you likely have a list of places you dream of visiting someday. Of those places, I have no doubt that a few places on your list feel “too out there.” Maybe it’s canoeing down the Nile. Visiting Easter Island. Or Nepal. You think: None of my friends would take one or two or three weeks off work. I don’t think I could get anyone to spend the money. I don’t think that any of my friends would sit on a plane for that long. My friends aren’t that adventurous. No one else can do this on short notice. These statements may apply to your friends. (Ask them and find out. Maybe not!) Well, even if they do, guess what? Allow yourself to consider traveling solo and you will no longer be confined by someone else’s restrictions/whims/preferences. All of those barriers fall away and the boundaries of your travel experience are drawn by only one person: YOU.

Still not convinced? It might be scary, but most of the reasons-slash-excuses you can think of NOT to travel solo are all in your head. Allow me to dismantle your doubts.

  1. I will be lonely. Just because you go somewhere alone, that doesn’t mean you’ll be lonely. One of the best ways to get to know a place is to know the people who live and work there. Traveling in a group tends to shelter you from meeting new people. (You already have someone to talk to, why talk to anyone new?) Part of your travel mission should always be meeting locals*. Keep a friendly, open attitude and you will meet nice locals and fellow travelers, too. (And I’m not talking about con men or ne’er-do-well folk looking to rob you blind. See #2.) You know how to start a conversation, don’t you? Can you smile? (Watch the body language, though!) While you’re at it, turn off your fricking iPod/iPhone, please, and engage with the world around you! But I don’t know the local language, you say? Locals might know a bit of English, or maybe you can communicate via another common language, perhaps your hodge-podge high school Spanish or French finally will come in handy?
  2. It’s not safe. Real talk: Some amount of risk is inherent in travel, whether done with a group or solo. You may experience some pitfalls. This isn’t Eat Pray Love. Be cautious and don’t make yourself an obvious target. Do your research on common scams, familiarize yourself with the surrounds, and most importantly, listen to your instincts. You might be a lady who’s never done this before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try it once. (FYI, big post about safety to come… here’s one from BootsnAll for starters.) Maybe you’d feel better knowing one local, just-in-case of catastrophic emergency. Ask your friends if they know someone who lives there. S/he might be willing to give you a few tips or even want to meet. People can be very helpful, if you just ask. Try taking a cooking or dance class, go to a bar, look for a Meetup of English-speakers or others with common interests.
  3. I’m scared. Yes, I know you are. That’s normal. I felt scared, too. I was on the plane to CDG watching the sun come up over the edge of the wing and thought, What in God’s holy name am I doing? Consider that my warm hug right before the swift kick in the tush. But, how far will you get in life if you stay with the tried-and-true? Your life would be like the movie Groundhog Day: annoying, boring and smacking of Bill Murray. You’ll be comfortable, but what consolation is that? Try something new, and you might be pleasantly surprised. Even if you aren’t happy with the outcomes, you will not live with regrets.

Listen: If your solo travel becomes too overwhelming, you can always go home early. But I bet you won’t want to.

*Addenda: Says writer Thomas Swick:

What can you know — and feel — about a place when you don’t meet the people who live in it? We learn through human contact, and the knowledge that we gain is of infinitely greater value than any number of practical tips. Similarly, it is through human contact that we open our hearts. Enlightenment and love — there are no more compelling reasons to travel, or write about it.

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9 thoughts on “The Joys of Traveling Solo

  1. I absolutely enjoyed this post! Not only do you write well, but the topic was also interesting. As someone who has probably traveled on airplanes solo more times than she’s been with someone else, I can definitely relate to this article! Although I think my days of traveling solo are behind me, I must agree that traveling solo is SO MUCH BETTER! You have no one to please except yourself!

    • Thank you! I didn’t do a gap year or backpacking through Europe, so I’m coming to this realization a little later than my contemporaries may have. Better late than never, in my case!

      I enjoyed reading your post, “Immigrating to the ‘Other Side.'” The notion of “home” is a theme I often visited in my poetry of days gone by. If I can dig it up, there’s one poem in particular I’d like to share.

      Looking forward to reading your blog!

  2. You definitely bring up some good points. I like being on my own agenda and not having to follow behind what someone else wants to do. But, I also like traveling with someone too. My 2 best friends like the same things as I like and we typically always want to do the same thing oddly enough lol. So traveling on my own or with someone is always fun for me. I loved this article 🙂

    • Thank you, Kay. I wrote this more for someone who felt like the choice of traveling alone was unavailable, somehow, to them. I love traveling with friends. Many of my cherished memories are on trips with loved ones. This year we will reinstate the annual mother-daughter vacation. Of course it’s perfectly fine to have my mom visit me and vice versa (which we often do throughout the year), but discovering a new place together is such a wonderful experience. One of my favorite trips from last year was my girlfriends’ Bestie trip to LA. My stomach hurt from so much laughing. Thanks for reading, again!

      • I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t want to spend time with themselves. I think I’m a riot to spend time with lol. And the mother/daughter trip sounds like so much fun :). I hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  3. I’m new to your blog and this is a great first post to read. I’m Mr. Solo Backpacker myself and by travelling alone I’ve been able to meet so many great people I may not have otherwise had time to interact with had I been in a group.

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