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It was 2014 when I first heard the phrase “solo travel”. I thought to myself, do people actually do that? Travel on their own? How bizarre! Fast forward one year to 2015 when the thought of traveling alone slowly crept back into my mind. It was like a constant nagging eating away at me, “travel solo, I dare you.” Terrified, yet enthralled, I slowly began to research what it takes to become a solo traveler.
Two years later, in 2017, I had finally talked myself into booking a solo trip. It had taken me hours of research, millions of pep talks, 730 days, and loads of tears until I finally had the courage to book my flight. It’s now 2019 and I am currently in the process of planning yet another solo trip, my third to date, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. However, when I started this journey of being a solo traveler, I had no clue what was in store for me. Here is what I wish I knew before I ventured into the world of solo travel.
Becoming a Solo Traveler – What I Wish I Knew Before Venturing into the World of Traveling Alone
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1. You Will be Lonely at Times, and That is OK
Some of the most challenging times on the road were times when I felt completely alone. But guess what? Those were also the most rewarding times. I learned to sit with my thoughts and feelings and not be ashamed. I learned that it is a lie to always feel wanted and needed and that sometimes even when I’m surrounded by friends and family I can feel just as alone as traveling by myself. I’ve learned that not only is it ok to feel lonely, but it is normal. That challenging times are times of growth, times where you can learn more about yourself, and times where you can open up to a loved one at home and let them know what you’re going through.
Immediately when I left for my 17-week solo trip through Europe and Asia, I felt so lonely I wanted to fly home. I was sitting in a bar in York, on Halloween, tears streaming down my cheeks. I worked through my feelings, realized there was nothing to be ashamed of, and managed 15 more weeks on the road solo. Did I ever feel lonely again? Absolutely. Did I let it stop me? Absolutely not.
If you want to learn more about how I manage to travel while feeling lonely, check out this article – Traveling with Loneliness
2. The World isn’t Quite as Scary as it’s Made Out to Be on TV
Unfortunately, the media tends to highlight the worst of the worst. Shootings, bombings, rapes, and more fill our nightly television screens. While the news may make it seem that the only way to stay safe is to stay locked inside, with no contact from the outside world, this is just simply not the case.
Around the time I left for my first solo trip in 2017, was about the time terrorist attacks were regularly occurring in and around Europe. Being from Nebraska, and from a family who isn’t familiar with solo travel, I was grilled every time I talked about going travelling alone. “Is it safe?” “Are you scared?” “Should you wait for your dad to retire so he can go with you?” The truth of the matter is anything can happen anywhere at any given time.
According to Business Insider, there were at least 307 mass shootings in the United States in 2018 alone. 12,000 people died. 12,000! Not only is it impossible to stay locked up at home all day for the rest of your life, but why would you want to? While it’s necessary to take proper precautions as a solo female traveler, the world isn’t so scary that you need to close the door on your dreams of travel.
3. You, Will, Learn to Be Comfortable in the Uncomfortable
With patience and persistence, you will learn to be comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations. When I began my 17-week solo trip, I hardly wanted to leave my hotel room for fear of being judged for being alone. I didn’t want to eat out alone. I didn’t want to take pictures of myself. I somehow wanted to travel and experience different cultures… without actually leaving my hotel room. Which is impossible.
But guess what? The more you practice the things that make you uncomfortable, the more comfortable you will become. You will forget that you’re alone and that people may be staring at you. You won’t notice that while you dine alone others are dining with friends and family. And when you do want to take a picture of yourself? Go for it. Because you won’t remember the people staring at you while doing so… but you will always be able to look back on your pictures and the memories made.
4. Always Listen to Your Gut, and Never Apologize for Doing So
Hey, guess what! It’s okay to lie to others when you’re alone. And in fact, it might even be safe to do so! If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, high-tail it out of there and don’t you dare apologize for doing so. Lie about where you’ve been, where you’re going, even your name if you want. The truth is, nobody will find out it’s a lie unless you yourself tell them.
If I find myself in an uncomfortable situation I simply say, “My boyfriend will be here shortly” (I also chuckle inside because the last time I had a boyfriend was before I was too chicken to travel solo). Or I say, “Have to go, going to meet friends!” As I make my way to wherever it is I want to go next. Sometimes I even get up without an excuse and walk away, because I have the right to do so, and no it isn’t rude. I also regularly lie about where I’m staying. This is 100% for safety measures. I absolutely do not want someone to know that I rented an entire Airbnb and am staying by myself.
For more tips on staying safe while traveling solo, read: Why it’s Important to Follow Your Gut When Traveling Solo – Tips for Solo Female Travelers
5. Solo Female Travel Will Be the Most Thrilling, Sometimes Scary, Liberating Thing You Ever Do
Hopping on the back of a stranger’s moped in Thailand, scootering my way through ancient pagodas in Bagan as the sun began to rise, renting a car and driving on the wrong side of the road as I navigated through twisting roads in Loch Lomond only to reach an expansive, breathtakingly beautiful Scotland; are all things that I may not have been able to do if I weren’t traveling solo. Being able to say “YES” at the drop of a hat. Or saying “no” to what doesn’t suit you and finding something else to do instead. All of these things, these decisions that you make, are wholly and completely 100% YOUR decisions. Nobody else’s. How liberating is that?
The most thrilling yet scary thing I’ve done while solo and abroad? Renting a car and driving on the opposite side of the road. Want to know why I might not do it again? Why You Shouldn’t Rent a Car as a Solo Female Traveler in the UK
6. You Aren’t Actually Alone
Truth be told, you aren’t actually alone. There are tons of other solo travelers traversing this world and you will run into them on the road. Whether you’ve joined a free walking tour, are sitting alone at a restaurant bar, or just walking the streets; chances are high that someone will approach you with friendly intentions.
The beautiful part about it all is that if you’re feeling lonely, you can welcome this new stranger with open arms. And if you’re feeling like you want to be alone? You can always lie and say that you’re going to meet friends.
7. Travelling alone in Europe Really is as Amazing as it’s Made Out to Be
Before leaving to solo female travel through Europe, I was anxious at the thought of what lay ahead. Will I like it? Will it be fun? People act like traveling through Europe is amazing, but is it actually amazing? To put it lightly, I road-tripped through the UK, walked through medieval towns, chased the Northern Lights, ate and drank my way through Italy, experienced coffee culture in Vienna, celebrated Christmas in one of the most magical destinations – Prague and learned loads of history while visiting Auschwitz. While visiting one continent, I got to experience a variety of activities and cultures. Is traveling through Europe as amazing as it’s made out to be? Absolutely.
If you want to travel to Europe solo, make sure to read The Best European Countries for Solo Female Travelers
8. You Can Do What You Want When You Want, How You Want and You Don’t Have to Feel an Ounce of Guilt
When you’re traveling solo, the world is your oyster. You can go where you want when you want. You can travel by boat, plane, or on foot! If You want to stay at home all day and catch up on Netflix, you can! If you want to wake up at 0400 to journey to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise… you can do that too! You might even want to stay out all night dancing, which is perfectly acceptable. The choice is yours and there is no wrong answer! Being a lone traveller is one of the most freeing decisions you can make.
9. The Experience of Travelling Alone is Something That is Hard to Explain to Others Who Haven’t Traveled Alone
Doing something as life-changing as traveling the world solo is a unique experience that most others won’t have experienced themselves. While it may be disappointing to come home and not have others ask you how your trip was, what your favorite dish abroad was, or even your favorite country… it’s just because they’ve never had your experience. They simply don’t know what to ask. And it’s okay if you can’t put your words into feelings. This may just be one experience you’re going to have to keep to yourself.
When I came home after 17-weeks abroad, zero people asked me about my trip. Aside from my mom and a few friends who I spoke to on the road; nobody wanted a recap. Nobody wanted to know where I would visit again or where I would avoid it. And while my feelings were initially hurt, I decided that I probably wouldn’t ask someone what giving birth was like. Or what falling in love is like. Or even what getting married is like. And it isn’t because I don’t care. It’s just because I don’t know how to navigate that conversation seeing as I’ve never had those experiences, and I don’t know how to connect with someone on that level. Just like those same friends who have had those experiences can’t connect with me on traveling the world solo.
10. It’s OK to Want to Come Home
Sorry to tell you, but traveling isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. It’s long hours, pulling your suitcase through cobblestone streets, as you search for your hotel. Sometimes you get sick and have to figure out how to fend for yourself. Sometimes plans change, flights get canceled, long layovers make you want to pull your hair out, and people are rude. It’s going to happen, and you’re going to want to come home. And that is ok. Give yourself grace as you navigate the world of solo travel.
11. Some of Your Best Friends in Life Will Be Those You Met Traveling Alone
The best part about being a lone traveller is the opportunity to meet people along the way. Being alone opens you up to opportunities you wouldn’t have if you were with someone else. People want to talk to you, pick your brain, invite you to places. You don’t seem as intimidating to approach if you’re alone.
Traveling solo has allowed me to make tons of friends on the road. Friends I still keep in touch with to this very day. Friends that have the same interests in me, share the same dreams as me, and friends that root me on when I’m feeling down. And while we certainly don’t see each other often, I think of these particular friends nearly every day. And know that they are only one phone call away should I ever need anything or be in their home country.
12. You Are NOT Weird and You Won’t Be Bored
Before leaving for my 17-week solo journey I had a co-worker approach me at work and blatantly say, “What are you going to do alone? Won’t you get bored? How boring to be by yourself for that long.” While I was shocked and hurt, even worse was that I began to doubt myself. What would I do alone? Would I be bored? Am I weird? Seriously though, will anyone talk to me if I’m alone?
What a silly thing it was for me to let this girl in my head. Not only was I not bored, but I realized it is not weird to want to travel solo. In fact, it’s brave! It takes strength and perseverance to spend so much time alone. I know myself better than a lot of my friends know themselves, and that is nothing to feel weird about. But it is something to feel proud about.
13. Once You Start, You Won’t Be Able to Stop
And as I book my third solo trip abroad, I can’t help but grin and think how far I’ve come. Will I travel the world solo forever? Maybe. And if that is the case, I will feel damn lucky being able to do so.
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