I got back from a six-week solo trip a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to write about my whole chaotic experience since the second the plane touched the ground at LAX. However, it’s taken a little processing and some time to get a good perspective on my trip. I first came back with so many thoughts racing through my head, so startled to be back home, that I didn’t even know how to go about this post.
Now I’m ready. In the next few weeks, I will write several posts on the specifics of my trip and destinations (Japan, Spain, Scotland, France, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary if you were wondering), but I want to talk about the incredible overall experiences I had on the road while the trip is still fresh in my mind.
These are the most important things that have stuck with me since the day I got back, and the reasons I think everyone should try solo travel at least once.
You Realize You Don’t Need Half Your Stuff
Actually, I would guess the percentage of shit I own that is useless to me is higher than that. I would guess that I could set fire to 60-70% of my apartment and have it make no real difference in my daily life (my building manager might not be happy with me, but besides that).
I packed a suitcase of around 20 kilos for six weeks, plus a backpack with my camera and laptop, and still only used about 75% of the things I took with me.
When I got back to my apartment, it just seemed so relatively full of…stuff. Just things that I never use, things that I forget exist, decorative, tiny things I actually never really notice or look at. And my apartment is by no means cluttered; in fact, it’s on the simple side compared to most apartments I have seen. But since I’ve come back, I can’t help wanting to chuck things off the balcony and out of my visual field.
Being on the road will make you realize what things are actually important to you, and what is truly pointless added weight in your life.
Solo Travel is Like Alcohol
When I’m on the road alone, I lose so many of my social inhibitions. I have no problem approaching people I don’t know, starting conversations with strangers, and basically acting like I’m out at a bar and on my 3rd beer at all times. Which most of the time, I wasn’t.
Traveling alone flings you out of your comfort zone. If I was traveling with friends or family I might have been content to just talk to people I know without venturing beyond them, but I was given no choice of doing that and pretty much had to make friends on the way. You also get close to people shockingly fast while traveling; I think I invited half of Italy to visit me in LA at some point. There are funny people with incredible life stories all over the place, but as long as you have your “stranger wall” up, you will never discover them.
You Will Constantly Surprise Yourself
When we’re in our routines and social circles back home, we usually have pretty set lifestyles as well as certain things we just don’t do. This is partly influenced by the people we hang out with and also by the persona we’ve subconsciously set up for ourselves, which we do our damn best to fulfill without even knowing it.
To use one example: I am not an athletic person in LA. The thought of working out bores me to death and the influx of new workout trends every six months, which the whole city obsesses over before tossing away for the next thing “you simply have to try” (what are we on now? SoulCycle?), has given me a very negative attitude towards the fitness craze. Point is, partly because my friends and I spend free time on other things, and partly due to an annoyance with the hyper-fit-obsession of Los Angeles, I almost never work out here.
But on the road, I get to leave all that behind. When I travel I don’t necessarily have to be THAT person, and then I can take that new interest and experience back home with me. Average 8-9 miles of walking a day? Yes! Bike 25 miles on the Lago di Garda route? Sure! Do an 8-hour hike in Cinque Terre? Why not? And on that note..
You Learn to Think in “Why Not?” Terms
If I couldn’t think of a reason not to do something, I’d do it.
Most of us say “no” by default to something outside our comfort zone. However, traveling solo means you’re constantly outside your comfort zone, so your reaction to unexpected suggestions and ideas isn’t what it would usually be.
Sometimes, the answer to “why not?” is a good one. I was sitting in a bus station in Barcelona waiting for a bus to the TBEX Conference in Lloret de Mar, when I looked at the bus schedule and realized…I could be in Morocco in 6 hours. I had all my bags with me with everything I would possibly need, the tickets were cheap, and I was so close!
Well, because the conference started the next day and I really wanted to attend the seminars plus meet up with more amazing travel bloggers, so I went to Lloret de Mar instead.
However, shutting down a new idea was the exception rather than the rule. When I met Andreja Jernejčič of Adventurous Journeys, she suggested I should change my trip to visit Ljubljana. She made the city sound incredible and I had never been there before, so…why not?
You Realize Things Usually Work Out
Half the time I was on the road, I wasn’t sure where I would be sleeping the next night. Or how I would get there. Or what I would be doing with my day in any way, shape or form.
To name just a few instances where things went astray:
1) I missed a train and found out the next one was leaving after 24 hours
2) I arrived in one city at midnight with a dead phone and very little money
3) I got hopelessly lost lugging my suitcase all around another city to find a hotel that Apple Maps indicated was right next to me but was, in fact, a 25 minute cab ride away
4) And to cap it all off, I got robbed on my last day – that will be covered in more detail in another post
In the end though, things turned out OK. Maybe not ideally, maybe not as I had planned, but life went on. And sometimes it was almost for the best. Missing the train gave me the time to have a two hour lunch with a wonderful man in Venice, and trying to find a place to charge my phone and get money led me to a bar where I drank sake all night with a group of hilarious Japanese friends in Kyoto.
Which brings me to…
You Rarely Feel Alone
This is probably one of the most frequent questions I heard before, during, and after my trip: “But don’t you get bored being alone? Doesn’t it get lonely?”.
You know what? Actually having time alone on my solo trip was so rare that it was almost a relief when it happened. Being an only child, I need a good amount of alone time to begin with, so exploring a city by myself or spending hours looking out a train window is perfectly alright with me. But I met people so easily everywhere I went that true “alone times” were few and far between. Even if you’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the local language, you’ll be surprised by how much hand motions, a little broken English, and laughter can help connect you to people you meet.
So if you are hesitant to take a solo trip just because you think you’ll be lonely, throw out that ridiculous idea and book your ticket now.
Solo Travel Teaches You to Get Over Yourself and Keep Going
On a solo trip, you do not have the luxury to wallow in self-pity. Why? Because you are the one in charge of your trip, so if something gets screwed up, you are the one who has to deal with it and do something to fix it. No one will take care of things while you sob at the injustice of it all.
I’ll take the worst instance of my trip as an example.
Got robbed. Yes, it sucks. Yes, I felt like shit and cried a bit. I went to the police station, spoke to the embassy, called a couple of friends and parents to vent about it, and then got the hell out of my room because there was nothing else I could do and Budapest was waiting.
Self-pity should have a maximum one hour time limit on the road (and in life). Do what you can to fix something, and whatever you can’t fix, just deal with it as best as you can and move on. Travel doesn’t get ruined when something bad happens, unless it’s really severe; it gets ruined when you let a bad experience eclipse every other incredible moment of your trip.
The World is Kinder Than You Think
99.99% of people you meet on the road are friendly and helpful. It shocked me how easy it was to find people willing to do anything from point me in the right direction to help show me around town.
Continue to use common sense and be alert to obvious scams and criminals, but don’t let a fear of strangers and safety in foreign countries stop you from pursuing your dream solo trip – I’ve already exposed my statistic-nerd side to prove that travel is less dangerous than you think. The vast majority of people you meet on your travels are more likely to start a conversation about your hometown or grab a drink with you rather than rob, roofie, or kill you. I seriously guarantee it.
Solo Travel Gives You the Biggest Confidence Boost of Your Life
Most of us go through phases in which we doubt our competence, our abilities, our independence. If you’ve never experienced such a thing, congratulations on being an exceptionally well-adjusted robot.
Self-doubt usually happens because for the most part, our daily routine doesn’t really test us. Being able to successfully fulfill a predictable schedule doing similar things every day doesn’t give us any confidence in ourselves, nor the feeling that we can do almost anything.
Traveling solo is the antidote to all of that. I’ve been flying high ever since I got back, and while I know I still may experience a small crash at some point down the line, it’s been three weeks and I’ve never felt more in charge of my work and my life.
When you navigate foreign cities and countries alone, when every day provides you with an overload of new information you have to deal with and new experiences to try, when things go wrong and life is completely unplanned on an almost daily basis and yet you make it work, you come out the other side more sure of yourself than you’ve ever been.
If you are still wary of taking a solo trip and none of the other reasons I’ve listed have convinced you, at least consider this last point and the possibility that your life back home will improve as a result of your trip. I truly believe that the best travel experiences don’t stop when you arrive at home; they continue to affect you and shape you long after you’ve disembarked from the plane. My first attempt at solo travel was one of the most thrillingly intense and beautiful experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t go back to change a second of it, even the missteps.
So what are you waiting for?
If you have any solo travel experiences, plans or ideas for the future, share them below!