Since I was little I always knew I wanted to see the world. I have old bucket lists featuring things like “go to every country in the world” and “travel all the continents”. My bucket list has scaled back a bit as I’ve got older, but I do still want to see as much of the world as possible.
My adventures in solo travel began a couple of years ago when I decided to take a three week trip around Europe by myself. I saw ten countries in three weeks, which for a first solo trip was rather ambitious. It was fantastic though, and despite all my insistence on the contrary, I have become one of those “when I was in *country*” kind of people. Not even ashamed though. Travel gives you amazing experiences, and it’s great to share them!
It wasn’t necessarily part of the travel dream than it had to be done alone. In fact I imagined myself with friends or a partner on all these grand trips. However I got tired of waiting for other people to be ready, to get time off work, to have the money. I would have waited my whole life and never seen a thing. So I did it by myself. I planned it and I did it, on my own terms with my own agenda. And I know it’s a cliche, but it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
There are so many benefits to solo travel, and I say everyone should try it at least once if they are able. Even if it’s not a big trip round Europe or travelling South East Asia, just pop off for a weekend city break. Here’s why I think it’s so fantastic:
You get to spend some time with yourself
This is something I don’t think people do enough of. I don’t mean just being alone, I mean really spend some time getting to know who you are. There’s nothing like being alone far away from home to let you really know how you handle things in a pinch.
This was something I didn’t realise until I was out there by myself. When you’re not surrounded by the same old familiar people at first you do feel lost. I didn’t realise how set into certain interactions with these people I had become until suddenly they weren’t there. Most of the time they weren’t even contactable. Obviously I do interact with new people sometimes in my day to day life, but it’s usually transactional or there’s drink involved. For three weeks every interaction was a new one, which really forces you to find your feet socially very quickly.
It’s a chance to disconnect
At the time I travelled roaming was still very expensive, so not only was I alone, I was completely disconnected most of the time. At first it was scary, but as I got used to it I felt liberated from the constant demands of social media. I read TEN books while I was on trains because I couldn’t just sit there and mindlessly scroll through BuzzFeed.
It is weird not to be checking your phone all the time or feeling the familiar buzz of notifications, but for once it wasn’t about that. I had to learn how to live without my phone, and it’s damn hard but at least now I know I can. Besides, there’s always places with free WiFi in big cities, it just makes your screen time more structured. In Canada I’d pop into a Starbucks for a coffee and a sit down, but also for a quick check in with friends or a spot of blogging. But the long stroll through Stanley Park in Vancouver was interrupted only for the odd photograph, and that was truly peaceful.
Everything is out of your comfort zone
Removing yourself from your comfort zone will definitely expose you to a whole load of new and unfamiliar experiences and grow you as a person. When I was all by myself in Europe and feeling SUPER homesick the last thing I felt was growth. I felt like this tiny person who’d set all these lofty expectations for herself that she just couldn’t live up to.
But that’s all part of the process. Some people might go away and have a fantastic time from the get-go, but honestly it’s more likely that you’ll spend a good few days finding your feet on your new adventure. Once you’ve settled in to your new solo persona you start to realise all the things that you’re learning about yourself.
But the fact remains I did it. I went to the shop, I bought my toiletries and snacks, I learnt that shops in every country have their own quirks (in Madrid the sun cream is kept in a locked cabinet), and I overcame the fear of the unknown. Slowly things become less scary and you become much bolder.
It’s all on your terms
My favourite thing about travelling on my own is being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I want to go to the park? Off I go! Want to go to Starbucks, even though I should really be sampling the local stuff? Alright then! Feel like going to ANOTHER aquarium? Cool! No convincing anyone or compromising, you just do it and enjoy it.
You don’t have to wait around for other people to decide what to do, and you don’t have to spend time doing things you don’t like. There’s no drama! You can be as flexible as you like, or you can plan everything to a tee. I made the decision to make an impromptu trip to Geneva, and I didn’t have to convince anyone else that it was a good idea. Good thing, cause it took long enough to convince myself!
It was so much less stress doing it all on my own. I worry that other people are just going along with things or not really having fun a lot of the time (I know, I’m working on it), and going it alone removed all the extra stress of worrying about someone else’s enjoyment as well as my own.
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