Don’t be scared! Of course it can be fun to have a partner in travel if you’ve got a like minded buddy who enjoys the same things you do, but there are also benefits to solo travel that you might miss out on if you’re always waiting for a friend to join you before you book a trip. In fact, you might miss out on the trip all together if you’re waiting on that friend. The following are some of the best lessons I’ve learned from hitting the road solo.
1. Yes I Can Travel Alone!
The first and best thing about traveling on your own is that it’s super empowering. You will find that yes, you can figure out how to use the trains, you can speak enough of the language, you can find the museums and the tours and the restaurants, and you can navigate whatever arises just fine without a buddy.
I’m not saying that hardships won’t arise, but if they do, even better! You’ll problem solve on your own because you have to, you’ll reach out to a local for help if you need to, and everything will be ok. When it is, you’ll feel fantastic for having figured it out yourself.
For me, the opportunity to do foreign things in a foreign place is a huge reason why I travel in the first place. I enjoy the challenge that comes with piecing together an itinerary, trying to de-code a subway map, translating menu items, or just saying “f*ck it” and ordering a surprise meal. It’s all part of the adventure, and it’s all part of the growth that travel offers.
Of course, this growth is available when you have a partner in tow, but when you’re going it on your own, you feel all the more accomplished at the end of each day.
2. My Own Pace is a Good Pace
I’ve been lucky in my life to have had some excellent travel buddies who shop the way I shop, eat the way I eat, want to walk as much as I do, and prefer the window seats, so I can take the aisle. I’ve also been on trips where I’ve had to compromise perhaps a little bit more than I’d like to.
When you’re traveling on your own, anything goes! If I’m in the mood to sleep in, I sleep in. No need to shove 100 attractions into a 10-hour day. If I’m in the mood to linger a little longer at that one museum, or if I want to tackle the full length of that hike and bike trail, I go! When it’s time to do nothing, I do nothing.
Lately, my favorite thing to do while traveling is to grab a book, find a restaurant with a great people watching spot, and take my time with a long, slow meal. I can’t imagine doing this with a partner in tow. Sorry, but I’ve discovered it’s extra nice to have a quiet meal, watch the world go by, and not get distracted by your conversation. In fact, I’ll admit I sometimes use this time to practice my Spanish by listening to other people’s conversations. All little creepy, but true, and it works.
Whatever it is that lights you up, when you’re on your own, there’s nothing to hold you back. Go to the museum that nobody else wants to go to. Go at your own pace. Your own pace is a good one. Enjoy!
3. Full Immersion Requires Letting Go
For all the benefits of doing things on your own, sometimes we need a little help, or a little companionship. When you’re traveling with a friend, this is who you’ll turn to. When you’re traveling alone, you need to reach out and meet new people! If you’re like me, you might have to be forced to do this, and solo travel puts you in just the right spot.
If you allow it, to be alone is to be available. I’ve noticed when traveling alone, people are much more likely to ask me for directions, to approach me with questions, to say hello, and to ask where I’m from. (and no, cynical people, I get this from all ages/sexes so some people are just friendly or looking for help) Likewise, when I’m on my own and I need help, I’ve got to reach out and test out my language skills, get out of my comfort zone. If I’m interested in being friendly with the gal next to me on the tour, or seated next to me on the train, I need to say something.
When I’m traveling alone, I also pay attention more. By not being sucked in to the relationship to my companion, my mind is more free to look around, to take photos, to watch people, to pick up nuances, to go all in on where I am and what I’m doing. When I no longer have the anchor or attachment to what’s familiar, to someone I know well, I’m able to be fully immersed in what’s unfamiliar. That full immersion in the unfamiliar is among the top three reasons to get out and travel in the first place.
4. Solitude is Healing
I understand that for some people, to be alone is terrifying. It used to be that way for me. But here’s the cliche/truth, if you’re afraid of being alone, who is it that you’re afraid of being with? Explore this, then get over it. Be with yourself. Get to know yourself. See how you’d behave when you drop the tethers of the travel companion, of the familiar territory. Do it in baby steps if you have to. There is no spiritual growth until you can be alone with yourself and be happy.
To join a group trip, alone, is a wonderful way to test the waters on solo travel. You’re with unfamiliar faces, but with perhaps a common interest, a common language, or a common goal. With the safety of at least a few variables removed, you’ll give yourself just enough room to grow, to dip your toe in adventure, and to meet new people and see new things. Most importantly, you will grow! << Isn’t this why we travel?
A well executed solo/group trip experience has great potential to leave you happier and more confident and perhaps, it just might leave you feeling ready to hit the road again with or without that friend who always, maybe, not-this-time says they’ll come.
Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga and meditation instructor with Baja Surf Yoga and an extroverted introvert (or is it introverted extrovert?) who loves to travel with friends, but is happy to go it alone. Travel with her by visiting the upcoming retreats calendar at BajaSurfYoga.com