Far removed from the distraction and obligation of everyday life, something magical starts to happen when you travel alone. As you find your feet in a new place and settle into the mindset of exploration, the usual driving force of pressure gives the reigns to its fun-loving friend, pleasure. Your days become your own, and a sense of curiosity leads you down new paths. It doesn’t take long, either. Two days abroad and the drama of life at home will seem farther away than the night stars.
Solo travel is presented with a pretty romantic image, especially when you consult social media. Queue the fantasy solo travel movie montage: You’re sipping espresso at a cafe table in Paris, riding a camel through the Moroccan desert, learning to salsa dance in Cuba, relishing the views from your hike to Machu Picchu, having a beer on a New Zealand beach, watching the Alps fly by out the window of a train…
We know these daydreams well. But how much truth is there to this romanticized version? What is it really like to travel alone?
We’re here to break down solo travel. The good, the bad and the chaotic.
First, there’s the factor of alone time, whether or not that’s abroad.
Think back to a time you were alone and free of obligation. For a lot of us, this came about during quarantine. The inevitable point where work was slow, and the laundry was folded, and you had to ask yourself a basically unthinkable question: what do I want to do?
You pulled a puzzle off the shelf. Drew a bath. Made a blanket fort with your kids (heck, maybe you made one without them). You were backed into a corner of creative entertainment, and it led you to a moment of joy during an uncertain time.
With the pandemic itself behind us, the challenge of creatively solving our boredom no longer lives at the front of our minds. Travel is a surefire way to resurface it.
As women, we are still fighting the societal conditioning that tells us the needs of others are more important than our own; it’s a story we’ve been told since we were little. No matter how good of a grip you have on this topic, nothing lifts the weight like having no one else around to attend to. Your attention must be turned inward. Once your mind has wrapped around this truth, your days become fully yours.
Want to have a chocolate muffin for dinner? Go for it. Do you have time for an impromptu pedicure? Any hour of the day. Does that cafe table look like the ultimate vantage point for people-watching? It’s yours for literally as long as you like.
The world is your oyster. (Oooh! Maybe oysters for dessert…)
In addition to the giddy freedom of doing all the things you want to do, you also get to decline the things you don’t. Who says you can’t leave the museum after one room? Or abandon that tourist trap for a road less traveled?
That’s the magic right there. You get to say yes, and you get to say no.
Your opinion is the only one in the equation.
While spending time alone is good, turns out that it’s also good for you. Alone time is a good way to get to know yourself on a deeper level. And that journey is one worth taking.
Let your mind wander. It’s perfectly okay, natural and even healthy to get a little bored. We should point out, however, that alone means alone. Responding to DMs doesn’t count as alone time. One of the downfalls of our technological connectedness.
Though we firmly believe the benefits of solo travel outweigh the costs, we also made a promise of transparency about the topic. Like most things, solo travel isn’t as glamorous as Instagram would have you believe. Today, we’re focused on the mental gymnastics we find ourselves doing during a solo trip. To learn more about staying safe while abroad, see our blog post Safety Tips for Solo Travel - By Women for Women.
It turns out that twenty-four hours can be a lot of time to fill. Of course, this can be a good thing, but it can also feel daunting. At worst, it can start to turn into an obligation of its own.
Pressuring yourself to “get the most out of your vacation” often leads to more bad than good. Constantly trying to find ways to fill your time can be exhausting. Feeling like you’ve “failed” to do so can be treacherous.
If you run yourself ragged guess what you’ll end up feeling? Ragged.
How do you combat these self-imposed expectations? Remember that your time spent traveling should be of benefit to yourself, and that can look like many different things. If you’re enjoying something, lean into it. Stay on the patio a little longer and let go of your evening plans. You can always make adjustments.
When you’re unsure of what to do, take a breath. Ground yourself, and give yourself permission to be uncertain. There are no wrong choices. Here’s a completely reasonable tip that often gets cast aside: when you are tired, rest. Never underestimate the power of a midday siesta.
This brings us to another unwelcome force that can creep in during a lone travel experience; guilt.
It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts of how you “should” be spending your time. Perhaps you feel obligated to follow up on a recommendation from a friend, or are beating yourself up over a missed photo op.
Here's how to battle the guilt:
Step one, unpack it.
Where is this coming from? Myself? Someone else? Social media? The answer is usually one of the three, and knowing which can help you reframe the situation.
Step two, acknowledge it.
Okay, so I feel guilty for staying in tonight when I’m in such a beautiful place. Herein lies your opportunity for a deep breath and mental check-in. What do you actually want to do when you remove the element of expectation?
Step three, let it go.
I want to rest. I deserve to be well-rested. I choose the experience of an early night, and I get to write the permission slip for myself to take one. The goal is to make your decision from within, not without.
At the end of the day - this is your sacred time. Don’t let guilt into the driver’s seat.
Something else we run into when talking about solo travel is the fear of getting lonely. Loneliness is a difficult emotion under the most familiar circumstances, so battling it abroad can be a challenge. We have a few solutions for this.
One idea is to have a trusted friend write you a card that is pre-designated to be read in a low moment. This small comfort can have a big impact on a bout of loneliness.
Time zones may affect your ability to connect with people back home. When this is the case, you can turn to a comfort object instead. A favorite book, movie or playlist is an excellent way to self-soothe.
Of course, another option for when you’re craving community is to make some friends!
When you’re traveling alone, you’re out of your comfort zone merely by existing. You kissed that thing goodbye a while back. How much harder can it be, really, to start a conversation with a potential friend?
When making friends abroad, there are only two kinds of people you run into; locals and other tourists. Locals will have insight into a destination that you cannot get anywhere else. Tourists will share your passion for travel. It’s a win-win!
We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to the realities of traveling alone. But we haven’t yet talked about the travel itself. Foreign airports can be intimidating. Here are two reminders to help with travel anxiety.
The first is the knowledge that everyone around you is also traveling. Millions of people are traveling right now. If all of them can do it, you can do it too.
Second, airports are designed for this. Everything is engineered to help a wanderer find her way. Directions are given through symbols, so language barriers aren’t normally an obstacle. And officials who can help are never far away.
Traveling alone is just about the most empowering experience we can think of. The things that make it tough only add weight to this statement. No matter how haywire an experience goes, this constant seems to remain intact: nobody comes home from solo travel as the same version of themselves that set out. Experiencing the wonder of our world is transformative, especially for those who take it on solo. The simple truth is that traveling alone will change your life.
Are you feeling ready to take on the world? Or maybe you’ll start by taking yourself to lunch. One thing’s for sure, there are a lot of journeys to take - without and within.