Solo travel continues to be on the rise. Not everyone will like traveling alone, but if you haven’t tried it, you can’t claim it’s not for you.
In my early 20s, a coworker suggested that I travel solo. Frankly, I had no clue solo traveling was even a ‘thing.’ I brushed it off and was unwise for not even considering it back then.
I felt it wouldn’t be a good fit for me.
Who is going to take my photos?
Who will I share the fun moments with?
As cliché as it may sound, it is the truth: If you wait for others, you’ll never go anywhere.
The leap of faith to travel solo was triggered by failed attempts at organizing a trip with others 4 years ago.
Each person showed interest when first asked, but when I followed up later, their narrative changed. It was either lack of money or their time off didn’t align with the dates I desired to travel. These incidents occurred all within the same year. So you can only imagine that I became weary of waiting on others.
2015 was the first time I traveled abroad and knew not a soul. No relatives, no friends, no acquaintances. It was to a country named Singapore.
Why Singapore, you ask?
There were 4 reasons:
- It was a test run for my upcoming birthday trip which I had never done solo before
- The country is known to be safe for solo female travelers
- It’s an English-speaking country (no language barriers)
- And I wanted to visit Joseph Prince’s church
Every time I’m abroad by myself, at least 5 people will tell me “You are so brave!” 8 out of 10 times, it’s said by a female. Some ask “isn’t it boring?” Some say “I can never do that.”
Is it boring? I don’t find it boring at all. I’ve always enjoyed my own company.
No, I don’t think it’s weird to eat alone. No, I don’t find it weird driving 12 hours from one country to another alone. What’s “weird” anyway? I do enjoy good conversations but I don’t crave to be around people 24/7.
Is it safe for a female to travel alone? It can be dangerous traveling as a woman, but remember that safety is unpredictable and subjective. I and many female travelers can attest that you’ll come across horny men no matter your marital status regardless of where you go. So pray, stay vigilant, listen to your intuition, and take precautions as needed.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED FROM SOLO TRAVEL?
1) It’s a time of introspection.
I truly believe that every able-bodied individual around the world needs a time of introspection from time to time, especially because many of us live a monotonous life.
Being in a new place alone every now and then can help refresh your mindset. It does for me most times, if not every time.
Being in the same place, same environment, same circle of people, day in day out for a long period can become toxic in my opinion.
2) I feel more satisfied when traveling alone than with others.
Best way to describe this is I get to be selfish. All decisions are on me. There is a sense of peace.
My biggest problem with traveling with others is having to please them. My attention shifts more on what the other person wants to do and being accommodating to their desires and interests. This can be exhausting and leaves room for disappointment.
I have to consider their budget, food preferences, level of patience, travel style, and so on. I prefer for there to be mutual agreement. Or I let the other person choose regardless of if I want to go there or not. But if I choose, I feel bad if the person loses interest or didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I did.
When it’s just me, I can go at whatever pace I desire.
I can skip a meal. I can change my mind without any explanation. And I can take 4 hours to make a decision if I want to.
Simply put, it feels so good to not have to compromise on anything I don’t want.
Just to be clear, I’m not implying that I dislike traveling with people. Like I stated earlier, I don’t need to be around people 24/7. With all the people I’ve traveled with, including family, I’ve never had a horrendous trip.
3) I’m able to meet new people.
I make better connections with people abroad when alone. People will notice you’re alone and will strike a conversation (or stare). But when I’m with a companion or group of people, this rarely occurs.
One thing that doesn’t stop whether I’m with someone or not is a random stranger asking to take a photo of me or with me. Bold people I tell you! This is always done by someone who isn’t of African descent.
4) It continues to give me new perspectives.
Being alone allows me to immerse myself in the destination and pay more attention. The more I travel, the more I discover more things I need to improve about myself and increase my knowledge of.
Solo travel changed my style of traveling and in turn, I’ve become a better traveler. From only knowing of hotels, I started using hostels and Airbnb, which help the local economy. I also try to find locally-owned businesses to support rather than patronize foreign-owned businesses.
Solo travel has inspired me to find business ideas that spark my interest. Who would have thought that I would open up my home to strangers on Airbnb and become a superhost? After staying at so many homes across the globe, I took a leap of faith and did it. No regrets!
In the past, I used to visit the top attractions (without a guide) and just take photos. Nowadays, I rather see a few attractions of interest and seek for a local to show me around town through their eyes. I’ve found it to be more memorable than joining an organized group tour or exploring solo with no side knowledge.
Americans are heavily dependent on their car for moving around. Few U.S. metropolitan cities have an extensive public transit where you can live without a car.
Traveling through Europe and seeing locals walk to catch a bus or train, or use a bicycle to work, made me realize that depending on where you live and your occupation, it can be hard to get physical activity outside of using the gym in the US. Because of this, I want to move to a place where I am car-free and can walk or ride a bike to my usual go-to spots.
5) It has compelled me to break out of my comfort zone multiple times.
I’ve been labeled as quiet my entire life and contrary to popular belief, I’m occasionally shy. I’m more introverted, not the best conversationalist, not always chatty, or the most energetic. But I am me.
Initiating and keeping a conversation going in my teens was not second nature and is still hard as an adult. In spite of that, I still enjoy connecting with new people. Solo travel helps me embrace my curious mind, be more expressive, and initiate conversations with strangers.
Last year, I traveled to Guatemala not knowing much Spanish besides como estas, gracias, me llamo es Ana, and some words my brain can recover from taking Spanish 1001 in college. I stayed with a Guatemalan family in a village near Panajachel just for fun.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t interact as much as I would have liked. She didn’t know English and neither does her brother or daughters. Having no wi-fi and using the Google Translate app wasn’t as helpful.
Solo travel has also led me to meet up with travelers from social media that were heading to the same destination as I was. Did this in Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Italy, South Africa, and Australia all through various facebook groups.
6) I’ve made more risky decisions.
The more I travel alone, the more I realize I’ve let my guards down in many ways I normally wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times my guard is still high up.
These are some things I probably would never consider doing before:
- Stay in a private room of a stranger’s house (Airbnb) with an unlockable door
- Stay in co-ed hostel dorms after hearing of bad stories
- Taking the subway or rail without a ticket in Europe
- Ride in the car with a man who is a complete stranger. Was I nervous? Yes, but it turned out to be good. I was hiking alone in Slovenia and decided to initiated a conversation since he was hiking alone.
7) It has sparked new interests and reignited things I once dreamed of.
Goals that have been re-ignited due to traveling: become fluent in Spanish and French, become a strong swimmer, visit every state of America, and more.
For years I used to say I don’t drink because I can’t stand the taste of alcohol. Well, that changed after I traveled around Europe and tasted sweet white wine that I fell in love.
With 3 years of several solo trips under my belt, travel has truly revolutionized my life in ways I could never imagine.
Solo travel thrusted my wanderlust and now I can’t stop. In retrospect, I needed it. It is the best form of travel that works for me.
It’s inevitable that you’ll face challenges and will need to turn to a stranger when you’re traveling alone. For instance, I searched for my phone in my backpack 8 times and couldn’t find it. It either dropped on the ground or was stolen while walking near Copacabana Beach. I was with a group of 3 people and one of them made sure I knew exactly where I needed to go to get home.
Or you’re unable to withdraw money from an ATM because you’re low on funds and need to use public transit. Or when you fall asleep on a bus ride from Panajachel to Antigua and a native Spanish-speaker that is fluent in English helps you not miss your stop or get short changed.
See, those are examples of what has happened to me. So there are kind-hearted strangers everywhere.
Thank you to the ex-coworker who suggested solo travel even though I didn’t listen.
Thank you to all the kind-hearted people I’ve met since 2015 on all my solo travels. Your actions are not forgotten.
I will always advocate for solo travel whether you are a man or woman. If you’ve had doubts about solo travel, my hope is what I have shared above will help you reconsider. It truly is an empowering and rewarding experience.
Have you ever wanted to travel solo?
If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?