After three years of doing a bit of my own soul-searching through solo travel, I have found out that there are some things about traveling solo that no one ever really talks about. It’s always painted as this ideal, picture-perfect experience when in reality, it can break us down, build us up, and everything in between. I have had my fair share of embarrassing moments, scary moments, long cries, and mistakes made throughout my journies, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I wanted to write this blog post to shed some light on the topic and give people a glimpse of what solo travel can be like sometimes. This isn’t to run anyone off from taking the leap to make their own solo trip, but I believe that a little dose of reality can help people feel a lot more confident for their first time on the road by themselves. Discovering a new place all on your own is an experience that I believe everyone should have in their lifetime, but these are 10 things that no one told me (and probably you either) about solo travel.
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There is an 80% chance you’re going to cry at some point (really).
If anyone has told you that they never cried during one of their first solo trips, they are LYIN’. When you’ve been in the comfort of home your entire life and have never ventured out past what you’re familiar with, traveling can be extremely overwhelming depending on where you go. I’ve heard of some people backpacking India for their first solo trip, some people choose somewhere else in their home country, and some go all out and plan a full year abroad. No matter where you are, for the first time in your life, you are the only one that is responsible for yourself. If you have a question, you can’t turn to a family member or familiar face to ask. If you need help, you have to branch out to a stranger. If you’re lost, you need to find your way back or get help with directions. There isn’t that relief of having another person to fall back on and it can become a lot for some people. This isn’t to say that you won’t get used to this way of going about things, but with all the changes in scenery, language, people, food, likely diseases, and more, a good cry is bound to be etched into your itinerary at some point, and that’s totally okay and healthy, trust me. Mine normally hits around days 1-5 and after that, I am back on my travel high.
As I write this now, I am traveling Iceland solo and I made the decision to go up north to the West Fjords so that I could see this famous waterfall and some other spots around the area. Little did I know that the roads up there are absolutely nuts. N U T S. You drive over, in, around, and through dozens of fjords with zero guard rails, multiple gravel roads, and a lot of changes in altitude and incline. After four hours of driving with a death grip on the steering wheel, I arrived at my campsite a bit shaken up and in dire need of someone to talk to. I walked towards the bathhouse and tried to mention to this group that the roads were crazy on the way here, but none of them could understand anything that I was saying and that was the point where I just went to the bathroom and cried it out. I have traveled solo before on many occasions, but I had yet to experience something where having someone else there would have eased a lot of my anxieties. Solo travel will put you through the wringer, and maybe some tears will be shed, but you’ll always look back on the moments of growth throughout your trip and express gratitude; I know I did. Now, I believe I can conquer any road I come across with minimal panic and some grit. These situations turn out to be some of the most memorable in your trip because this is where the biggest chunk of growth comes from, realizing your power and being able to laugh about “that one time in ______ when…”.
Despite being surrounded by other travelers and beautiful scenery, it still gets lonely.
There is no doubt that this is the most obvious one on this list, but I feel like whenever people talk about solo travel, no one really like to say that they get lonely? Obviously, I would not be solo traveling if I didn’t enjoy my own company, but sometimes I really just want a good conversation over dinner or an adventure with a new friend. Yes, loneliness does happen, but once it hits, you’re more likely to reach out, ask questions, and meet new friends along the way. I connected with so many new people while in Iceland and I came home feeling incredibly inspired and reignited from all of the deep and raw conversations I had with others. When you meet new people, you talk about where you’re from, where you’re going, your dreams, your hardships, your passions, your family, and friends with a total stranger, but the difference is that you truly feel like someone is listening. At least that is how it is for me sometimes. The loneliness pushes you to create new relationships with people and the next thing you know you have friends from all over the world, and possibly more around the world than you do back home. It’s important what you do with the loneliness because you can either let it take over your trip and push you into total solitude, or you can work with it and use it as a chance to connect with someone new. Some of the ways I like to branch out is by asking other solo travelers if they want me to take their photo, ask where they’re from, ask what their plans are for the day, ask a group if they’ve been on the hiking trails nearby, or ask if someone is local or if they have any advice on an area you plan to travel to. One time I simply asked how the washer and dryers worked at a campsite and it turned into a warm welcome to Arizona if I ever needed one and a deep dive into adventures through Italy and Costa Rica and my deepest passion in life (travel if it wasn’t obvious enough lol). If you feel a little bit shy at first, trust me, I’ve been there. The more you branch out the more that you’re going to be comfortable with it and then the loneliness will soon fade away through those new connections.
Not all hostels are going to be social experience and not everyone is going to reach out to you.
When I first started traveling alone, I truly thought that most hostel experiences were going to involve laughing, maybe a little bit of drinking, possible board games, and a community of people that would share a night or many nights together… but this has never actually happened once for me, and although I feel like I am booking awesome and outgoing hostels, there hasn’t seemed to have been any with booming nightlife, except at the Flying Fish Hostel in The Philippines. It has turned out that not too many people reach out, mostly because they’re solo as well, some are with their partners, or some just straight up don’t want to be bothered, which is fine, but sometimes you expect to meet your lifelong friends there and I know I sure haven’t, yet. A lot of it does depend on where you’re at and which people happen to book for the same dates that you do, but it did come to a surprise to me that I haven’t had this wild hostel nightlife experience.
On the other side of things, sometimes you need to be the one that reaches out and offers meeting together and going to do something. If you go into things always waiting for others to approach you first, you may not get anywhere with that. I used to be pretty shy about going about this, but once you get into the swing of solo travel it really does get easier to reach out. Especially after all the adventures reaching out will take you on.
You are your own support system, guardian, navigator, planner, + safety net.
I think this is something that everyone knows on the inside, but they don’t fully realize it until they’re actually in the position where the only shoulder to lean or cry on is your own. You’re the only person that is in charge of the things you do and the decisions you make so you always have a couple of different dialogues running through your head. It’s like everything that you’ve learned up to this point is being put to the test and it’s interesting to deal with when you’re still adventurous and young, but you still have to parent yourself to make sure your shenanigans don’t put you in a dangerous situation. It’s like you’re in a play, but you’re playing all of the lead and supporting roles (but still killin’ it). While I am on the topic of adventures, you are also the only person in charge of what you do every day, highlights you want to see, route changes along the way, and everything in between, which is probably one of the best parts about solo travel, but also one of the most exhausting. Planning a trip and executing it in a way that suits your travel needs is tiring. I think a lot of people see traveling as a ‘vacation’, (if you’re leisuring on a beach drinking margs for a week then yes it is), when in reality it’s a big mesh of staying up too late, pushing your limits, being stressed, pumping your adrenaline, and many other things that will gas you faster than your day to day back home, especially when you’re a one-man team. With that being said, when you are exhausted, you have the choice to leisure and not do anything for a day if you want. There isn’t any pressure to do anything because you’re entirely in control. For someone that likes to be large and in charge of all her travel plans, I think this is why I really really enjoy traveling solo and why most others do too.
Sometimes all you really want is someone to share your experiences with.
Ah yes, the (possible) ugly truth. Isn’t the whole point of solo travel to find yourself and go on a soul-searching ‘Eat. Pray. Love.’ journey? Well, for the most part, yes, but sometimes when you see some of the most beautiful sights you’ve ever seen in your life, all you want is someone on your side that you can look over and say “wow. look at this.” to. This other person doesn’t have to be a partner, but it can be a friend, family member, or anyone else that is important to you. It’s not so much that you HAVE to have them there, but having them there would mean sharing a memory with someone else that you can talk about later on in life. There is a special bond and connection between two people when this happens and to not be able to look over and see someone smiling as wide as you are, it can be a little disheartening. There will be plenty of moments where you’ll enjoy the solitude, but on occasion, there’s that one time that just hits a little bit differently than all the others and makes you wish you had a person there to enjoy it with. I truly believe some experiences are best shared with other people. Us solo travelers can be independent all we want, but I think we can all admit that some of our fondest memories are shared with others.
You learn so much about yourself and those lessons are invaluable.
In our day to day lives, we are surrounded by constant noise. The sounds of a city, family, friends, pets, distractions, tv, and social media fill our lives and when we travel, all of those things seem to dissipate into this silence that you haven’t experienced before. You are forced to sit in silence with yourself and that comes with addressing suppressed emotions, issues, personal problems, insecurities, desires, fears, wants, needs, and everything else that you can put on the back burner back home. Yes, you are able to bring forth and address these at home and I highly encourage you to do that as well, but when you’re traveling solo there are fewer things that you’re able to distract yourself with. We can learn so much about ourselves simply by listening to ourselves. Traveling might give you that push you needed to pursue the career of your dreams after realizing your skills, potential, and drive to make it happen. It might make you leave behind a corporate job in search of a life of simplicity on the road. It will help reveal how you cope with things, how you react to stress, what makes you feel safe, what makes you feel unsafe, all the things that you need to live a meaningful life, and this list goes on and on because the lessons you are able to learn along the way are different for everyone and they are ever-expanding with each and every country on the planet, which is 195. That is not even including the different cities, landscapes, and people you’ll meet in different areas of those 195 countries. Growth is around every corner when you travel and that’s one of the rawest parts of the travel experience.
The days leading up to and the beginning of the trip is always the most overwhelming part.
The countdown on your phone or in your head dwindles down to the days before you leave for the airport and the initial panic begins to settle in. “Why am I doing this?”, “Will I be safe?”, “What if all the warnings people told me were true?“, are a couple of the questions that will run through your mind. Your pre-trip anxiety might be a little overwhelming, but you manage to get through it enough to board your flight and prepare for the unknown. Once you land, depending on where you’re going, that’s when the ‘oh shit’ comes in. You may still be excited about everything that you’re going to see, but nothing will prepare you for the reality of what you’re going to encounter. You can’t read anything. You can’t communicate properly. Everything is entirely different than back home, and while it may be a new, interesting, and whirlwind experience, you can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed until you settle into a good routine. You’ll find that familiar route back to your guesthouse, meet the owner of the cafe down the road, and see the first iconic spot on your itinerary and then everything sort of falls into place. You begin to fall in love with this place that is soon beginning to feel like home even though you’re thousands of miles away from it. Once that routines settles in and you find that familiar feeling, you wonder why you were ever overwhelmed in the first place. However, there are some places on this map that will feel like home as soon as you arrive, almost like fitting the last piece to a puzzle, and those are the ones that you should hold very close to your heart (and visit again as soon as possible).
At first, eating and doing things alone feels weird, but you come around and really enjoy it.
I am one of those really really “weird” people that enjoy eating by themselves. Why? Because I can order half the menu if I want, read, write, and leisure at my own disposal… or order extra dessert *wink wink*. Eating alone is not something that everyone enjoys, but once you find that pure bliss that is filled with delicious food and alone time, those still moments are the ones that keep you sane in and amongst all the chaos. Also, in these moments, is when you master the fine art of people watching, one of my personal favorite things to do anytime I am out alone. You really are off in your own little world going about regular activities and it’s a lot of fun watching thoughts go by, reflecting on everything, and watching humans be human over a good meal. Plus, I LOVE food and eating so how can you have a bad time stuffing your face with some of the greatest cuisines on the planet?
As for doing everything else alone, wandering around art museums, castles, ruins, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, hiking, exploring, etc., going at them solo is the best way to see them, in my opinion. The difference with traveling with someone else is that you have to make sure that they’re having a good time too, want to do the same things, and are enjoying what they’re seeing whereas if you’re on your own, you can decide to leave something that you don’t enjoy, skip a spot entirely, or spend a little bit longer at a place if you want. There is this ultimate freedom that I feel like no one ever mentions and it is the most liberating feeling. When you’re alone, this is a real-life dialogue of how things go:
Me: “Hm… What do you want to do today, Aaren?”
Also Me: “Well, there was this hike that a local recommended to me that doesn’t really fit the itinerary, but I want to make room to see it because apparently, the views are incredible.”
Me: “Wow! That sounds incredible! Let’s do it!”
Also Me + Me: *self high-fives and goes on the hike, enjoying every minute of it*
The people you meet along the way understand you more than most in your hometown. They just get it.
Back home, people just don’t seem to get it. They don’t have that same light in their eyes when you mention buying a flight to somewhere remote and when you try and talk about your experiences, often times it can come off like bragging or that you’re being pretentious. The complete opposite happens when you travel. The people you’re surrounded by love traveling just as much as you do because they’re pursuing the same thing in the same country. You can talk about your hometowns, the places you’ve been, the places you want to go, and everyone seems to just get it. It’s this huge shift that happens once you get out of your hometown or city and it’s one of the things that I love most about solo travel. I can talk about my travel blog without people rolling their eyes and telling me to go to college. I can talk about other countries that I loved without feeling like I come off as better than someone else. I can talk about the countries that others have been to without it feeling like a competition. I can fully express myself and my passion and it has not once been shot down. Travelers are go-getters, dreamers, creators, believers, adventurers, and everything in between. We are a community of people that understand what it is like to have this deep desire to go places we are not. We understand the importance of seeing the world and sharing a bond with others that share this same passion. Honestly, you do come across the occasional asshole, but everyone else is on your same mission: to see as much of the world as possible with the time they have, and they are the most beautiful souls you’ll meet.
Solo travel comes with its limits and sometimes you have to opt-out of certain things.
As much as I want to be this badass Indiana Jones explorer when I travel, sometimes I have to reconsider doing certain things for my safety. If you’re able to explore with the new friends you made that’s a different story, but as a solo female traveler, staying safe is still a really important part of all my journies. Whether it’s hiking alone, exploring a city at night, or going extremely off the beaten path, some things are better done with others around so that you don’t put yourself in a bad situation. Everyone has their own personal limits and a lot of it is based on experience, but sometimes you have to throw in the towel and save it for next time or when you have a larger group with you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting your safety first and it’s all about what makes you feel comfortable. Don’t feel like you have to push the envelope to be the “right” or “good” traveler. There is no such thing. Travel how you’re comfortable. Get outside your comfort zone if you’d like and always remember to stay safe first and don’t do dumb shit that will put you at risk. Yes, it sucks sometimes, but I rather travel within my means, go back home and gain a little bit more experience, and tackle it the next time I visit rather than trying to prove something risky to myself just to see something cool. It’s okay to miss out on certain things and I promise you’ll feel so much better doing it once you’re in the proper position to do so.
Did you sob on one of your first solo trips? Share with me your story in the comments below!