The first time I got on a plane by myself to discover new territory all by my lonesome, I’ll admit, I was terrified. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was I was dreading, but walking through the custom’s gates solo left me with a giant lump in my throat followed by a sprint to the ladies room to cry my eyes out.
Sitting on the bathroom floor, sobbing like a 4 year old who lost her mommy at the mall, I realised I had two options; I could call it quits and return home with my tail between my legs or I could pick myself up (after giving my eyes a bit of time to de-puff), march my butt over to that gate and let the chips fall where they may. What was the worst that could happen? I choose the latter and I’m soooo glad I did because it changed my life in so many ways.
Since that unnerving moment in the bathroom, I’ve embarked on many solo ventures and never had another moment of doubt, loneliness, fear or sadness again. Wandering by myself became a second nature and I discovered I was completely and utterly happy exploring on my own, even preferred it. So to pass on the knowledge I gained and encourage you to get out there by yourself, here’s 8 things I learned by traveling solo.
1. The world isn’t as scary as they say
No matter how often I return from a trip safe and sound, any time I head out solo, doubts come flying from the home front into my direction. Even though I’ve never been one to perceive every stranger as a threat, there’s nothing like traveling alone to make all fears we were force fed with as children fly out the window. On a number of occasions, complete strangers where there to save me out of hairy situations and it still amazes me how far out of their way some coachsurfing hosts have gone to make my stay enjoyable.
Sure there’s creeps out there and the world isn’t without dangerous psychopaths, but the greater majority of people are kindhearted and just downright awesome!
2. I love being on my own
One of the things that worried me about being on my own and far away from familiar faces for a long period of time was definitely loneliness. Even though I’ve always enjoyed undertaking things by myself (5 hour long horseback rides by myself, city trips without company or just simply hiding away with a good book and not speaking to anyone for a couple of days just to name a few), I had never been on my own for very long. There were always friends, roommates and family to fall back on and the prospect of potential loneliness certainly made me nervous.
For some reason though, loneliness never struck. I was surprised to discover that eating by yourself in a cafe wasn’t weird or scary at all, sitting on an airplane next to a total stranger wasn’t unpleasant (even nice on some occasions) and even spending days at end without any human contact felt good. Traveling solo made me feel empowered, like I could handle anything the world had in store for me, a feeling I never had in the presence of familiar company.
3. Solo doesn’t always mean alone
The empowerment of being on your own aside, solo doesn’t have to mean alone. You’ll find so many likeminded people on the road! In fact, if you want, you never have to spend a moment by yourself. If you want to undertake long trips on roads less traveled, but you want to share with someone else, simply hang up a flyer with intended travel plans and your phone number on the bulletin boards of local hostels and I can almost guarantee you’ll get one if not many replies. As life changing as traveling solo can be, so can traveling with a stranger.
4. I’m so much braver than I ever imagined
I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person since that airport bathroom breakdown. I’ve overcome so many fears and done plenty things I never though I’d do (sleeping on a park bench to catch a bus at 2 in the morning, spending the night curled up on an airport floor, hitchhiking, sleeping on a strangers couch, just to name a few) and I have to say that breaking my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone has opened me up to some of the best experiences of my life.
5. Home isn’t always where the heart is
The term home country always bothered me since I never felt at home in mine. Spending each day commuting on the train to uni watching suburb after suburb zoom past to only rarely be interrupted by rainy fields full of cows, I couldn’t help but wish I lived someplace else. I craved to live in the commotion of a metropolis or completely off the grid surrounded by nature (turns out the latter was a better fit). After traveling around for a while, I fell in love with Australia, which I’m now (after a looooooong migration process) lucky enough to call home. Being part of a small nation in a massive country with one of the most diverse landscapes and climates, sits just right with me and I’m convinced I would never have ended up here if I traveled with a partner from “home”.
6. I can be totally independent
Traveling solo had made me realize how independent I can be in so many more ways than just financial independence. I can make my own decisions regardless of what society (or family) expects of me. Follow my dreams and create a life in which I feel happy every day even though most people at home thought I was crazy and naive for even wanting it. I can get myself out of hairy situations and most of the time the help of a total stranger can be just as good as that of someone you know. I can travel the world by myself, which makes me feel like I can take on anything that life throws at me.
7. All traveling cliches are true
All that hippie-dippie stuff you hear about finding yourself turns out to be true. At least for me. Before I left for my first long solo trip I had no idea what I wanted out of life. I was simply following the path that was laid out for me and not particularly happy doing the things that were expected of most of us. Traveling solo really opened my eyes to what would make me happy and introduced me to amazing lifestyle choices I never even considered possible (living on a boat for one).
8. The ultimate freedom of traveling alone allowed me to change my life
Because the ultimate freedom of traveling alone allowed me to go and stay where ever and however long I wanted, without having to answer to anyone, I had the chance of changing my life. When I fell in love I had the chance to stay and see where the relationship would go. Luckily for me it went towards marriage and a life that fills me with joy, happiness and adventure EVERY DAY.