You’ll learn many lessons traveling solo. In time, you’ll learn how shorten an airport experience as much as possible, how to make a 14-hour bus ride somewhat comfortable, how to take a killer selfie-that-doesnt-look-like-a-selfie, how to handle yourself in a country where you don’t speak the language, how to meet people wherever you go, and how to grocery shop when you don’t know what most of the labels mean.
You’ll also learn some larger “life lessons,” if you will, from your days traveling alone. Travel is what you make it and, while you can’t control other people, you can control how you act and react, what you let yourself feel, and how deep of an experience you have.
11 Ways Solo Travel Changes You
You Learn To Trust Yourself
It’s that age-old truth that you only build confidence once you do things for yourself. You’ll trust yourself to get to your flight on time, to guide yourself through a foreign city without getting lost, to use your intuition when it comes to other people, and to ask for help when you need it.
I broke into the world of solo travel slowly, first by doing legs of a journey on my own, or just a day at a time before I met up with a friend. I built travel confidence in myself over time, just testing out the waters before I decided to do a cannon ball into the deep end and travel alone for months at a time.
You Become More Trusting of Others
When you were a kid, you were probably told not to talk to strangers (if not by your parents than by that weird stranger-danger assembly person at school). Well, IMHO, what a dumb idea. Of course, whoever told you that probably meant “don’t talk to that effing shady dude hanging out by his windowless van with the licence plate “PSY WGN”. Which, I mean, fine. Fair enough.
The truth of the matter is, only other people will make your travels memorable. Only other people will be able to help you out if you get yourself in a pickle. Only other people can invite you into their home to have a delicious traditional meal in their country (I’ve yet to see a dog do this.)
Don’t forget your street smarts, and definitely trust your intuition, but not everybody is the boogie man.
You Learn To Take Responsibility
When you travel solo, you make the rules. Of course you can’t control other people or their actions, but when it comes to your malleable experiences, it’s up to you. You make the rules when it comes to where you go and who you hang out with, how you perceive situations, how you feel when you hike up a mountain yourself, or how you react when you fail or succeed at haggling. It’s up to you.
And honestly, this is one of the most freeing feelings ever. This isn’t about beating yourself up over missing a bus or feeling like a failure if you get scammed, this is about overcoming. It’s about taking every experience as one to learn from, and to shake off the missteps.
You Become More Compassionate
Unless you’re having a solo, lock-yourself-in-your-room-rubber-stamped all-inclusive-resort experience, I truly believe that solo travel makes people more compassionate. They open themselves up to new ways of life, to new cultures, to understanding other people’s struggles, and to the realization that there is not just one right way to be.
It’s so easy to put the blinders on when it comes to other people, but when you’re solo traveling, you’re opening yourself up to everything going on around you. Which brings me to…
Your Senses Will Heighten
The reason why I love the traveling version of myself so much, is that I love the feeling of all my senses being heightened, of allowing myself to experience everything around me on another level. When I travel, I eat more slowly, and savour every morsel of food. All of a sudden, my glass of red wine ceases to be just a dinner-time tradition, and it becomes one with my surroundings, complimenting the events in the room.
Maybe this happens because when you don’t have another person to rely on, you have to become much more aware of what’s going on around you. Or, maybe it’s because there are no distractions and you’re forced to examine and accept your surroundings exactly as they are.
You Become More In Tune With Your Body
More-so than when you’re sitting at home at your desk or watching TV, when you travel you become hyper aware of everything that is happening in your body. On my travels, I have gotten so many kinds of ailments — broken feet, weird splotchy rashes all over myself (I think it was the laundry detergent from that hostel in Slovakia), painful dehydration, sty’s in my eye from not properly removing my make-up at night…you get the picture.
All of these things have happened, yes, but I felt them happening in a different way. My body was sending me messages ahead of time galore (except for the rash one, that came on quick), and for whatever reason, I chose not to listen. Lesson learned.
When I travel, I am hyper-aware of how my body digests food, handles illness, and when it’s tired. Maybe because of the aforementioned ailments that I have learned to listen to my body, and to take a break when it needs one.
When you travel, you feel everything.
You Become More In Tune With Your Soul
Solo travel is beautiful because it allows you to spend time with your #1, YOU. Time tends to go at whatever pace you want it to, and you learn all kinds of things about yourself. You learn what kinds of activities nurture your soul, and what kinds of activities make you run for cover.
When I travel (and I’ve kept this up even in my off-travel times), I keep a journal. Every day, I find a coffee shop or a park bench and I sit and write for a good hour. I let all my experiences pour out on to the page and am constantly checking in with myself. How do I feel? What am I craving today? How is solo travel affecting me?
You Discover Your Priorities
I don’t want to bring up that cliche that when you travel, you’ll figure your shit out. But I have to say, traveling helped me figure some shit out. This is something that also comes with age and time, but when you’re traveling and forced to spend every day looking out for your own well-being, and taking in every situation around you as if you are a sponge, you get new perspectives.
For example, traveling helped me discover just how much of a priority it is to stay in touch with family, that I feel better when I travel more slowly, that I need to walk with my head up and be open to new people, that going forward I want to become a boss in my personal finances, and that a life of complacency is not one I want to lead.
Your Limits Will Shift
Whatever you’ve determined your limits to be at home, take my word that they’ll require a reassess on the road. While solo traveling, I have felt my limits shift in how long I stay in a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable, how I handle people who are short with me, how high of a cliff I’m willing to jump off of (figuratively and literally), and how much joy I allow myself to feel.
Not to mention one of the biggest ways I’ve felt my life shift partially because of solo travel is my relationship with alcohol. Five years ago, I was going out every weekend and partying my face off; drinking until the sun came up. I felt myself starting to change in this regard even before I started traveling regularly, but travel definitely helped reinforce that I want alcohol to find a new place in my life.
Solo travel, especially for women, means keeping your wits about you and approaching all situations with a clear head. After all, you’re the only one looking out for yourself. Plus, while partying is always fun, there is something that makes me feel so good when I have a healthy body that’s able to wake up early to watch a sunrise, or do yoga, or not feel like a sack of shit who wants to hang out in bed all day (coincidentally, I’m writing this two days after a Christmas party where I drank a lot and felt like shit the next day — the first time I’ve done so in months).
You Become More Selfish
You’ll become more selfish because you’re the only one looking out for you, because you don’t owe anything to anyone, and because you get to decide what kind of experience you want to have. Traveling solo means you have to put yourself first.
This isn’t to mean you disregard other people’s feelings, environment, or culture, but rather that you hang on to the good experiences, and let anything that makes you feel uncomfortable fall away.
Your Definition Of “Home” Will Change
“Home” is a concept that has changed drastically for me over time, and it’s something that not just solo travel, but travel in general, has helped evolve. When I was a kid, home meant a specific house with my family. Then, when I moved to Toronto, home meant my apartment, plus that same specific house with my family — I was split between two worlds. Then, when I started traveling, home meant wherever I felt comfortable in that moment, the place where I felt safe.
It’s that last feeling that I try to remember. I can’t always be with my family, nor do I want them to take on the entire role of “home” for me. I am not in a place in my life to buy a house, nor can I even commit to renting an apartment for more than a year. Home is a feeling that I can carry with me if I so choose, and it makes me feel better and more at peace than any house ever will.
What are your favorite things about solo travel?