Looking to travel alone but don’t know what to expect? Here are five things I’ve learned from traveling solo and how it can help you gain confidence, meet new people and expand your horizons.
The idea of traveling solo was initially a bit daunting to me. There’s a long list of places that I wanted to see, but my schedule and interests just didn’t quite align with those of my friends or family. Eventually, I decided I wouldn’t let that keep me from checking the destinations I wanted to visit off my bucket list. Traveling alone is a unique experience, and I returned from my trip feeling refreshed. Here are some of the things I learned while traveling by myself:
1. Leave room for spontaneity
While I do believe in having a general idea of what I’d like to do, I found that leaving room for spontaneity created many opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. When traveling by yourself, you don’t have to compromise or have a discussion with someone about your plans. You can simply just do whatever you are interested in.
Many times I’ve gone about my day as planned; however, I’ll come across a food market that I want to try or an interesting street that I want to wander down. Being by myself and having an open schedule gave me a chance to explore much more. I appreciated the ability to be flexible and independent. On various occasions, I’ve discovered things I wouldn’t have if I had adhered to a strict schedule. You never know what opportunities will pop up when you’re out and about.
2. Put down your phone
During my travels, most of my time is occupied by activities such as visiting attractions, exploring the streets, and grabbing a bite to eat. But what about those times when you’re flying on a plane or waiting for your food at a restaurant? Those times where you might otherwise be talking or doing an activity with a travel buddy.
As a solo traveler, you have a lot of quiet time to yourself. At first, whenever I had a spare moment or had time to kill, by default, I would fill that spare moment by reaching for my phone. Naturally, I would check my messages, send an email, or scroll through social media. I did quite a bit of this initially, as I felt as though I needed to fill that gap. When I relaxed and got used to the idea of being by myself, I didn’t feel the need to be distracted by my phone.
As the trip progressed, I also learned that there are so many other ways to make use of your alone time that don’t involve using the phone. I brought out my books and found that they made great company when I was on a train or even while I was sitting and having a bite to eat. I spent my time just admiring my surroundings and learning about the culture. During moments of rest, such as sitting down at a park, I would simply admire my surroundings or people-watch.
3. Don’t be scared to strike up a conversation
It’s not always easy to start a conversation with others. This was something that I was initially hesitant about. When traveling alone, however, I noticed that people (especially other single travelers) were quite receptive to having a chat. While it was uncomfortable at first, I encouraged myself to just have small talk with those around me. The more I did it, the more comfortable I became. It was no longer such an unfamiliar territory. If you have a thought or comment about a sight or something else that you see, it’s okay to share it with the person nearby! It’s okay to say hello or give a friendly greeting to people that you encounter.
Often, we worry about rejection or stepping outside of the personal space to which we are so accustomed. Whether you’re browsing at a museum or relaxing at a park, it’s okay to connect with or start a conversation with the person next to you.
4. Allow yourself to be present in the moment
I realized that when traveling with others, there have been plenty of times where I’ve been lost in conversation with a travel companion or distracted by the other person, and I might have overlooked various moments during my trip.
The one thing I noticed as a single traveler was that I could properly devote my attention to my surroundings and immerse myself in the environment. Normally, this would be rather difficult if I were chatting away with a companion. With solo travel, you can be super observant and take-in every little detail around you, which is important when exploring a new country or destination! With no distractions from the people you’re traveling with, you can enjoy the moment all to yourself. I found that traveling alone allowed me to focus on the sights and sounds around me. I can analyze the colorful flowers, the details of the architecture, and the people wandering around. This is one of the biggest perks of single travel; it’s so much easier to be present and aware.
5. Step out of your comfort zone
One of the things I realized is that you won’t have a family member, partner, or friend there to motivate you to try something new. I had to muster up my own strength and step out of my comfort zone. While I might have required a bit of a nudge to do this back home, being on a trip alone really empowered me to try to be bold.
For example, there was a restaurant with items that I’d never tried before and that were rather unique to me. Regardless, I was still really intrigued. Previously, I would have been hesitant to try an unfamiliar food item, but I decided to give it a go, and quite enjoyed the experience! While it didn’t make my list of favorite items, I did appreciate the experience and the memories that came with it. I tried new cuisines that I previously wouldn’t have dared to eat and enjoyed unique encounters that I normally would avoid. Traveling solo provides a great opportunity for you to encourage yourself to tackle a new challenge or try something unfamiliar.
Going on a solo trip to Europe was a life-changing experience for me. Single travel can sound scary, especially as a woman, but when done right, it can be an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience.