“You’re going alone?!” That’s the number one response I get when I tell people I’m traveling somewhere (even still, after how many solo adventures?) Yes, I’m going alone. No, I won’t be lonely all the time. Yes, I know it’s dangerous – but not as much as you probably think. No, I’m not crazy. Okay, maybe a little.
As every single person who’s ever trekked the world without a first mate will tell you: traveling solo is one of the most rewarding, enriching, and self-affirming things you can ever do. Sure, it’s not always preferable to traveling with a companion, it’s not always fun and games, you do get lonely sometimes, and it’s a sure bet you’ll get homesick. But in my mind, the pros far outweigh these cons. I am absolutely the person I am today because I’ve walked foreign soil, and I’m the woman I am today because I’ve done it by myself. After all, when you travel alone…you’re not really alone. Among others, I’ve found these to be the best and most rewarding results of going solo:
You control the itinerary.
When you travel solo, you aren’t at the mercy of a tour guide or a travel partner with differing ideas of where to go and see and eat. Though that doesn’t have to be a terrible thing: successful travel partners work together and compromise on itineraries, or even split up to each see what they want to see separately, and can have incredible trips with unforgettable memories. I’ve done a ton of travel and sightseeing with a partner. But there’s a certain pleasure in being absolutely, selfishly, and unashamedly in control of your own itinerary: you see what you want when you want, you eat whatever the hell you want where you want, and you can make up your mind or change it as you go. Natural calamities and extenuating circumstances aside (you can’t literally see the Northern Lights whenever you want to), the world is yours for the taking and you’re free as a bird.
You’ll make so many friends, it’s ridiculous.
Particularly if you stay in hostels along the way, you’ll meet like-minded travelers who are eager to share their stories and backgrounds with you. I joke that one day I’ll write a book entitled “Life in A Hostel: Hi, I’m Becky from California” – because that’s my opening line every time I check into a hostel room. Suddenly, you’re sharing a bedroom with strangers from all walks of life, and before you know it, you’re having beers at the local pub, laughing about the crazy things “back home,” and realizing you’re not so different after all. To this day, I’m still in regular contact with tons of friends I’ve met while traveling. And it doesn’t have to be in a hostel: even if you rent a home or camp or stay in a hotel, the people you meet on the road, in a street cafe, at a museum, on a hike, can be potential friends. Heck, I stayed 3 days at the house of a friend of a friend in Wellington, New Zealand, simply because she heard her friend had a friend in town and wanted to offer her a place to stay. We met for the first time at the airport when she picked me up! (Though New Zealanders are famously hospitable like this.)
You may not make a lifelong pal in every situation, but a sightseeing buddy can come in handy when you’re lonely – or even just a familiar face when you catch up with them down the road. Especially the kind who saves you a seat on the bus when you’re “rescued” from the rainforest, and helps you determine if the spider bite on your leg will in fact kill you. (It didn’t.) Here’s looking at you, Andrew!
You’ll fall in love.
It just won’t always be with another person. Sure, romance on the road can be great (so I hear), but I’m talking the kind of love that’s more selfish. You’ll fall in love with yourself. The more you travel, the longer you’re left to your own devices, the more strangers-turned-friends you meet, the more time you spend with yourself….the more in tune to yourself you’ll get. The more you’ll learn to trust, respect, and love who you are – because you’re your own company. And of course, you’ll fall in love with about a million cities and countries you visit, and vow to return someday to reclaim the bits of your heart you left behind.
You’ll learn what you’re really made of.
Three years ago, after 8 months of talking about the trip, I was sitting on a Singapore Airlines flight bound for Christchurch, New Zealand via Tokyo and Singapore for a six week adventure down under. I’d traveled solo before, but never for this long – and never this far from home. I’d talked about this particular trip for ages. I’d “planned” for months. It was such a given, such a prominent object on my horizon that I hardly thought a thing in the days leading up to my departure, other than, “Geez, it’s finally here. Took long enough!” So when I was sitting on that plane, 30 minutes into flight, and the sudden realization of where I was going and what I was doing hit me, I froze. My heart stopped. Cold water cascaded down my body and I gripped the armrests of my chair, suddenly on the verge of a panic attack. “What the hell am I doing?!” was all I could think. I didn’t really think this through, did I? Six weeks….what was I thinking?! I’m not prepared! Oh, and did I mention I was leaving behind my new boyfriend, after months of courting each other as best friends? I was a basket case. Luckily, the exhaustion of 42 hours of flight and interim travel deadened my anxiety, so when I landed in Christchurch I got off the plane, took a deep breath, and said here we go. What else could I do? Hop on another plane and go home? Hell no. Self-defense mechanisms kicked in, as did an explosive curiosity and sudden infatuation with the world I was experiencing, and those six weeks were the best of my life. It’s cliche, but…if I can do that, I can do anything.
You’ll never be the same.
The people you meet, the places you see, the cultures you experience, the languages you hear…they all serve to remind you how big the world is, and how small we can make it by exploring it. Travel brings humanity together: a smile means the same in every language, a mother always wants what’s best for her child, a widow will always weep. There’s nothing quite like standing at the edge of the world, watching the sun sink into the fathomless ocean – the same sun that warms you back home, thousands of miles away. There’s an ethereal sense of awe in standing in the presence of an ancient sculpture that has seen more history than you have. And there’s never been a sweeter homecoming than when you return to your roots after weeks, months, or even years of being away, filled with memories and lessons and a new outlook on life. Trust me.