At my age (mid-20s) it’s much harder than you’d think to find a travel companion. Even when I’m practically handing out free or extremely discounted trips, sometimes I find I’m still riding solo. People have jobs, families, responsibilities, financial problems—you name it. Everyone has a reason they can’t go.
If you’re wanting to get out there and see the world, don’t sit around and wait for those around you to be ready. Chances are the perfect time will never come. You’ll wait and wait and wait and before you know it, it’ll be too late.
You have to travel for you—not for anyone else, and what that tells me is that when you’re ready to go, let those around you know that you’ve bought a ticket and that they’re welcome to join you.
I will confess that the first international plane ticket I bought for a solo trip was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. After clicking the “Submit” button I had an adrenaline rush similar to that of a cliff diver. I was nervous. But there are many things you can do to ease the first-time solo travel jitters. In this post, I’m going to share with you the reasons that I believe solo travel is the best travel and that you don’t need a partner in order to see the world.
1. You can do what you want, when you want to do it.
How many times have you been in a new place with friends or family, excited to get out and start seeing the sights, when someone holds up the group because they haven’t gotten their makeup quite right yet or they had to make a phone call?
When you travel on your own, all of that goes out the window. When you’re ready, you leave the hotel room and you get out there and start exploring. Sure, it’s absolutely fun to travel with the people you love—don’t get me wrong. But the more people you’re with, the more frustrating it can be. Everyone has a different travel style, different preferences and quirks. When you’re by yourself, the only quirks you have to worry about are your own.
Eat dinner in a sushi bar if you’d like because no one is there telling you they can’t stand seafood (picky eaters sometimes make for the worst travel buddies!). You can simply stroll along the river Thames if you want to instead of visiting every museum in London in one day. The freedom and flexibility you get when you’re traveling solo is a freeing and liberating experience, and I recommend everyone try it at least once!
2. You’re more open to meeting new people and experiencing new things.
Let’s face it, when you’re traveling with your best friend, your spouse, or your significant other, you’re sitting by them at dinner, sleeping next to them, talking with them, and spending every moment with them.
On your own, you really open yourself up to meeting new people, having conversations, and experiencing things you might never be open to otherwise. The people I’ve met during my solo travels are some of the most open and friendly people I’ve ever met. Hostels are great for this. The communal living factor really changes the game for solo travelers. There are big tables and free breakfasts where you have no choice but to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Who knows, maybe you may even end up spending the day with your new found dorm mate.
Once you’ve taken a few solo trips, before you know it you’ve got friends from around the world. Keep in touch with them on social media and with e-mail. In my job, this is especially rewarding. When I have a customer traveling to Panama, Puerto Rico, or Europe, I can call upon the people I’ve met during my travels and get amazing recommendations and tips from people who know a place inside and out. Not only are these people valuable resources, but they’ve become lifelong friends.
When you’re traveling by yourself, the people you’re surrounded with can become really close really fast, especially if you’re both in the same boat exploring a new and foreign place together.
3. The experience becomes a lot more introspective and fulfilling.
Okay, this probably sounds super corny, but it’s so true. When you’re traveling with friends or family, you’re spending time talking, laughing, and putting a lot of your energy into making sure the people you’re with are comfortable and having a good time (this happens more than you know, even if you don’t realize it).
When you’re on your own, you have so much more time to think and to really process what you’re seeing and experiencing. Imagine wandering through a spice and fruit market in Bali with no one around that speaks your language. Sure, maybe this seems intimidating, but don’t think of it that way.
It’s difficult to explain, but when you’re quiet for extended periods of time, it seems as if all of the senses are amplified. The smells and sounds around you become much more vivid. You’ll find yourself looking into the eyes of a local woman or a vendor and smiling, making a connection that never would have been there had you been distracted by a travel companion. You really start to realize how different your life is compared to those on the other side of the world, how small the world can be if you let it be.
This can even be done at home. Spend an entire day being completely silent or being by yourself and in a place that calms you. By the end of the day, a lot of the things you were stressed about or unsure about previously will become much clearer. De-clutter your life and spend some time with just yourself and you’d be surprised what you might learn. When you’re not distracted with chatting, working, or interacting with others, even the surroundings you’ve seen day in and day out for many years may start to seem foreign to you.
For a first solo trip, a group guided trip is perfect. Not all tour companies embrace the stereotypical scene of herding big groups on and off of buses, hundreds of people following a guide holding up a flag through a crowded museum, and old people complaining about the cobblestoned streets in some far-off place.
Tour companies have morphed and evolved much more than most people know. There are group trips you can take that are mostly free time, where you can do what you want, when you want to do it. The appeal of this is that it’s a group of people to travel with, so you’re not simply wandering off on your own with no idea what’s going on, and accommodations picked for you by experts who know where the place to be is.
Then, once you’ve done a couple of these, your comfort level will grow. The next plane ticket you buy on your own won’t be nearly as intimidating, and pretty soon you’ll be exploring the streets of Morocco and flying by the seat of your pants having the most memorable experience of your life.
The media makes solo travel seem scary, but the truth is, Aussies and Europeans do it all the time. For the typical European, it’s almost a rite of passage–an obligation even, to go on an extended trip abroad (sometimes months or even years long) after high school or college. It’s just part of life and an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Americans are afraid because they think something bad is going to happen and nowhere is safe but their home town. Something bad could happen anywhere you are. Foreign countries are (usually) no less safe than where you live, but because you’re more familiar with home, it seems the opposite. Of course, you should always use common sense, but the same rings true when you’re walking into the grocery store 3 miles from your house.
Take a step into the unknown and pretty soon you’ll be jetting off to new places multiple times a year with stories and experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime.
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS