Ever wondered what it’s like to travel solo? Despite all the wide-eyed selfies, it isn’t always everything it’s made out to be. In this first episode of The Life in Another World Podcast, join me as I reflect on the benefits and downfalls I experienced in my solo year abroad.
You may think that traveling solo sounds easy, or it may be the most daunting notion you’ve ever heard. Truth is, it’s a pretty even mixture of both. Some desire a solo year abroad to learn about themselves and transform into a well-rounded individual. Some may not even choose a year, but embark on hundreds of smaller trips just to get away. Whatever the reasons, there’s benefits and downfalls to facing the world on your own.
Facing the World Head-On
Despite any speed bump you may face along the way, a lot of good things come from traveling solo.
As for me, I had a rough time accepting my role in life. I thought I didn’t deserve happiness, and that my mere existence was in the way to those around me. Through my negative misconceptions about myself, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and grow.
Apart from that, as a fantasy author, I was desperate to get into my character’s shoes. I’d released a self-published fantasy book, and the truth was, I hated it. I knew it wasn’t ready, and I knew I’d rushed the publication with my impatience. My jump-the-gun approach to my publication instilled in me a desire to escape. Although I was unhappy with the final product, the story had ignited in me nonetheless. I knew if I whisked myself out of my normal life and put myself in my character’s shoes, far from home and clueless about how to blend, my story would blossom.
To Solo or Not to Solo?
In truth, you should never let a travel buddy (or lack thereof) stop you from doing what you want. Do you have a place in mind that nobody else wants to go to? Go anyway! There’s no right or wrong way to travel, as long as you’re getting out there.
With or without anybody with you, there are always a million factors that play into your decision to go. I fell into the category of being unable to find a travel buddy, as I disappeared for a year. Other obligations and fears may have kept my friends back, but I refused to let their hesitancy stop me.
In a lot of ways, I consider myself lucky. Standing at a firm six-and-a-half feet tall, I knew I could defend myself if I needed to. Not everyone gets that luxury, but you may quickly find that making friends isn’t as hard as you’d think.
How to Bond on the Road
When you’re in a position where you feel out of your element, getting overwhelmed is a given. When you travel to a foreign country, you realize that no matter how much you prepare, culture shock is insane.
At first, you may feel like you’re alone in your disorientation. When I went to New Zealand, even though I knew the cars drove on the other side of the road, my compass switched off. As an Eagle Scout, I had learned all the tips and tricks of wilderness survival. When I went to the Southern Hemisphere, however, I discovered the sun is in the North instead of the South portion of the sky, the moss grows on different sides of the trees, and the Big Dipper doesn’t exist in the constellations.
Thus, I completely lost my sense of direction.
But was I alone in feeling that way?
I thought so, but the moment I opened up to other people in my hostels or on my bus, I found I was far from the only one shrouded in fear. When you meet people who presently suffer that same sense of shock, it’s like you’ve known each other forever.
Everybody chooses different reasons to travel, but learning the similarities and differences between people makes that bonding almost impossible to ignore. You learn that everyone has faced the same million excuses you used to held you back.
More importantly, you realize that even though you’re traveling solo, you’re never truly alone.
What to Do When You Realize You’re Not Alone
Although my personal experience didn’t allow me to have a travel companion, I always ended up with a handful of people to talk to.
At the core, traveling alone is obviously being alone all the time. That purposeful isolation from society forces you to get out of your shell and talk to other people. Want that picture taken of you so you don’t have to selfie it? Buck up and ask that stranger. You may find you don’t need to question yourself or the people around you as much as you did.
There were plenty of times when I wished I had someone with me, but I never knew how strong I was until I put my strength to the test. Every “I can’t do this” weighed me down, but I pushed past it and I connected with people I never even dreamed could have existed.
Learning How to Face Yourself
The prospect of having someone you know at any given time while you’re in a foreign country is, of course, desirable. To have that sense of safety, to never feel so out of place to where every face is just as foreign as the country you’re in.
If you have a partner, though, you then have to either agree on every activity or go off alone anyway.
In the debate between solo versus group travel, no decision is the wrong one. Whether you go alone, with your best friend, partner, or in a group, you’ll learn and grow so much. The relationship with yourself will grow, as well as the relationship with anyone you travel with.
I yearned to have that time alone, forcing myself to look in the mirror every day and face myself no matter what. Traveling solo made me search for my purpose, and locked me deep within my own thoughts until I experienced my metamorphosis.
When the Loneliness Strikes
Solo travel may come with a healthy dose of an I-can-conquer-anything feeling, but not every day is a perfect paradise. Some days require having the best of friends or the closest of family around you, and when you don’t have that, those days are rough.
Likewise, there may be certain places you visit that you wish you had someone to share the experience with. For example, I spent my year in New Zealand waiting for the opportune time to visit the acclaimed Milford Sound. When I finally landed there, after waiting for longer than anybody else who was on the bus, I knew no one. I had just hopped on to that bus for the day, and most of the travelers had been with each other for a while. I stayed behind in Invercargill to head to Stewart Island, and everyone I knew on my bus went forward without me.
The place I was so excited about was still just as beautiful as I’d imagined, but I walked around the boat in isolation as everyone gathered over their cameras to discuss their pictures. Sometimes, small talk doesn’t work as well as it does at other times, and although I’m forever grateful to have witnessed Milford’s beauty, it was one of the hardest solo days I had to endure.
Being Ready to Travel
Not everyone thinks traveling helps you “find yourself” or “become who you were born to be.” I say you have to be ready to grow for travel to really affect you.
When you’re ready to travel and when you choose to drop everything and go, there’s no way you can’t learn about yourself in the process. I had to learn how to entertain myself and make everything I wanted to do happen for me.
That being said, make sure if you are going somewhere alone, you’re going somewhere safe. Make sure people know where you are and that you’re safe. While you’re at it, make safe decision and choices. When you’re in control of all of everything, don’t let your freedom become your poison. You don’t want to end up as one of the horror stories that holds people back from seeing the world.
The Key Aspect to Solo Travel
So, what is the grand finale of traveling solo? What is the purpose? What do you learn?
Nothing more than how to rely on yourself, and believe me, that’s the most important lesson you’ll ever need. I no longer question my place or think I deserve misery like I used to. For me, that’s the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.
I chose to travel because I wanted to stop believing that there was nothing else out there for me. Once I discovered what lay on the other side of the horizon, I learned how to live life to the fullest and make the most out of everything.
The visas and savings and everything that goes into traveling is a daunting headache, but the end result is always worth it. Prepare yourself for the speed bumps that will occur, but realize that by the end, every bad day will be irrelevant.