Home » What traveling the world solo has taught me about life

What traveling the world solo has taught me about life

written by Amanda Williams June 13, 2017
Iceland solo travel

I remember the feeling of butterflies. Of nerves and ever-so-slight fear as I handed over my boarding pass and stepped onto the jet way. The world was waiting, and I was about to meet it. All by myself.

I won’t lie: I was nervous about traveling solo for the first time. I worried that I would get lonely or lost or just downright hate being on my own.

It’s true that travel is not perfect. Not all days are good and you WILL likely get lost and lonely and ill at some point. But you will also experience moments of such complete happiness and clarity that they will make all the low times absolutely worthwhile.

I’ve now traveled solo to dozens of countries on six different continents. Sometimes I’ve traveled completely on my own, and other times I’ve traveled solo as part of a small group (like on Intrepid tours!). But one common thread has woven its way through all my solo travel experiences: the fact that traveling the world alone has taught me a lot.

Scotland solo travel

Traveling solo in Scotland

And I’m not just talking about practical things like how to use public transportation or where to book cheap flights. Traveling solo has taught me about life more generally.

Here are a few of the many things I’ve learned from traveling the world solo:

Different does not mean dangerous

The Western media likes a dramatic news story. And, these days, what makes a good news story seems to be terrorist attacks, wars, murder, and all manner of other negative things. If you watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time online, you may start to buy into the “othering” that happens frequently in the media – chiefly the idea that countries and people “out there” are scary and dangerous and definitely not worth visiting, especially if you’re by yourself.

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But the truth is that just because a culture is different to yours does not inherently make it dangerous. In fact, the world as a whole is a much safer place than the media makes it out to be. Yes, I still have to be alert and aware as a woman traveling alone (though we women have to do this at home, too!), but I’ve found that strangers are much more likely to be helpful than threatening.

Canada solo travel

The Rocky Mountains in Canada

People are largely the same

Along this same vein, traveling to nearly 50 countries has taught me a lot of things about stereotypes: mainly that many of them are completely wrong. People all around the world – regardless of the language they speak or the religion they believe in – are much more alike than they are different. Whether you’re in Canada or Cambodia, people want the same basic things: to provide for their families, to make a good living, and ultimately to be happy.

Traveling and meeting people from all around the world has taught me a lot about my own beliefs and perceptions. And being able to recognize myself in people from very different cultures has made me much less nervous about exploring the world.

Namibia solo travel

Traveling solo in Namibia

Fear of the unknown is one of the most prevalent fears out there – but the more of the world you know, the less you have to be fearful of.

CHECK OUT INTREPID’S NEW RANGE OF TRIPS JUST FOR SOLO TRAVELERS

Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely

Loneliness is something many would-be solo travelers worry about – and I worried about it, too! I worried that I would get homesick, or that my introverted ways would lead to me feeling lonely on the road. But here’s what I’ve learned from a lot of solo trips: traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel lonely. I found that I actually enjoy my own company and the complete freedom to do exactly what I want, when I want.

If you’re really worried about not enjoying travel on your own, join a small group trip like the ones Intrepid offers. This is a great compromise since you can still travel on your own, but you’ll have a built-in group of people to hang out with. I’ve been on Intrepid trips to Cambodia, Ecuador and Eastern Europe – and I’m excited to go on more in the future.

Intrepid Cambodia solo travel

With my Intrepid group in Cambodia

I am stronger, more confident, and more capable than I knew

Being nervous about traveling solo is normal. But if you can calm the nerves and give it a try, it’s a really rewarding experience. Not only has traveling solo taught me a lot about the world, but it’s taught me a lot about myself, too. I’ve learned that I CAN take care of myself, even in foreign countries where I don’t know anyone and even when things go wrong.

Solo travel has undeniably made me a more confident and independent person. The pre-trip nervousness has never completely gone away, but now I know I can handle just about anything that gets thrown at me on the road.

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You are never too old or too young to travel

If you’re reading this thinking “I’ve waited too long and can’t possibly start traveling now,” or “I’m way too young to travel on my own,” I’m here to tell you that travel really doesn’t have age limits. I know people who travel with newborn babies, and have been on tours with people in their 70s and 80s.

Iceland solo travel

Gazing in wonder at Iceland’s beauty

Whether you’re a twenty-something trying to figure out what to do with your life or an empty-nester looking for a new adventure, I think solo travel is right for you.

7 BEST DESTINATIONS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS OVER 50

The world is vast, yet small at the same time

The more I travel, the more I realize that there’s still so much of the world left to see. At the same time, though, I’m often struck by how small the world can seem when I run into someone from my home state in Russia, or see something that reminds me of where I grew up in Botswana.

The world is indeed huge, but you’ll find connections and those “small world” moments everywhere if you take the time to look. This goes back to my point about people being largely the same no matter where they come from. If you open yourself up to the world and its people, you’ll find it easy to make connections that will turn into lasting memories.

Solo travel RussiaOverall, travel is my favorite type of learning. It’s hands-on and unpredictable, and has taught me so much about both myself and the wider world. Travel (and especially solo travel) has taught me to cherish the highs and learn from the lows. It’s taught me to reconsider nearly every stereotype I’ve ever been exposed to. And it’s taught me how to be myself and embrace life to its fullest.

The idea of traveling alone can be daunting, I know. But it’s such a rewarding and enriching experience that I challenge you to overcome the fear and give it a try.

Ready to take on that big, beautiful world? Check out Intrepid’s range of tours for solo travelers only.

(All images c/o Amanda Williams at dangerous-business.com.)

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21 comments

Priyanka Gupta April 16, 2018 - 11:37 pm

What a brilliant read. Thanks for sharing this. I loved the bit about the world is vast but still small. So true, right? 🙂

I also wrote about what travel has taught me and how it is taking my life story ahead. Do read my article and let me know if you like it 🙂

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Norrie Shand August 16, 2017 - 9:28 am

That guy with the orange hat is me in Patagonia a couple of years back. Happy to bet that not one person who has visited that great region has a single regret. Just do it…..

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Colleen Becker July 12, 2017 - 10:56 pm

I’m 58 years old and just got back from a 3 week trip to USA. I was supposed to travel with a friend but due to visa delays landed up on my own. I experienced the highest of highs…the lowest of lows and everything in between. I learned so much about myself and looking back know that I can and will do solo travel again.

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rick be July 13, 2017 - 1:26 pm

I’d like to read about some of your”highs” & “lows” in my fair land,please share them with us.

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Colleen Becker July 14, 2017 - 7:06 am

Colorado was a real high for me. I stayed in a cosy little cabin in Evergreen, a really quaint little town. I was able to attend a concert at Red Rocks and that was a truly amazing experience. I spent 4 days in Colorado and felt so alive and energized there even after travelling 41 hours from South Africa to get there! I knew that I was going to be on my own for the 4 days so was mentally prepared for it and had researched affordable accommodation on AirBnb. I was then supposed to meet my friend from home in New York City for 3 nights after which we were to go to Canada for a week and then Washington for 3 days before heading back home. My Canadian visa never came through in time and her USA visa never came back in time. She had a valid Canadian visa in her old passport and therefore had to cancel her USA part of the trip and flew straight to Canada. I was now alone in NYC booked into a hotel for 3 nights which I could not cancel. Our currency, the Rand, is so weak against the dollar and I was in a state about having to pay for this accommodation on my own…I had budgeted on sharing the costs. This left me with nothing to spare in NYC. I decided to do the Free Tours by Foot where you pay the guide what you can afford. These tours were fabulous and I would highly recommend them. I was in a complete state and just wanted to come home as I had no idea what to do or where to go. This time was a real low for me and to change my ticket would have cost a fortune. If I could have gone home at that stage I would have. I was lonely and confused. I think that had I known beforehand that I would be on my I would have researched more affordable accommodation, most probably a private room on AirBnb. Thankfully I had brought some crackers and snacks from home as this is what I lived on during those days. On two of the walking tours I met an ex South African Mom and her daughter who lived in Philadelphia. They kindly offered for me to come and spend some time with them. I also contacted an old school friend who I hadn’t seen for 40 years although we are friends on Facebook. He offered for me to spend some time in Scituate, Massachusetts. I caught the bus up to Boston and spent 2 days in Scituate. What a pretty and peaceful place. I caught the ferry back to Boston and that was a awesome site coming into Boston. I was also fortunate to be able to attend the practice concert on the Esplanade on 3 July. I traveled by bus to Philadelphia on 4 July and was met at the bus station by the family. These folks were just so kind to me, taking me into their home, showing me all around Philadelphia and educating me on American History. This was another big high for me and Pennsylvania is such a pretty state. I felt so at home with this kind and generous family. I then left for Washington and had a good time there although I needed another day or two to see everything I wanted to. I did another walking tour of Arlington Cemetery and was able to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a very sobering experience. The Holocaust Museum in Washington was very thought provoking and insightful. I met wonderful, kind people along the way, people who helped me when I go lost, who supplied me with information. I had great conversations with people on the bus trips and subways and even in the street. I learnt a lot about American History.
So if I were to say my highest highs that would have to be Red Rocks and all the time in Colorado followed by time in Philadelphia. My lowest was my time in NYC and one night in Boston. I know that I can travel on my own now and will certainly be back to visit the USA. I would love to visit New Orleans next time and do a road trip down the west coast. I really enjoyed travelling on the buses as I was able to see the countryside. When I look back and think of a title for this trip it would have to be “…And There Are Angels” as I certainly met many of them. Last year I went on a backpacking trip to Hong Kong and Thailand with 2 of my children. That was a real adventure and the title of that trip was “The Value of a Wet Wipe”
Oops….this has been a really long explanation 🙂

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rick be July 15, 2017 - 2:03 pm

People in the USA are as kind as any in the world. I’m glad none of us gave you any trouble.
I actually traveled to SA last year & my trip culminated with a woman I had just met taking me around downtown
Jo-Berg and us having lunch there.

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corinne August 1, 2017 - 5:47 am

Colleen, love this insight. I have traveled alone in the past few years at age 50+ and had wonderful times and really difficult times too. It’s all a learning curve, exciting but scary. And yes. it’s hard not to go into panic mode, but you did it, and you will do it again. You are brave and you dared to live outside the box. Way to go, girl, I hope you have many more adventures x

Colleen August 2, 2017 - 4:52 pm

Glad you experienced our friendly South African hospitality. You’ll have to come back and visit SA again.

rick be August 4, 2017 - 2:19 pm

I had a very good time there but probably won’t return-there are new worlds to conquer.

Colleen August 2, 2017 - 4:55 pm

I am already planning my next trip. I am picking up my Canandian visa today so it’s New Orleans for the Jazz Festival at the end of April then on to Canada.

Victoria November 13, 2017 - 2:32 am

Correen: I’m from middle Canada and can host you in Regina should you decide to stop. New Orleans has always been on my mind and doing it with you sounds interesting. I’m a solo traveler and love it. Find me on FB. Victoria Muzychuk, Regina, Canada. All the best.

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Therese July 30, 2017 - 4:21 pm

I’m over 50 and have been travelling alone on and off for years…it’s been great journey! Losing luggage, getting lost and then meeting people from my hometown in a small fishing village in Portugal! Your article is spot on!!! Thanks!!!

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John O June 25, 2017 - 11:25 am

I started traveling solo a few years back, I still do group and travel with friends but really enjoy solo travel. It opens new doors and a lot of places I want to go others don’t care to go. I enjoy flying to locations and renting motorcycles and touring national , state parks and scenic roads all over the world.

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Pineapple....XVI June 23, 2017 - 4:40 am

Most of my travels have been alone: 49 states and twelve countries. I always meet awesome people and definitely love the ability to be spontaneous. My friends and family enjoy the photos and videos I create of my adventures. Some of my camera adventures are much better due to being alone.

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rick be July 15, 2017 - 2:04 pm

I’ve only missed OK,and you?

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Nancy Releford June 19, 2017 - 9:39 am

I have been traveling solo for yrs I’m a 67 yr old women, married but my husband has no desire to travel overseas. I still get a little anxious, but do love the freedom of doing what I want, when I want. I usually will take small tours, last yr I did Sicily & Portugal with another 6 people. I joined them when I wanted to & it was not a problem all were Aussies & very friendly! Off to Croatia in sept.

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Amanda June 23, 2017 - 12:04 am

Small tours are a great compromise for when you don’t have anyone to travel with but you don’t want to be completely on your own! (One of the many reasons I love Intrepid so much!)

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Robert Bergoch June 18, 2017 - 12:27 pm

Traveling alone ….. About 10 years ago I came to a place in life where I either did nothing, saw nothing, or ventured out on my own. Im so glad I did. From visiting Japan and Portugal to biking in the mountains in California…. I became a solo traveler.
Loneliness is very much a state of mind and when you are doing What you enjoy and you’re out of your comfort zone , it rarely bothered me. Having the confidence to travel solo and enjoy you’re own company is something worth developing… and ironically make you a more attractive person..

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Independent Wolf June 14, 2017 - 4:14 am

Interesting read, absolute agree with you 😉

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Alan Rimmer June 13, 2017 - 11:30 pm

Wow Amanda, that is a really really amazing article. Many of my travels, especially when younger, were alone and I’ve shared many of the emotions you mention…but you have expressed them far more eloquently. Well done you.
Wish you many more safe and happy travels…
Alan

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rick be June 13, 2017 - 2:32 pm

It’s a cakewalk for me but for a young woman might be daunting.I’d suggest a few Intrepid trips to see if you wanna go it all alone.
My safari had a pair of Peruvian professionals,an Ottawan & an Ozzie gal,all around 30. We kinda paired up on different adventures,from Botswana to Zimbabwe.I did a few things all alone & some things all together.

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