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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Overall, 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.)