Have you ever dreamed of travelling the world, but had no one to do it with you? Those mad persuasive skills you have are just not enough to convince your one friend you know would love the experience. Do you get disappointed, thinking you will never have the opportunity to experience the world when you see insta-worthy destinations circling around Social Media?
Solo travel might just be the cure you are looking for. We explore the benefits of travelling the world solo and share all the lessons you can expect to learn. We bet the thought of embarking on your own journey hasn’t been something that has crossed your mind.
It might make your stomach turn, leaving you thinking that you could never possibly pluck up the courage to hop on a plane all by yourself. All sorts of things flood your mind. “What if something happens to me”, “What if I get lost”, what if… what if.
What if you wake up one day and realize you never lived? You never stepped out of your comfort zone and embraced this one life you have been given playing the waiting game. The world has seen an incredible increase in solo travel, seeing more women taking the plunge than men.
In 2013, German researchers investigated the psychological effects of travelling. Their results, which were published in the Journal of Personality, found that travelling does alter your personality for the better in five overarching domains: emotions, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to new experiences.
Not only are you left with lifelong memories after returning from a trip, but you can also expect to come back completely refreshed with enhancements to your already cool personality.
Here are 15 things you can learn by taking the plunge.
1. The Difference Between Being “Alone” vs “Lonely”
The stereotypes that often come with travelling solo are generally categorised into one group: loneliness. It is so often assumed that you will experience those god-awful waves of loneliness during travel. In reality, there is a magnificent difference between being lonely and being alone. Being alone is associated with wellness, bliss and the joy of being, whilst being lonely refers to the isolation that comes with an expectation unmet, a feeling unreturned or the sense of emotional abandonment.
When you are travelling solo it is very seldom that you are alone or even lonely. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Let us explain. When you are sitting by yourself you naturally become a magnet for conversation, attracting people who are very much like you. Your new friends just love your company so much, that after a while you will start craving that alone time again.
2. Not to Take Life So Seriously
You might find your self aimlessly wandering the streets, coffee in hand, admiring the unique architecture before your eyes when you bump into someone spilling your coffee all over their brand new white coat. Or, you could find yourself getting on the wrong train headed in the opposite direction when trying to meet friends to explore other parts of India. Or when shopping in England you ask the staff where the “pants” section is, forgetting that ‘pants’ refer to your undergarments.
All the ‘blonde’ moments you might have would normally have left you feeling embarrassed, but in some bizarre way, these experiences make you break out in a fit of laughter. You become super lighthearted and don’t take things so seriously anymore.
Because travel exposes you to different cultures and experiences, it will certainly develop your compassionate side. By identifying with and understanding the situation, feelings and motives of another person – you will learn to have empathy, sometimes a hard skill to learn in your everyday life. You will learn that different isn’t necessarily wrong.
4. Unlearn “Stranger” Danger
This one is probably the hardest to achieve because it’s been drilled into us since we were kids. Overcoming this is a part of any journey since trusting is an essential part of your solo travel process. Many people, just like yourself, will naturally have a hard time trusting a new person when you are in the comfort of your everyday life. If someone looks at you in the streets and smiles, it raises suspicion in you. But when you are abroad and that happens, you attribute this to their curiosity and friendliness.
Trusting people is part of the process and it will determine how fruitful your solo trip will be. You are very likely to find yourself lost at some point or another. “Excuse me, can you give me directions to..”, “I will walk you there instead”. Following a stranger down a dark alley to your accommodation might come across as scary at first, but given that it is a need and you have no other alternative way, you take the risk.
To your surprise, the conversations along the way, about their family and friends has resulted in a dinner invite. A lot of the time, we think the worst in every situation but will find that people are genuinely curious about you and kind enough to help you without having ulterior motives. Like all things, always, trust your intuition, and be streetwise, but loosen up a little and realize the goodness that comes with taking chances every so often.
5. You Become Gut Reliant
Our instincts don’t lie. Especially while we are travelling, free of everyday distractions that keep us from listening to it. It becomes your survival instinct and mechanism, which quickly surfaces, when we’re in unfamiliar territory, both culturally and environmentally. If you find yourself in the company of someone that doesn’t sit right with you, politely excuse yourself. Always listen to the “feeling you have”, and don’t question it. Travelling solo is a sure way to strengthen this survival mechanism and forces you to rely on yourself inwardly. The more you use it, the more you know it, and learn to trust it.
6. Why Not
Why not, will become your motto. Your most fulfilling travel moments will come from the why not version of saying yes more. These are very liberating words and can lead to wonderful things if you let it. Maybe you are not adventurous by nature, or maybe you have turned down opportunities in the past to try things like downhill skiing, hang gliding, or bungee jumping. Saying why not to these opportunities can provide a thrill that maybe you didn’t know existed. It is also saying why not to meeting other people. Don’t find it strange if when walking the streets, someone randomly stops you and asks you if you would like to grab a cup of coffee. If your gut is giving you good vibes, then why not. Why not, head to Morocco, hire a camel and explore the Sahara desert. Then hitch a ride back to the town on a tiny motorbike. Why not, bungee jump off that gorge. Why not live a little.
7. How to Love Yourself
If you’ve read books such as the classic ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, then you’ll understand the link between travel and self-love. In a world where we are constantly connected to the internet, do we ever get a minute to ourselves? When was the last time you actually sat down and reconnected with your mind?
Psychotherapist Tony Ingham says that travel provides you with a break from monotony. He explains that it builds confidence by exposing you to people and places you’d otherwise never cross.
It also teaches you the importance of “me time”, where you will find yourself appreciating your own company much more. More so, it is a great way to connect with your higher self spiritually and grow your love for yourself.
Once you’ve mastered the spirituality of self-love, it spreads. It will start to radiate through your expressions and your actions. You’ll feel so much better from within as you’ve given yourself a chance to breathe and figure out what it is you really want from life.
8. You Won’t Miss Home
Before embarking on your journey, the thoughts of possibly being homesick will naturally dawn on you. But we can reassure you that you will not get homesick. Every day of your new adventure is action-packed, gets your adrenaline pumping, filled with new experiences that fill your insides with excitement. Time passes by in a flash, and before you realise it, 6 weeks have gone by with 5 countries under your belt.
Just remember to stay in touch with your friends and family – they’ll be the ones missing you, eagerly awaiting your return.
9. Less Is More – What You Learn Living Out Of A Backpack
Often in life, materialistic things are what drive us. We are obsessed with our social status which warrants itself in everything we own. We flash about our fancy car, throw fancy dinner parties in our an ultra modern furnished penthouse suite and flaunt our Louis Vuitton handbags and Skinny Boy jeans at a grand opening of a new hip and happening club. But if we had to be honest with ourselves, inwardly we are left feeling empty and somewhat unfulfilled.
When you have lived out of a backpack with only 5 outfits which you are continuously having to hand wash in a basin in a shared bathroom, leaving it to dry out on the heaters because you are moving to the next destination tomorrow. You realize that these valuables play no importance on your well-being. When you have sacrificed the comfort of your two-door sports car, to travel cross country on a public bus to bungee jump off a gorge you have always dreamed of, something in you changes.
The experiences under your belt become your measure of wealth. The richness of the lifelong tales that are embedded in the chambers of your brain make you rich. Leaving you with memories – something a bank can never take away from you.
10. You Will Learn How To Cohabit And Adapt
If you are a person that lives on your own, used to your own space and your own routine, travelling will enable you with the skills to live with other people. Hear us out on this one. Booking yourself in a 10-bed dorm room in a hostel might be seen as an awkward thing to do at first, but it has more pros than it has cons.
Not only, is it great for making new travel buddies, but you will soon come to realise just how adaptable you become during an influx of change. For example, you may find yourself in a room with a snorer, while you are trying to sleep. At first, it would really annoy you but then you realize sleeping with earbuds is a great solution to overcoming this.
Its 3 am, and you have just woken up from a deep sleep, with the lights being abruptly turned on, only to hear 3 others giggling, stumbling in after a night out. After one or two experiences like this, in addition to earbuds, eye masks make it as an essential in your travel kit.
You realize for every problem you experience there is a solution. In addition, you become less judgement, tolerant and accepting of those around you.
***P.S. Hostels are super clean in case you were wondering. Fresh bedding and towels are provided at check-in.
11. In Life, Sometimes It’s Best To Have No Plan
When planning out your trip, it is good to set goals on what you would like to achieve or what you would like to see. But keep your schedule fairly flexible and open. Some of the travellers we know that have nailed travelling solo, prefer to arrive with no plan at all and choose to book their first nights’ accommodation only. They adopt a go with the flow attitude. They understand that every person and every experience that crosses your path is meant to be.
More often than not, they find themselves meeting someone along the way, combining their travel itineraries, and end up travelling a few months or a full year with their new friends they made.
12. How To Make Friends
When we get older, living your everyday life, making new friends becomes more of a challenge. Gone are the days when you would go up to another kid and ask if they’d like to be your friend. That’s how every childhood friendships started. Travel works in much the same way, except that, when you are sitting by yourself, reading a book in a restaurant, someone will come up to you and randomly ask if you would like to hang out. Don’t be alarmed at how strange this may seem.
In some unknown ways, you meet like-minded people. The kind that are just like you. If you are a shy reserved person you will meet someone who will share these qualities. If you are outgoing bubbly and the centre of attention, you will make a friend just like that. It’s the silent law of the travel universe.
As a starting point, you would need to put yourself at the forefront of meeting new people. Naturally, you can do so in a hostel. If sleeping in a 10 bedroom dorm is not for you, then consider booking a private room within a hostel space. You would be surprised at the number of hostels that offer this.
Hang out in the smoking section. It’s the best way to strike up a conversation and the fastest way to make a new friend. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself travelling for an entire month with your first smoking buddy.
Hostel staff are generally super nice too. And they have a lot of free time. When you arrive strike up a conversation like where are you from? Where is the best place to visit in the city? (That’s of course if you are staying in the city).
13. The Freedom To Be You And Make Your Own Decisions
Going on holiday by yourself means you don’t have to compromise on your choice of destination, your itinerary or the activities you take part in. You can choose how late you would like to stay out, or how early you would like to wake up. You make your own decisions. There is power of not having to be accountable for someone else, let alone be influenced by their wants and desires. You learn how to overcome your own personal obstacles and challenge your fears. These will help you further in life when it comes to taking an important step because you will realise that it is you who creates the reality around you.
14. It Makes You A Flexible Person
Travel doesn’t always go according to plan. It will challenge your limits and test your ability to cope with such obstacles. This can materialize in many different ways. For example, you might have had a delayed flight that has resulted in you missing your connection. Or your accommodation has overbooked itself. You learn how to deal with each type of scenario and develop mad problem-solving skills. Leaving you feeling that you can achieve anything you set your mind to only if you keep going.
15. Goodbye Comfort Zone!
Ultimately travel, is all about broadening your perspectives, immersing yourself in new places and ideas, and learning about how other people and cultures live. If you really break down the phrase “Stepping out of your comfort zone,” it means doing things that you previously didn’t feel comfortable with doing. Like, skydiving around the 160 metre tall Burj Khalifa, or diving with sharks. All of these experiences are what will keep you hungry for more. There’s no question–it’s the best way to live life.
Looking for some inspiration on where to take your first solo trip? Travelstart has it covered.
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