What I Learned from Travelling Solo
Travelling solo may sound daunting and scary. Some people refuse to travel on their own because they think they need company. I can totally understand that. But very often, I did not have any other choice but to travel on my own – whether it was for business or because I really wanted to see a certain country or attend an event and nobody else had time or was in the mood to join me. I decided to share with you what I learned from all my years of solo travelling.
The first time I made the decision to travel somewhere without a friend was after my first year of university. I had to go to Spain to improve my Spanish for my exams and nobody wanted to join. I signed up for a language course for two weeks in Andalusia. Even though it was a “soft” version of travelling solo – I met plenty of people at my language school – it still was a big step for me. At this point in time, I was scared of meeting new people. Would I fit in? Would they like me? If you meet me now, you would probably not believe it, but I was really shy and scared. But I ended up having a great time and actually was really glad that I went.
Fast forward to today, I have travelled to multiple countries and moved to different places all on my own. I now have friends scattered across the world. I definitely do not regret that I learned how to travel on my own. So, what did I learn from solo travels?
Overcome Your Fears
As I mentioned above, the first few times were daunting. I did not know what to expect and travelling to a city all on my own made me nervous. Will I look weird if I am in cafés on my own? What will people think if I am on the plane on my own? What if I get lost? Will I find the hotel? (I have to mention here that I started travelling solo well before we had smartphones. Imagine taking a taxi in Beijing with a paper map. I could only trust in my destiny that the driver – who did not understand me – would really take me you to my destination.)
All these thoughts may be valid, but in the end, they are stupid. Today, I enjoy having coffees on my own and watching people. Things happened to me which were far worse than not finding my hotel. I still survived. (Read about the time I was stranded for more than 35 hours at Manila Airport on my own.) And you will see so many people who travel on their own. So NO, solo travellers do not look weird!
We need to face our fears to overcome them. And today, I am not scared of entering a plane on my own, enjoying meals by myself or to be open minded and ask strangers for help.
Other People Are Scared as Well
Everybody who tells you they have never been scared is a liar. Everyone of us is scared of something. Or, at least feels uncomfortable to travel on our own. I think it lies in our nature as human beings that we feel more confident around our friends and family or when we travel in a group. Therefore, just embrace it. You are not alone – at least when it comes to being a bit scared of travelling on your own. 😉
If You Are Positive, You Meet Plenty of People
This brings me to the next point. I learned that if I am positive and actively approach people, it is much easier for me to meet new people and overcome this weird situation of standing as an outsider next to a group. I have become the person who a) actively joins a group and b) looks around for people who are not yet part of it and make them join. I learned it the hard way when I went to expat events abroad and showed up on my own. If I did not want to “enjoy” my drink on my own, I had to just crash some groups that had already been formed. The first one was weird, but I got much better at it.
It Made Me Independent
If I want to do something or travel somewhere, I can do it. I do not have to rely on other people. Even though I really enjoy holidays with friends or family, I am really glad that I learned how to travel on my own.
Be Open Minded
One of the most important assets you need for solo travelling is to be open minded. Things might not go as you planned, there will be some challenges. But if you stay positive and open minded, it will be much easier to deal with it. Trust me!
I Can Meet People Everywhere
I learned to meet people everywhere. When you start out in a new city or travel on your own, you basically do not have any other choice. I try not to be the annoying person who just starts talking to their neighbour on the plane. But when I have the feeling that it may result in an interesting conversation, I usually talk to anyone – people at cafés, bartenders, waiters, shop assistants and, yes, sometimes my seat neighbour on the plane. I met people at events, conferences, art fairs and ended up exploring the city together.
Open Minded Does Not Mean Naive – Be Cautious
Even though the world is your oyster, if you are open minded, you have to be cautious at the same time. Especially as a female solo traveller. I guess you know it but I would just like to stress it again: do not trust people blindly. Being open minded and naive are two different things. You can have interesting conversations with strangers without giving away all your details. Trust your gut and never let anyone push you into anything you feel uncomfortable.
I Have to Pick the Right Destination
Needless to say, pick the right destination for solo (female) travelling. Inform yourself ahead about your desired destination and check the basic things: How safe is that region? What is their attitude to women? What do you need to know before you book your trip?
Always, always check with your Ministry for Foreign Affairs – they have lists on their websites for travellers. Furthermore, I carry the emergency number of the Austrian Foreign Ministry in my wallet. Find out the number of your respective embassy/Foreign Ministry and always carry the number with you.
Planning Ahead Reduces the Risk of “Turbulences”
Planning ahead prevents unexpected “turbulences” and will make your trip much more enjoyable. I have been in really bad situations on my own – even though I am a pro in planning. But there will always be something unexpected. And, yes, this is not fun at all. At least, when you are facing that situation. Afterwards, those are the best travel stories. 🙂 By planning ahead you can minimise the likelihood of those turbulences.
Comfort Your Loved Ones to Be Able to Enjoy Your Trip
Your family and friends might be worried that you decided to travel on your own. If they are, you might not be able to enjoy your trip. Or, even worse, be scared and not do it. Therefore, inform them about your plans and your travel itinerary. I always share my itinerary with them. Also, I make sure to text/call regularly to let them know that everything is alright. Yes mum, this last paragraph is for you. 😉
Thanks for sharing! I’m embarking on my first solo trip in my 30s! ? But importantly I’m doing it for me!
Will take all these tips on board.
That’s amazing! I hope you enjoy it, I’m sure you will have a great time. And it is great that your main motivation is to do it for yourself! Safe travels!
Excellent points! I totally agree with forward planning and keep loved ones up-to-date — knowing people back home are informed and comfortable always helps my peace of mind, too.
Thank you, Emily! It really is important to keep them posted. It might seem a bit annoying at first, but they only do it because they love us. And a simple text to say “I’m OK” is not much effort but can help a lot.
Great post, and I too also look around for people who may need introducing to a group! It’s important, because I know how horrible it can be when you are solo and you’re trying to integrate, it’s a little act that can really make someone’s day!
Thanks, Demi! It’s great that you also pay attention to the situation of others. I think if you’ve been in that situation yourself, you know how it can feel to be the outsider. I hope there are more people with that attitude. 🙂
It’s great how travel can really teach you so much! Thanks a lot for sharing <3
I agree, travel really is a great to learn more.
Some really nice reflections, many people underestimate how intimidating it can feel when you travel alone. Thanks for sharing
Thank you, Katie, for your feedback. I do agree, a lot of people underestimate it or people who could communicate more about the reality of solo travelling only focus on the positive sides. I tried to offer a more balanced point of view.