“Alone” and “lonely” are two very different things. Yes, one can be the result of the other, but only if you let it. That extremely fuzzy line that separates the two? Well, that’s what lone travelers navigate on a daily basis. To be totally honest, most solo vacations aren't always planned that way. Both solo trips I've taken started with, "Hey, does anyone want to come with me on a quick two-to-three night adventure?" But when schedules or interests don't align, I'm presented with an ultimatum: Travel alone or don't travel at all; I'd never go if I waited around for someone to come with me. But each time, I fell more and more in love with the solo travel lifestyle, and now I can honestly say it's one of my favorite ways to see the world.
One common misconception of solo travel is that you're always alone, and that couldn't be more false. In fact, I find that I meet more people when I travel solo than at any other time. Think about it: When you're with a group of your favorite people, how often do you find yourself branching out and talking to strangers? Almost never, because you don't have to.
With the right mindset and a positive vibe, solo travel is totally achievable for anyone who sets their mind to it, and an experience I hope everyone sets out to tackle at least once in their lifetime. Here’s why:
Oh, the freedom!
Likely the most obvious benefit of solo travel is, well, being solo. It provides you with the power to explore what you want, when you want, and where you want without having to take into account others' opinions, wants, and needs. I know, it comes off as a little selfish, but it's ok to put yourself first every once in a while and traveling alone is the perfect opportunity to do so. If you want to wake up for a sunrise hike, do it! There’s no one there to complain about a 4 a.m. alarm, but there’s also no one to wake your butt up if you press snooze. If you want to venture off route a bit, do it. If you meet a group of people who ask you to join them on their next adventure, heck, screw your prior plans and do it! Just freaking do it. Or don’t, because every decision, action, and reaction is yours to make, without the influence of anyone else.
Take my solo trip to Utah as an example. I had a flexible plan to see Zion the first day and Bryce Canyon the second, but the rest wasn't set in stone. I met a wonderful group of people hiking Angel's Landing, and when they offered to take me to a hidden swimming hole in the heart of Zion, I went for it. Sure, I didn't get to hike a trail I had my eye on, but I found this opportunity to be way more exciting, so I said f*** it let's go, and it felt great.
Growth (confidence, self-reliance)
Solo travel is an amazing way to find yourself. Gross, cheesy I know. But honestly, if there’s a time to reflect, to feel your feelings, to live in the moment and let your gut lead the way, this is it. Like any type of travel, you’ll likely encounter a few unexpected events. Things might not go as planned, you’ll have to think on your feet and make decisions on your own. You’ll learn how to be self-reliant and as a result, you'll inevitably receive a solid confidence boost. You’ll realize you’re a badass human being that can accomplish anything, and that’s probably the most freeing feeling in the world.
I recently spent two nights in Iceland, exploring the barren landscape at my leisure (well, that's a stretch – I had a long list of things to cross off my must-list), and I found myself driving through heavy snowfall on a white-covered road in the dark to make it to Diamond Beach by sunrise. I was nervous and unprepared. I was the first tracks on the road in an unfamiliar rental car with no chains. Sketch. So, I took a deep breath, thought about every possible scenario, and realized that if I did break down, in two hours time this would be a highly trafficked route and someone would (hopefully) stop and help me out, so I trudged on. I made it with no problems – just a few small adrenaline rushes under my seatbelt – and the destination was well worth the effort. Thankfully, nothing bad happened, but I still felt like a badass human being for accomplishing that feat!
If you wait for your friends, it'll never happen.
You've probably heard this before and it's so entirely true. You can't wait for your friends to follow your dreams for a few reasons:
1) You might have different travel goals.
2) You definitely have different schedules (unless you live and work and breath together).
3) You might have different travel styles. So, even if you go to the same place, you might want to do different things.
Let's get something straight: I'm not saying don't go with your friends. By all means, if they're down for the adventure, get after it – the more the merrier. But, the reality is, schedules and interests don't always aline, and if you're waiting on the universe to make a move, don't. If you've been bitten by the travel bug, you're going to regret that free week in between jobs where you could've been climbing the Eiffel Tower instead of re-organizing your storage closet. And guess what? You have friends all over the world, you just have to meet them.
You'll meet so many rad people!
I meet the most people when I'm traveling solo, and they're almost always a joy. Loneliness wasn't a big factor in any of my past solo trips, which I didn't expect. Although, I've always been relatively independent, so solo travel makes sense for me. Don't get me wrong, there are times where it can get lonely (like when you're sleeping in the back of your car or sitting around a campfire by yourself). But, the key here is to keep an open mind, embrace your solitude, and let people in when you have the chance. If you're giving off positivity and stoke and introduce yourself, you have nothing to worry about. And no, you don't have to be an extrovert to give it a go.
I was such an introverted kid growing up and I still classify myself as an introvert, so sure, it takes a little more effort for me to get up the guts to start a conversation, but by getting out of my comfort zone I've made some pretty awesome friends across the globe, all because of some little comment I made about a sketchy cliff or asking them where they're from.
Where to start
Start small. I started driving to the mountains or islands from my Seattle home by myself. Then, I pushed it a little further with a two-night layover in Hawaii. The familiar, close-to-home, and english-speaking destination allowed me to dip my toes into this new travel approach. I built up confidence to ask for a "table for one, please," walked the beach at my leisure, and planned my 48 hours according to each moment. I was sold.
Solo travel doesn't have to be a 10-day backpacking trip to Patagonia's harsh wilderness. It can be a day trip across town or a quiet weekend away. Maybe you work your way up to multistage trips, or maybe not, but either way, some time alone can be refreshing. It is for me.
Top Solo Travel Destinations
Virtuoso also put together a great blog post on life-changing trips for the solo female traveler. Check it out here, and happy wandering!