Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of traveling the world. As I got a little older and finally started having enough money to fund some of these dreams, I encountered another problem. Who do I go with?
In my early 20’s, me and my girlfriends would always talk about taking trips together, but usually they were not able to due to financial reasons. And for those who did have the money to splurge, they usually had kids and other responsibilities that prevented them from being able to. Not having someone to go with and not wanting to go alone delayed me from taking many awesome vacations over the years, and had me putting it off until “one day”.
Now, there were several times when it all worked out and I did take trips with girlfriends or with guys I was dating. I have always enjoyed this each time, but it did make me realize something. You simply can’t travel with everyone.
When you are together with someone nonstop for days at a time, you will learn everything about them, including every bad habit and mood swing possible. Even if it’s your best friend that you love to death, sometimes you’re ready to pull each other’s hair out. I am pretty easy to get along with, but even I have gotten into some pretty serious disagreements with friends while traveling over the years. Sometimes it actually damaged our relationship beyond repair.
And then other times, you’ll get along fine but just aren’t on the same page. You may disagree on the agenda, or where to eat, or what activities to do, or what pace you want to take. I remember traveling with a friend who wanted to sleep the entire time so I ended up doing a lot on my own, or another time being in Puerto Rico with friends that wanted to eat American food and go shop, while I wanted to dance salsa and visit historical landmarks. Or then there was once when my friend and I arrived at our destination, and I discovered that she did not have a dollar to her name. I have pretty much experienced it all.
Everyone is different, and that’s totally fine. You spend a lot of money to travel and should do whatever your heart desires while there. But the key is to find someone who travels similar to your own travel style. Having similar interests, intentions, and budgets is crucial in selecting who to go with. It can make or break your experience. However, finding someone who’s the perfect travel companion is no easy task.
I am happy to say that I do have a couple friends who are fantastic travel buddies, but unfortunately, our schedules don’t always sync up. Eventually, I just got fed up and decided to give solo travel a try. I started off small with a couple trips to Puerto Rico by myself, but then went big with a solo backpacking trip to Europe for almost three weeks. Everyone thought I was crazy and my mom said I aged her 10 years from worrying about me, but honestly it wasn’t about everyone else. This was something I needed to do for me. I had just finished an exhausting MBA program, and doing something I had always dreamed of doing was my reward to myself. Not having someone to go with was no longer going to hold me back. Plus, I figured it might be the only chance I have to do this. Perhaps one day I’ll be married or have kids. I’m sure I would have always regretted not experiencing something like this on my own. So I went for it. And it was the best three weeks of my life.
I think it’s extremely healthy and necessary for everyone to spend some time alone. Travel is the best way to experience this, because you will really see what you’re made of and learn so much about who you are. We spend so much time on relationships with others, that sometimes we forget to get to know ourselves. When you have no one to answer to or consult with, you can do whatever your heart desires. If you want to wake up at 2 PM and eat dessert for breakfast, you can. If you want to explore a new city at a ridiculously intense pace and wear yourself out [like I did], you can. When you have to get by among a foreign culture, a different language, and a completely unfamiliar area, you will totally surprise yourself. I promise you.
To give you an example, the thing I learned about myself that surprised me the most was my ability to blend into any surroundings. I could adapt so quickly that no matter where I was, I was mistaken for a local. I am extremely proud of this and have impressed myself with how resilient, flexible, courageous, and intuitive I am. Had I not done all this solo, I would have never even realized this. I was not being influenced by anyone else, worrying about making sure the person I was with was okay, or receiving any help with anything at all. I had to figure everything out and navigate on my own. Whether it was reading maps in Portuguese, finding my way throughout crazy train stations, or getting lost, I not only survived, but I thrived. I actually had lots of fun and thoroughly enjoyed my own company.
I will admit that there were a couple times during the long period where I did feel slightly lonely, since the only interaction I had with others was limited to a few days where I saw friends in England and then talking to staff at my hotels and restaurants. I realized how much I missed and appreciated my mom, that’s for sure. But like I said, this is how you learn the most about yourself. You will discover every boundary and limit you have, because you will have no choice but to be pushed. Other than that, it was extremely liberating. I did whatever I pleased whenever I pleased. The sense of freedom and independence it brought me was priceless, and resonates with me to this day.
Now some may argue that it can be unsafe to travel alone, especially for females. It really depends on the location and on how street smart you are. Yes, there are pickpockets and bad guys in any city just waiting to prey on some naive solo traveler. And yes, some countries are safer for this than others. But if you don’t attract attention to yourself by appearing utterly clueless and instead stay very aware of your surroundings, then you’ll be just fine. Having a plan, being prepared, and staying cautious are key. But not too cautious. I assure you that you do not have to walk around paranoid. People from other countries do this all the time. I met tons of solo backpackers while I was in Europe and they all seemed to be having the time of their lives. America is one of the few countries where people seem to be so fearful of doing things alone and so worried about what others think, instead of living in the moment. However, I do think there is a growing trend with more Americans giving this a try because everyone is finally finding out how amazing it is and learning to live life to the fullest!
The main point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t make excuses about not having anyone to go with, and you shouldn’t keep putting off your dream trips until you’re married or find a travel buddy. The truth is, you may be waiting forever and will miss out on some of the best experiences possible in life. Just go. People may talk about how bold you are for doing it, but that’s only because they’re too scared to do it themselves and envious of your courage!
I cannot encourage everyone enough to get out there and experience this at least once in their lifetime. You will spend a little more money since you don’t get to split lodging costs, you will sit at cafes by yourself, you will feel intimidated at times… all of this is true. But you will also gain so much from experiencing something all on your own. It’s an incredible way to build self-love, self-awareness, and self-confidence. Your perspective will change and you will appreciate so many things differently. I guarantee that you will ditch your comfort zone, grow, and come back as a better version of yourself. Wiser, stronger, braver, and genuinely happier.