I had always subscribed to the theory that solo travel was not going to be fun, and more importantly, it would be scary. Heading to a new country where I didn’t know anyone or speak the language, and not having a companion to lean on, was a situation I avoided.
However, last fall I took my first international solo trip to Mexico City, and it completely changed my point of view. Since then, I’ve traveled solo in several countries on three continents, and am even planning my first experience living solo in another country. (There will be much more on this later.)
So what changed? More importantly, what lessons did I learn that I can share as to why my mindset had a complete 180 degree shift?
I can choose the itinerary
When traveling with others, some aspect of compromise is necessary. I don’t enjoy shopping, for instance, but many do. Therefore, when traveling with a companion who wants to shop, I am going to find myself enduring it.
Traveling solo, it is my trip, all day every day. I like to get up early and go to bed early. I don’t drink often. I see museums very quickly. On my own, these things are all completely fine. I don’t have to tailor my trip to anyone else’s wants or needs, and while that sounds – and probably is – selfish, it is also a great way to maximize my time in a new destination.
I can prioritize my own needs
As someone who struggles with mental illness, having bipolar II disorder, I sometimes have to prioritize my emotional needs over everything else. Nothing makes me feel worse than feeling I let my travel companion(s) down when I have to say that I need to remain in the hotel.
Traveling solo, if I need to do that, I can. Even simpler, if you are just a person who needs more sleep, or who needs to go to the gym or meditate, being solo those needs can always be met without feeling bad. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, relax when you need to relax.
I can meet new people
It can be a challenge when traveling with people you know to meet new people. After all, if I already have companions to talk to, eat with, and tour with, I don’t need that in others.
Traveling solo, I find myself talking to people everywhere I go. And, if those people end up being nice, I can make plans to see them again. For instance, yesterday I met a Brazilian man named Roger on my tour to the DMZ in South Korea. So today, we met at the National Museum of Korea, saw the exhibits, and had a wonderful coffee talking about each other’s countries and travels. This doesn’t happen frequently traveling in a group, and is something truly magical!
Technology keeps me connected
Traveling solo a couple decades ago would have been very isolating. However, today, my iPhone works anywhere I have WiFi, allowing me to talk and text with my people back home even while on my own. As a result, I am not nearly as isolated as I otherwise would have been. So while I may not have my friends here to share my experience, I can tell them about it and send pictures immediately, keeping that aspect of group travel alive.
Ease into it
If this still sounds intimidating, you can ease into solo travel by taking a short solo trip domestically. In preparation for my trip to Mexico City, I spent several days solo in Chicago and Detroit. Everyone spoke English, I was completely connected, and I didn’t have to worry about learning new cultures, so it was a good way to ease into the idea. I survived, and made my México plans!
While traveling solo might not be your idea of a perfect vacation, it is definitely not as scary as I originally thought. I, for one, have grown to love it, and can’t wait to do more!