Remembering back to my first solo traveling experience—unexpectedly extending a weeklong trip to Costa Rica by one additional week after my travel companions headed back to the U.S.—traveling solo is admittedly something that takes a little courage and the right attitude. However, that one short week in Costa Rica was enough to instill within me the confidence to embark upon a 14-month, life-altering backpack excursion throughout South America. And I went alone.
Certainly, the idea of traveling to a far off land across seas and over mountains where there’s a good chance you won’t understand the language and away from everything familiar to you can be nerve wracking, especially if it’s your first time. But just as with anything else in life you have set out to do for the first time, you will get through this and be a stronger person because of it. Even after the week I spent traveling around Costa Rica solo, that first week in South America—the trip I set off on less than a year after—still made me feel slightly displaced. During that initial week, I felt so uncomfortable that I even considered changing my itinerary and heading back home several months early. However, by the time the second week rolled around, that feeling of displacement began to dissipate and I started to feel a lot more at ease with the idea of traveling on my own.
It’s completely natural to feel a little uneasy and out of place at the beginning of any new venture. But the good news is you will overcome it. So embrace the opportunities that present themselves, soak in the moments that stand before you, and you may be surprised as what traveling alone can teach you about the world and about yourself.
You are more resourceful than you thought
Some people may be discouraged to travel alone because of a long list of things they are worried they won’t be able to figure out once they find themselves alone in a foreign country. Perhaps they’re worried about how they’re going to find their way around a new city or how they’re going to wash their clothes, or find a decent place to eat, or avoid getting scammed. The secret to finding the answers and squelching all of your worries with anything in life that you choose to do is this: don’t worry about the details; they’ll work themselves out once you figure out where it is you are headed.
And you may be surprised by how willing strangers are to help you, even if you can’t speak the local language. You might be embarrassed as you struggle your way through unfamiliar words, but eventually you learn to shake off the shyness to get what you need.
If there is one thing I have learned thus far in life it is that sometimes, life has an uncanny way of helping you out with the details of any positive venture you embark upon that will enrich your life as well as the lives of those around you. Besides, perhaps the simple act of doing your laundry or finding a decent place to eat can become an adventure in and of itself.
>> Check out some of the pros and cons of solo travel
You can make your own important decisions
You may not realize just how many of the decisions you make in life are one form of compromise or another. We compromise on our career choices, on how we spend our time, and on who we spend our time with. In each and every aspect of our daily lives we are forced to make compromises, whether we realize it or not.
A few years back I realized that most of the choices I had made up until that point in my life had been some form of compromise between the things I really wanted and the things I was supposed to do. That’s when I took a step back and assessed what it was that I really wanted out of life and seeing more of the world became a top priority for me. With no one else willing to take a year off to travel abroad, I finally mustered up the courage to venture off on my own and it became one of the best decisions I had ever made.
One of the greatest aspects of traveling alone, I discovered, is that you are not obligated to compromise on any of the things you really want to do during your trip with a travel companion. It’s your life, your trip. You alone dictate what you want to get out of your adventure. Interested in art and culture? Find a list of all the best museums. Want to party until dawn and sleep in late? Do it. Traveling solo teaches us that life doesn’t have to be a compromise, and that we are all instilled with the freedom and flexibility to choose how we experience life.
You might actually enjoy doing typically social things alone
I would hate for anyone to pass up the experience of traveling solo just because they feel a little uncomfortable doing certain everyday things alone. I know some people may be averse to going out to eat or catching a new film in the theater solo, but in reality it is a lot less awkward than you may believe. And as with anything else in life, it just takes practice.
In preparation for my big trip, I began dining out in restaurants by myself instead of ordering takeout. I viewed it as practice to help build up my confidence for when I would be traveling, and eventually that progressed into going to the movies alone. What I learned was that my fears of dining out and going to the movies alone were much worse than actually sitting in a restaurant or darkened movie theater and watching a movie. No one is judging you or wondering why you are alone. All that self-consciousness comes only from you. As you may have experienced in other things you’ve tried for the first time, the first time is always the most difficult. After that, it only gets easier.
>> Read about some awkward solo travel situations, and how to handle them
But you are never really alone
Though navigating a new city, taking an overnight bus, shopping at the local market, and eating out alone all get easier the more you do them, if on any given day you don’t want to be alone, you don’t need to be.You’re never really alone so long as there’s someone there with whom you can strike up a conversation and you may be surprised by how easy it can be to communicate even if you don’t know the local language. A few basic phrases like “my name is” and “I am from” can go a long way.
If you stay in hostels, you’ll never be at a loss for travel companions. More likely than not, there will be at least a few other solo travelers staying in the same place and chance are they’re looking for a travel buddy too.
Strangers may eventually become lifelong friends
I could almost guarantee you that lonely is one word that most experienced solo travelers would never use to describe any of their solo adventures. So if the thought of being lonely is one of the things holding you back from embarking upon your own solo adventure, worry not. Even though the idea of traveling alone may inspire thoughts of being by yourself in a foreign land with no one else to talk to, believe me when I tell you that you aren’t the first person that has thought to travel to wherever it is you are headed, nor will you be the last. And you most certainly will not be there alone.
You will make so many new connections with travelers of all kinds, from all regions of the globe who have similarly been waiting to take a trip very much like the one that lays before you. By the end of my trip to South America I had befriended so many people from so many different countries that I needed to plan another trip just so I could visit them.
Solo travel allows you to embrace spontaneity
Whether you consider yourself spontaneous or not, spontaneity is a quality solo travel brings out of you. When I left for South America I had brought with me a rough itinerary of how I intended to spend my first month. However, once I arrived in Buenos Aires I was soon informed that the bus routes didn’t line up with the itinerary I had put together two months prior and I had to completely change my travel plans. Some of the best memories I have from that trip were the unexpected adventures and misadventures that I couldn’t have planned out, even if I wanted to. Embrace the spontaneous person who is hidden deep within your core and trust that sometimes, spontaneity allows for things to come along into our lives that are beyond anything we could have ever imagined for ourselves. So don’t stress out, go with the flow, and enjoy the unexpected adventures that unravel before you.
Solo travel can help you be the most independent and confident version of yourself
After you have successfully made it back from your first solo adventure—or maybe even while you’re still on that epic trip you had planned for yourself—you will have begun to understand just how limiting traveling with other people could be. We enclose ourselves within so many invisible boundaries that we truly limit ourselves from exploring the numerous unknown adventures that await us each and every day.
Often times, we can be so set in our ways that we forget just how many possibilities life holds in store for us. There is so much power in saying yes to whatever opportunities you find knocking at your door that you really never know just where life may take you. Solo travel allows you to explore not only those possibilities, but the possibilities within yourself. Solo travel helps you to be more independent, confident, self-assured and outgoing. And without familiar friends and family to form a buffer between you and the unknown, you learn more about the outside world and your place in it.
>> Hear the benefits from other travelers who have gone alone
It took me nearly ten years to find the courage to embark upon that trip to South America alone because I was too worried about how I would survive traveling solo, and now I wouldn’t dream of traveling any other way.
Read more about solo travel:
- 19 Resources for Solo Travelers
- Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked
- How to Get Started With Solo Travel
- 10 Things You Learn from Living Abroad