“Good for you, but I just don’t think I would ever do that.”
Translated: “It sounds kind of lame. ”
“Wouldn’t you rather wait to take a trip with a friend?”
Translated: “Wow, how sad, you must really have no friends.”
“How brave of you — and you’re not scared?”
Translated: “You probably shouldn’t do this.”
These are all sentences that people uttered to me when I said I was going to explore three different European countries alone. It’s a mix of awe-inspired pity, judgment, and fear that I heard from people.
The truth is, I love traveling alone more than with other people. Sure, it’s nice to have a buddy tag along, but if you have ever traveled alone, it can become addicting.
Sometimes it’s just the little things, like:
- Eating whenever you want
- Seeing what you want, when you want
- Not having to consider other people’s wants/feelings for once in your life
- And mostly, not worrying about your travel buddy walking into the bathroom after you’ve taken a shit
It’s completely selfish and hedonistic. And I. love. it.
The unexpected joy of solo travel is the discomfort. It can be an anxiety-ridden and lonely journey. Even doing simple things alone, like eating in restaurants in Europe (they think it’s crazy that Americans are so independent and want tap water), become an ordeal. It’s a type of uneasiness, however, that can only be confronted with brazen confidence.
To put it simply, you really have to enjoy your own company and love yourself in order to travel alone successfully. (I found lying to myself that I like myself until I believed it, worked out pretty well.) It’s the only way to conquer those feelings of panic and isolation. The scary parts are sometimes the best parts because nine times out of ten, everything turns out okay. And even if things don’t go perfectly, it’s not the end of the world.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety, traveling alone has actually immensely helped me reduce my fears and worrying. I can handle all these things that scare me. I used to get anxiety sitting at a bus stop with a stranger and now I go to countries without knowing a lick of the language. I’m a better, calmer person for it.
You truly learn what your predispositions are and what you can handle on your own — if you’re truly comfortable with yourself. Do I meet new people easily? When does my anxiety kick in? What do I overthink about? What do I actually like to do? Am I willing to publicly take a selfie? (The answer to that last one is a hard no and selfie sticks are still a no.)
When you spend all that time on your own it’s like being introduced to yourself again. It forces you to figure out what you are really like without the pressures of family, friends, or other familiarities surrounding you. Traveling alone is one of the few times I feel completely myself.
More importantly, I am utterly unwilling to miss out on experiences because I want someone by my side for them. You’re telling me you want me to miss out on Portugal’s gelato because I couldn’t coordinate my PTO to my friend’s. NO. I don’t travel alone because I’m difficult or don’t have friends, I travel alone because I can do it at the drop of a hat without asking anyone. I travel alone because I want to. Even if I had people to go with, I would still make time for a solo trip. It’s not about sharing an experience, but rather having one that’s only yours.
That’s perhaps what is most gratifying about solo travel. It’s the idea that you’ve made your own memories that are only for you to treasure. For someone like me, who feels very misunderstood a lot of the time, it’s nice to have something that absolutely no one needs to understand. Because they never can. And they don’t need to.
Being on your own isn’t something you should learn to do when you’re nearing death, it’s something you should learn to cherish now, in your younger years. Get cozy with it like that Danish hygge blanket Instagram keeps trying to sell me. I reminisce on how much fun I had enjoying my own company during my trip. It’s healthy and something everyone should make time for because nothing teaches you self reliance like getting lost trying to find your hostel and then finding out you passed by it 7 times and it was really just a 30 second walk from the bus stop instead of your 45 minute detour.
So, GO! Travel solo. Even if you think you can’t, or you’re nervous, trust me. You can.