Why Traveling Independently is the Best Way to Travel
I didn’t really have the money to travel until after I graduated and had started a full-time job. Because I dreamed of travel, I quickly signed up for the most famous travel deal sites.
I watched as amazing travel deals rolled through to places I had never imagined going to at prices that seemed more than attainable. The more deals I saw, the greater my wanderlust grew. When will I get to go?
If a deal seemed extra appetizing, I would quickly whip up a group text to my closest friends, usually something like “Ladies! SUPER cheap flights to London, Sept-Nov!! Who’s in??? Girls trip?!”
Usually the response I got was something like “yeah girl! Let me check my vacation and get back to you!” But, without fail, the group fell apart the second we actually started talking about anything seriously. Despite the initial enthusiasm, I never ended up getting a group together successfully.
I remember it was early fall in 2013 and a “flash sale” came through for Iceland. For less than a grand, I could get nonstop airfare to Reykjavik, a hotel, 3 or 4 tours (including hunting the Northern Lights!), and airport transportation. I remember feeling my heart rate pick up a little bit. Who should I text about this deal? Who would say yes?
Lots of experience told me I probably wasn’t going to get anyone on board, so I quickly Googled “is it weird to travel solo?” and decided to take the leap and travel to Iceland alone.
My friends or coworkers are often surprised when I’m traveling alone. I guess most people don’t even consider that you can have a solo adventure, but I’ve done it so much that I’ve ended up surrounding myself with other like-minded solo travelers that it doesn’t even phase me anymore. So, fellow traveler, if you’re nervous to take the plunge, read on to find out why traveling alone makes you a badass.
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1. People are terrified to do anything alone
Think about what activities are commonly thought of as solo. When I think about it, almost everything is assumed to be social – and only social. Many people work out alone, but almost everything else seems to be catered towards couples or groups.
Take restaurants. How intimidating is it to eat alone? It doesn’t sound particularly scary, but people are honestly worried about getting judged. A quick Google search validates that:
People wonder if it’s “normal”. They worry if it’s “weird” or if their waiter will judge them. People consult message boards and bloggers write advice articles. Why is something so innocent – so every day – somehow weirder without someone by your side?
And don’t even get me started on movie theaters.
Literally nothing about going to the movies is social. Dark room where you are required to sit, in silence, for 90+ minutes with only the sound of people munching on popcorn and sucking down their 32 oz soda in the background. It is the perfect solo activity – so why don’t people go alone?
Because it’s scary.
These two things are scary to others. Imagine how badass you must be if you get on a plane, fly across multiple time zones to a place where you don’t know anyone, and explore on your own. It’s not “pathetic” or “lonely” to travel solo, it’s brave.
2. You have to navigate a lot when traveling solo
Traveling alone is amazing. But your first time is definitely overwhelming.
Airports, customs & border control, public transit, navigating new languages, time zones, and currency… and that’s all before you even check in to your hotel!
I landed in Paris (CDG, specifically, my least favorite airport – I just didn’t know it yet) and spent TWO. HOURS. in line to just get through border control. I was jet lagged, stressed, and kind of hangry. Then I tried to get a SIM card for my phone and snag some Euros from an ATM.
I was stressed to the max. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I ended up crying in the airport. I kept thinking, “did I make a mistake? Am I cut out for this? How much would it cost to return home early?”
But then I settled in. I met some travelers and we drank cheap (but delicious!) wine at the hostel over some fresh baguettes, brie, grapes, and macarons. We got wine drunk and laughed all night and shared stories about why we were there and what we were doing. We became fast friends and ended up drinking wine in front of the Eiffel Tower while she sparkled.
And then I went to Ghent and ordered iced coffee and got a shot of espresso served next to a goblet of ice cream.
And then I ended up in Amsterdam and met some very high British gents who wanted to pet a dollar bill (“this is so much softer than our money!”) while I laughed.
Solo travel won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. You will struggle. But I promise you, getting on the other side of that struggle will make you feel powerful, amazing, and brave.
3. Solo travel means you are forced to make new friends
No one told me how hard it would be to be an adult and make friends. In school, we always had a built-in mechanism for making friends. Shared circumstances – classes, proximity – made it so friendships developed easily. But that’s not always true once you reach adulthood.
Traveling solo reintroduces the shared circumstances that makes making friends easy. You’re going to be surrounded by other equally adventurous travelers who also don’t know anyone and need to make friends. You’ll be able to fold yourself in to different groups easily. And even though it’s easy, it will feel intimidating.
Iceland was my first solo trip and I had no idea what I was doing. I was barely awake on the bus from Keflavik to Reykjavik when a nice guy sat next to me and started chatting. He was a Canadian on his first leg of a months-long solo adventure. From talking to him, two other Canadians introduced themselves to us, and we ended up meeting up that same day to explore the city.
In Prague I took a free walking tour of the castle. I met two women from San Diego and we joked through the entire tour. The tour ended at a brewery ran by monks and we laughed together about drinking on holy land. We walked together to a restaurant and had traditional gulash with a nightcap of Czech moonshine.
And in Vienna I took a bicycle tour of the Wachau wine region (my favorite travel activity, ever, but that warrants its own post) and met a wonderful couple from Chicago who invited me to join them at a wine cellar in Budapest just a few days later.
I am still Facebook friends with many, if not all, of these people I met. Solo travel may mean you don’t arrive with a friend, but you will certainly depart with many new friends from all over the world.
4. Solo travel means you get to be delightfully, wonderfully selfish – without judgment
When you’ve traveled with friends, family, or a significant other, do you remember being annoyed with them at some point in the trip?
Maybe they want to wake up way earlier than you want to. Or they are sleeping in so much, you’re worried that your vacation is being wasted.
Maybe they insist on going to fancy 4 and 5 star restaurants when all you want is to hang out at a pub and have some bar bites with the locals.
Or maybe they insist on yet another museum. And you’re just not that into art!
Traveling with others means you will compromise. The more people you travel with, the more compromises you’ll have to make.
That’s the beautiful thing about solo travel. You get to do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it. Do you want to sleep in? Go for it. Are you hoping to wake up early to catch the sunrise? No one is stopping ya. Wanting to hang in the Louvre for an entire day without being hurried along? Get it girl.
When you travel solo, you exist exclusively on your whims and desires. It is arguably the most selfish you can be – except no one is calling you selfish, because no one else is there to bother you with their opinion.
And sure, point #4 is that you’ll make friends. But that doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them all the time! They are solo, too, they get it – if your new group wants to do something that seriously doesn’t interest you, just let ’em know and tell them you’ll meet up with them later. No one will be offended.
5. You’ll grow more than you ever imagined, and you’ll come back a completely different person
Talking to someone who recently got back from a solo trip is kind of like talking to someone on the Keto diet: it’s all they talk about, despite literally no one else caring.
(I’m joking… mostly).
But why do you think solo travelers ramble on and on and on about their experiences? They do it because it was amazing. Because it was life changing. Because they grew and found themselves in ways they couldn’t imagine.
I spent 5 or 6 weeks backpacking in Europe solo, with experiences including:
- 7 countries
- 8 languages (Belgium has multiple recognized languages)
- 3 currencies
- 4 airports
- 3 attempts at doing laundry in languages I didn’t understand
- 2 bicycle tours, one involving lots of wine
- Plus two other wine tours… and a visit to the world-famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich
And, not to mention…
- A shooting on the high speed train from Brussels to Paris the day before I took the same train from Paris to Brussels
- A large international refugee crisis that lead to border control being implemented on the Germany/Austria border just as I needed to cross the Germany/Austria border
Solo travel is one of the most independent things you can do. Everyone should travel solo at least once.
I experienced so much in just over a month. I had to learn how to trust my gut, how to rely on myself, and how to watch and interpret social cues to interpret new regional norms.
And these experiences aren’t unique to me. Honestly, anyone who travels to a new culture will grow, no matter how large their group is. But doing it alone … well, just try it. You’ll understand.
If you’re looking for more solo travel advice, check out my post on my Solo Travel Philosophy!