Thinking about traveling all by your lonesome might conjure up some very strong feelings for you, and I doubt they’re all rainbows and puppies. Hollywood isn’t really doing us favors with blockbuster movies like Taken that fill our heads with scary thoughts about being all by yourself out there. But don’t be fooled. Going overseas solo can be an incredible, life-changing experience — and it doesn’t have to be an unsafe endeavor (which we’ll get into more below).
Up until recently, I was never much of a traveler. I had just graduated from my Master’s program and was living in Boston in 2013. The farthest I had ever gone was Cape Cod. A few drastic events in my life changed my mindset, though, and I woke up one morning with the fierce urge to see more of the world. I used to think travel was a luxury reserved for those with more money than me, or retirees. But I did my research, spoke to the few friends who had done their fair share of jet-setting, and saw that it’s very doable with a small amount of cash — as long as you do it smartly. So I decided to sell everything I owned (which admittedly wasn’t much) and got a one-way ticket to Australia.
I’ve been traveling ever since. After soaking up every ray of sunshine in Australia, I spent some time in Asia, then explored South America throughout the year of 2015. It’s been a rollercoaster of experiences, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I’ve learned more about the world and the people in it than I ever could’ve in all my years of graduate school.
If you’ve been flirting with the idea of traveling on your own, I hope this will convince you to finally do it!
1. Because it’s safer than you might think.
Worrying about your safety overseas is very normal — and necessary. But don’t let a fear of not being safe run the show. Those are two different things. In 2014, a Booking.com survey found that American women take the cake for most female solo travelers in the world, so don’t worry. It’s been done many times!
That being said, you have to be smart about it. Do your homework. Research where you want to go and read up on the area you’ll be staying. Plus, remember that just because you’re going abroad on your own doesn’t mean you have to be on your own all the time. Connect yourself with other English-speaking folks and look for other women in your demographic who are also traveling. You can go together to social events and watch each other’s backs, if needed.
Finally, follow the basic rules. Don’t go anywhere by yourself late at night, don’t wander off to any remote areas on your own, and don’t be so quick to tell people where you’re staying and for how long. Trust your instincts and intuition —those can take you a long way.
2. Traveling with a group friends can be fun —but ultimately not the same kind of experience.
It’s easy to get distracted by your friends. That’s not usually a bad thing. You enjoy chatting about your latest drama and discussing important things that are happening in your life, but it can ultimately take you away from the beauty you find yourself in when you arrive in a brand new country. When you’re on your own, you don’t have any choice but to become much more aware of your surroundings. Trust me, it’s almost like you develop these spidey senses that allow you to see the universe in a completely different way.
3. You’ll understand the true meaning of independence.
You learn how to get around a city in which you don’t speak the native language. You become proficient at navigating a place that’s foreign to you. In other words, you’re left to fend for yourself, and although that sounds frightening at first (it scared the daylights out of me) it will remind you how badass you are, how capable you are of taking care of yourself when nobody else is around to take the lead. The sense of independence you’ll gain from a solo global adventure won’t be anything like you’ve ever experienced. You’ll feel empowered.
4. You can do exactly what YOU want to do.
When you’re on the road, in a new environment, you have way more hours on your hands than you normally would in your day-to-day life. Suddenly you have to decide what to do all morning, all afternoon, all evening, all night. It can actually be a weird feeling.
When do we ever get to wake up in the morning and genuinely ask ourselves, “What do I want to do today?” Hardly ever! We’re usually so tied up to our commitments at work and in our social life that we never get a solid chunk of time to answer this question from the bottom of our heart. But we all deserve the chance to do that at least once, and traveling alone truly gives you the chance to do it. So, go to that museum your partner thinks is super boring. Go on that safari your friend wasn’t interested in. It’s your time. Do what you want with it.
5. You can focus entirely on yourself for a while.
If you’re going through some rough times, traveling by yourself might clear your head and help you make some important decisions (I mean, have you read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild?). When you temporarily separate yourself from your world, it’s like you finally have room to breathe. Also, you can step back and see things for what they really are. Take the time alone to journal, meditate, hike, etc. All of these activities can bring you back to a state of balance, preparing you to choose where your life goes next.
6. You can try new things without worrying about people judging you.
Anyone who knew me in 2013 before I started traveling could tell you that I was the exact opposite of a risk taker. I was never adventurous. I hated new things. I also hated anything that was remotely considered athletic. But something about landing in Australia for the first time really got me riled up and feeling slightly invincible. After hearing so much about CrossFit, I chose to give it a shot. I was harboring a new bravery knowing that none of my friends or acquaintances would be there to see me suck at it.
Surprisingly, I fell in love with it and I did not suck. I anchored down in the CrossFit community of the town where I was living and, after some time, I became really good at it. I was accomplishing things I never thought possible — rope climbing up to the ceiling and back down again, squatting more than my body weight, competing alongside inspiring athletes. I got high off of this new hobby I had adopted. And I really don’t think I would ever have even tried it if I were in my hometown. The strength and belief I developed in myself during that period has truly transformed me.
7. You’ll sharpen your social skills.
You’ll meet all sorts of people when you’re traveling, people from all demographics and walks of life. Being thrown into those diverse groups, you have no choice but to adapt quickly. You get used to communicating with people who may not even speak English and you start to understand body language in a new way because you don’t share the same language. Skills like this translate nicely into your everyday life — even into the workplace. You’d be surprised at how much more articulate and composed you are in social situations.
8. You’ll be more appreciative of your home — and everything you have.
See? There I am, actually loving a New York City snowstorm. Sometimes you need distance to help you truly appreciate the things you’ve got. Your job isn’t such a bore anymore. Neither is your roommate. I mean, my relationship with my parents even got better. After being shaken up emotionally on your travels (in a good way), you see what really matters in your life. And at the end of the day, you might find yourself much happier for it.