For some people, taking a vacation means setting off with one or two or ten friends for a week to sit on a beach and do nothing but read books, flip through magazines, and Instagram photos of your feet on the sand. Or maybe you like the idea of taking a cross-country road trip with your bestie or man squeeze to check out Graceland, the Grand Canyon, or the Beer Can House in Houston, Texas (a totally real thing built with about 50,000 beer cans, FYI).
Those types of trips are fun, but I’m here to tell you that you should try setting off on a trip alone. Sure, it sounds lonely at first. But if you can’t stand the thought of being alone for more than about four minutes, that’s even more reason to set off solo. If you’re shy and find the thought of walking up to total strangers and starting a conversation horrifying – great. Traveling alone is a challenge, and that’s the point.
Two years after college graduation, I was in the midst of an early twenties existential crisis. You know, the kind where you spend a lot of time wondering what to do with your life, why you’re dating people who aren’t even that nice, and what it all means. I realized I needed to shake things up and get some perspective, so I quit my low-paying cubicle job, got three server jobs, crashed on a friend’s couch for three months, and saved up enough to take off to Europe for ninety days, alone, with nothing but a backpack and some truly hideous clothes. I don’t regret the trip, but I do lament the wardrobe: bulky hiking boots, baggy thrift store jacket, lots of brown. C’est la vie, I guess.
If you have student loans or are living paycheck-to-paycheck, taking off on a trip might seem impossible. If it’ll jeopardize your finances, find a way to save up so you won’t be in a pickle when you get back home. It’s OK to take a risk, but make sure it’s a wise one that won’t plunge you into debt.
If you’re still not convinced, here are five things you can learn from setting off on a journey alone.
You have to be patient with other people, and yourself
Depending on where you go, the customs (and customer service) will probably be different than what you’re used to. You may have to wait three hours for a delayed train, or try to communicate in a language you barely know. Siri might not know where the closest coffee shop is in Salinas, Ecuador. Traveling alone forces you to take deep breaths, slow down, and have patience. The trick is bringing that patience back with you when you return to “real” life.
You’re a lot more resourceful than you think
Traveling alone for an extended amount of time is challenging. If you’re staying in hostels you’ll probably meet people and travel with them for a bit, but there will be times when you’re tired, hungry, and lonely, and you just want to find a decent(ish) bed to sleep in. Dealing with those frustrations on your own toughens you up and makes you more resilient.
You have to keep your wits about you
You have to be alert at all times when you’re traveling solo, especially as a woman. No matter where you are, it’ll teach you who to trust, when to look over your shoulder, and how to not walk down the street with an expression that says, “I’m a tourist! Please rob me.”
Getting out of your comfort zone is actually pretty great
When I set off on my trip I was pretty shy, and I was forced to get out of my comfort zone and just approach people. I didn’t want to be totally alone for three months, so I met people in hostels who became close friends. The bond you forge when traveling is fast and deep. After the trip I gained a confidence I didn’t have before: I could start conversations more easily, and I became bolder because of it. I also had zero sense of direction when I left for the trip (actually, I still have a terrible sense of direction), and navigating my way through foreign cities on my own made me feel pretty cool. That skill didn’t exactly stick, but I’m working on it.
The world is a big, big place, and that’s amazing
This might be the most important one of all. Traveling alone makes you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, life isn’t over just because you haven’t figured out your dream career yet, and the world is a pretty miraculous place to be. You could gain that perspective traveling with friends, but I think it makes much more of an impact when you’re trekking around on you own. You observe the world in a very different way, and it’s pretty amazing.
So pick your destination, save up the cash, get ready for one hell of an experience, and bon voyage!