Solo travel is often portrayed through idealistic eyes. I know that was my original perspective. After being on my own for nearly a month, my view has become a little more realistic. Every person will have a different perspective because we are all in different situations. I am a young female who is not terribly harsh on the eyes. My experience will be much different than a sixty year old male. Here is what I experienced.
When I dreamed of solo travel, overarching themes came to mind like freedom, destiny, growth, and self-actualization. I would be like a pioneer of my own life. It is odd how sometimes thoughts become realities, but in a different way than you mapped out.
My first day and night alone were a little embarrassing. I questioned what I was doing and wondered if I made a horrible mistake. The fight vs. flight set right in, and my first reaction was flight. I even considered calling the airline to see if I could change my flight. After the initial panic (and sleep), I realized I was being ridiculous (especially the reoccurring thought that I might choke to death because no one could save me). I told myself, “this is what you’ve been counting down for. This is your dream.” I decided to make a plan, because that is my coping mechanism. I created a calendar and brainstormed everything I wanted to do. Then I mapped out the days.
Once I knew all of the adventures I had planned, I felt better. Routine started to set in and my photography really took off. I was busy learning, seeing, and doing. I even started to think, “what will I do when I get home? Life will be so boring.”
Then, bad news came from home. I thought my anxiety level was high in the beginning, but knowing that I was needed at home and I couldn’t get there was awful. I feared that I wouldn’t make it home in time. I’ve never had to make such important decisions on my own. When is the right time to come home? How will I get home? How will I take care of all the “other” details like checking out with my landlord and getting everything done in time? I’d like to say I kept my cool the whole time, but I’d be lying.
Through this experience, I have learned a lot about myself, what I want, and what I can accomplish. This was the goal of the trip, but I didn’t realize this is how it would all happen. I love travel, but I also love my family and friends. I do need them. I don’t think I can just move across the globe, but I sure can visit as many places as my heart desires as long as I have a home waiting for me. Even as I wait for the dust to settle here, I dream of where I will be going next. Perhaps I am a chronic sufferer of the grass being greener on the other side. Talk about a paragraph being full of cliches…
So, what are my overall thoughts on solo travel? There is good and bad. I think if it is approached the right way, it can be a very liberating experience. Here are some benefits and downsides to traveling alone, plus some tips to make it the best experience possible.
Pros to Solo Travel
-Freedom of Choice
-Create your own schedule
-Move at your own pace
-Greater growing experience
-No compromises have to be made with others
-Typically we are more approachable when we are alone
Cons to Solo Travel
-Loneliness can set in
-It can be more costly
-Sometimes paranoia can take over when too much time is spent alone
-Extra cautions need to be taken to remain safe
-If we are uncomfortable, we may be less adventurous and miss out on opportunities
-It can be challenging to trust others because we can become more guarded
-Select your destination carefully. There are some places that are much more comforting to solo travelers than others. I felt so much more comfortable and at ease during my layover in Dublin than I did my entire month in Paris. Language barriers do make things more challenging. Different cultures have different values and customs. Perhaps it is best to find one that is more similar to your own for your first trip alone.
-Balance city and country in your itinerary. City life can be harsh and sometimes we need to be able to let our guard down a little.
-Don’t be surprised when fear steps in, but have a plan to combat it. If you know how to calm yourself down, you are a step ahead. If not, try different strategies to cope.
-It is okay to be homesick. Fill your needs with skype, home comforts (whether it is food or entertainment), and connections with other travelers. I spaced out my English-speaking interactions with fun events like a cooking class, champagne tour, and guided walks through the city. Even though I didn’t make long lasting friendships, I did have conversations that helped me fill my social quota.
-Do what feels comfortable. If you don’t feel safe alone at night, enjoy each daylight hour. I imagined myself exploring the night scene, but after being followed for almost a mile by a man and then approached, I realized that I would have to change my plans. I received a lot of unwanted attention that made me realize being out late at night would make me feel uncomfortable. It is unfortunate, but I will have to enjoy those moments with friends while I travel.
-Eat out at lunch. I found that I could really enjoy my lunch on my own. Eating alone at dinner seemed to draw more attention that I didn’t want. I must have been sending off some serious pheromones because I’ve never gotten so many “I love you baby,” whistles, or looks in my life.
-If you want to avoid unwanted attention, whether they are gypsies, hagglers, perverts, drunks, or homeless people, you have to be harsh. At home, I am the kind that smiles as someone walks by in the grocery store, or will say hi to the hiker walking past me on the trail. In Paris I found that making eye contact more than once was not a good idea. When I talked about this with my tour guide, she said that to avoid unwanted approaches, simply look through people. You gaze as though they are invisible. Eye contact in the states is different than eye contact in other countries. Perhaps I am a little paranoid, but when I am on my own and have to handle every situation by myself, I find that caution is what feels best to me.
To Sum it Up…
Will I ever travel alone again? You betcha. Will I do it the same way I did this time? No. A big part of traveling alone is learning about what works for you. After getting to know myself, I know that my next solo adventure will look a little different. Sure there will be struggles again, but there will also be growth and unforgettable moments. What a life…