“Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for the wind to fly a kite. Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jack or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance. Everyone is just waiting.” ~ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
Why are you waiting to travel?
Money? Time? Less stress? More energy? Less crime?
Everyone is just waiting.
I, too, waited
Immediately after high school graduation, I had my sights set on Ecuador. The beautiful trails, adrenaline sports, and colorful markets called my name. But I never went. My desire to visit Ecuador didn’t disappear. Instead, I let excuses turn into fear and reasons not to go.
I planned other solo trips and eventually abandoned them due to excuses.
Finally, a break-up pushed me to travel solo. I needed time alone and away from everything familiar in my life to figure out who I was and what my next steps would be. I booked a one-way flight to London for $241 ten minutes after discovering it. I would leave in three weeks to travel solo in London before my semester abroad in Russia would begin.
I was equally terrified as I was excited.
One 19-year old female. Alone. In London. For three weeks.
Crazy? Perhaps. But it felt right.
Side note: Although this was my first time traveling solo, this wasn’t my first time traveling abroad. I had a friend in London in case of an emergency and was traveling to an English-speaking country with a culture similar to my own. Picking London as my first-time solo travel experience really wasn’t that crazy. In fact, it was a safe bet.
Nonetheless, fear set in
I felt confident for the first three minutes in London, then looked like a scared kitten for the rest of the day.
I was scared of messing up, but I was already in London so everything would just have to work. And it did. Whenever something went wrong, like when I ended up in the hospital, things ended up okay.
Before my second solo trip to Volgograd and Kazan, I felt scared. In fact, I considered canceling the trip. Russia is just different, I thought. But I went anyway, telling myself things always work themselves out.
And they did. In Volgograd and Kazan, I made new friends, improved my Russian, and experienced these historic and beautiful cities.
Now, as I prepare to move to Belarus alone, I’m equally terrified as I am excited. I know everything will be okay, though, because I have myself.
First-Time Solo Travel Emotions
Suffering from food poisoning alone was scary. Losing my Oyster card was frustrating. Making decisions alone was nerve-wracking. Experiencing the world alone was sometimes lonely. Having zero decent photos of me while in England was disappointing. I still feel self-conscious eating alone.
So yes, there are bad moments while traveling solo, but the other 22 hours of the day are incredible.
You can spend each day doing exactly what you want. There are no voices chiming in their opinions and wants. You don’t have to wait on anyone but yourself.
It’s easier to meet new people alone because there’s no security blanket of a familiar face. I’ve shared pizza nights with strangers and explored cities with people I met only an hour earlier.
You’ll feel more confident after traveling solo. After all, you organized and problem-solved an entire trip by yourself. Your determination and your resourcefulness made the vacation a success. You should feel proud of your accomplishments.
First-Time Solo Travel Tips
As I’m getting ready for my international move, I’m reminded of my first solo trip and prepared these essential tips for anyone preparing for their first-time solo travel.
- Share your travel plans with someone. I share my itinerary, accommodation name, how to contact me, and how often I plan to stay in touch. This basic information can ease any friends’ or family’s worries and come in handy if you run into an emergency.
- Trust your instincts. Never feel bad for listening to your gut. I’ve turned away Ubers and walked into public buildings when things didn’t feel right. You’re smart. Trust yourself.
- Take care of yourself. Keep the mental and physical health routines you have at home while abroad. I need to be active every day and get at least eight hours of sleep every night, or else everything feels mundane and I’m difficult to be around. Meditate, journal, do yoga, eat healthy, exercise, sleep enough, and do whatever else you need to stay happy and healthy. Don’t be afraid to take a day to rest and refocus. During my first-time solo travel, I thought rest days were a waste of time. I’ve since learned they help me stay engaged and excited about all my travel adventures!
- Go with the flow. Make a plan, but leave room for happy accidents. You never know when you’re going to meet a new travel buddy or stumble into an amazing bakery. It’s a lot easier to take advantage of travel’s surprises when traveling alone.
- Talk to people. I’m a shy person. Something as simple as saying “hello” to a stranger terrifies me. I do it anyway (after ten minutes of internal debate) because it makes my experience abroad better. Ask your server for their favorite spot and ask to join someone for breakfast at the hostel, the worst someone can say is no.
- Travel slower. There’s so much to see in the world and only so much time, but I promise you’ll feel more rewarded and have a better and more local experience if you travel slower. This means moving between cities as little as possible. Since I spent three weeks in London, I could experience a more local side of the city and not feel rushed exploring. Slow travel is cheaper and more environmentally-friendly, too, since you’re spending less money and emitting less carbon transporting between cities.
- Pack less. Bring as much as you can carry because you can only count on yourself. It’s awful to drag luggage through airport terminals, over cobblestone streets, and on public transportation. Plus, less luggage makes you less of a target to petty crime.
- Eat alone confidently. I still struggle with this, but it’s always getting easier. Bring a journal to record your day or a book for time to drift away. Ask for a table by a window so you can people-watch. Sometimes, restaurants offer tables by a bar so you can sit by other solo diners or converse with the servers.
- Don’t do everything. My biggest travel lesson was learning that I can visit again. If you really love a destination, you can return and do everything you couldn’t fit in the first time. The important thing is to not burn yourself out. Your mental and physical health is as important abroad as it is at home.
- Challenge yourself. Break outside your comfort zone. Try new things. Eat that weird food you can’t pronounce or visit that random museum. You might mess up, but life isn’t meant to be perfect. You are capable.
You Can Travel Solo
You are resourceful, smart, and savvy.
You can do it.
Pinterest, my go-to travel planning search engine, shares lots of advice about solo female travel.
Blend in. Be touristy. Accept imminent homesickness. Display confidence. Trust, but not too much. Assure your loved ones. Face your fears. Try new things. Stay away from x, y, and z. Go here. Do this.
The list goes on.
Above all, realize this: mistakes will be made, and they will be solved. There will be challenges, and you will overcome them. You may be traveling alone, but you will never actually be alone.
These are chartered territories, but you’re still brave for taking them on alone. You are walking on a well-treaded path, but you should still feel proud of what you’re doing.
At the end of the day, the key to traveling solo is to just do it.
Eventually, you will question why you ever feared solo travel.