Because it’s not all rainbows and butterflies…
What it is really like to travel alone can be a touchy subject for some. The internet makes it seem so easy. There are gorgeous girls jetting off to foreign destinations every day on my newsfeed, and I wanted to be one of them. The only problem I encountered was that none of my friends could come along, therefore I found myself as a solo traveler. I assumed it would be relaxing and quiet, which it is, but that’s not all it is. A lot of times you are hyperaware of being alone, though it’s not the same as being lonely. Being alone you get to dig deep inside your head and reflect on your wants and desires and goals and passions, being lonely you wish there was someone there to do it with you. The two are not mutually exclusive, unfortunately; you can be alone and lonely at the same time.
Traveling alone is a lot of things: exciting, thrilling, challenging, insightful, etc. But many times travelling alone means double (or triple) checking reservations or flights, crossing the road at night when you see a dark figure heading towards you, making decisions yourself, waiting until the morning to visit the ATM, attending happy hours to meet other people, holding onto your purse on the subway, trusting other people for directions, and romantic dinners by yourself. You are constantly aware of being alone, because you are the only one you can rely on to make plans, get yourself out of a sticky situation, and keep yourself safe.
This post is not to deter anyone from solo traveling; it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Instead, I’m here being honest with the not so glamorous aspects of it.
Sometimes traveling alone is scary, especially when you mess up. While I was in Athens I took the wrong exit out of the Acropolis and found myself on a tiny street with no streetlamps, but I finally found a populated street with a famous distillery, and went in for a drink. I let my guard down, and when the charming man next to me asked if I was traveling alone, I stupidly said yes, and saw my mistake reflect on his face of astonishment. I had broken my own number one rule of not letting any local strangers know I was traveling alone.
Hostels are not always in perfect condition like the Ritz, in fact, many times it has been a glorified form of camping for me. “Roughing it” is part of the backpacking lifestyle. Another part of the backpacking lifestyle is drinking and unfortunately, drugs. When solo traveling it is impossible to know anything about other people when you meet them, instead it is blind faith that allows you to hang out with them. For someone who is straight edge, this part of backpacking can be difficult. You want to have a full and fun experience by meeting other people, but you have certain standards you uphold for yourself that don’t coincide with others’ behaviors. This can be isolating and, quite frankly, disheartening.
Sometimes while traveling alone, you are at the mercy of what your new “friends” want to do. This got me into some trouble in Mykonos. I found myself on an unlit footpath on a cliff headed to the biggest party beach on the island. Next thing I know, I was in the middle of a coke deal with no where to go. So I did what any sane person would do, I faked sick and got the hell out of there.
Traveling alone also takes its toll on your family and friends. Luckily my parents don’t try and extinguish my thirst for travel, but I appease them and make a detailed itinerary of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing every day that I am gone in case something happens. My parents have allowed me to flourish as my own person and travel wherever I like with pretty minimal questions asked.
Traveling alone gives you ample time for reflection and journaling, which I will be thankful for in years to come when I re-read about my adventures. With all this time in your own head, it is possible to get lost in the thought of things, instead of the action of your life. On my last trip to Greece, I found myself getting caught up mentally in the unknown aspects of my life (which is pretty much all of it right now). Who will I be? What job will I have? Will I make a difference? I was stuck in this cyclical questioning cycle with no resulting answers. Solo traveling means that no one will be there to shake you out of your existential dread, you have to go through it and come out on the other side. I believe this is one of the most rewarding parts of solo traveling, having to go through things yourself, and learning about your own strength.
The most challenging part about solo traveling for me has been facing my own demons head on, specifically anxiety and depression. The world is vast and beautiful and when you travel, you get a new perspective, one that I think aids in even the most brutal mental illness. The ability to see beyond yourself, to witness another culture, to lose yourself in seemingly another world entirely does wonders for your own introspection and perspective. I have learned not only how to practice patience on 12 hour plane rides, but I have also learned how to just be, how to just be a tiny human in a big world, and it simultaneously makes you feel like the most important person and the least stressed about your own life. Through solo traveling I have learned how to be a global citizen, how to treat others, how to treat myself, and I wouldn’t give up my experiences for anything in the world.
For more information about how to stay safe as a solo female traveler, click here…
For more information about how to have good mental health while solo traveling, click here...