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Traveling Solo (You Can Do It!)

I often get surprised reactions when I tell folks at home that I am planning a trip alone.  Not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of solo travel, and I get that.  There are things to consider ranging from who is going to apply sunscreen to your back to whether you will feel safe walking around foreign streets on your own.  However, there are also innumerable benefits.  From freedom to new experiences to self-exploration, I encourage everyone to travel solo at least once. 

Coming home from my last couple solo trips, I found myself with a peculiar feeling.  The thing I missed the most from my trips was…myself.  I tend to become a completely different person when I travel on my own.  It forces me to be socially confident and outgoing in ways I am not normally.  It’s also liberating being able to be myself and take risks without worrying about who is watching.  I joke that I only sing karaoke out of state or country, but it’s true!  Being a private person, I don’t feel the same comfort level in my hometown, but when I travel, I can shed my shell. 

Not having anyone else to lean on for communication forces you to look up and interact with others.  To me, this is the most rewarding aspect of solo travel.  One of my sweetest memories in Italy was arriving to a crowded restaurant and having a tourist couple from Argentina invite me to sit at their table.  After great conversation, we parted with hugs and well-wishes.  On that trip alone, I had so many incredible interactions with people from all over the world.  I’m confident I would have missed out on at least half of those encounters had I traveled with someone. 

Aside from social interactions, traveling alone builds confidence in general having to figure things out on your own from directions to menus to which button or pedal to press to get the sink in the bathroom to work.  Yes, it can be challenging facing the ups and downs that are inevitable with travel without someone else to share or face them with, but you learn so much about yourself and your own resourcefulness when having to do things on your own.  For example, I consider myself terrible with directions back home, but when I travel, suddenly I’m reading maps and figuring out public transportation systems with ease that I’ve never used in my life!  

I won’t pretend there are not challenges to solo travel.  It’s not fun to be alone when you’ve got food poisoning or when the GPS just went out in your rental car and you’re in the middle of nowhere.  It can also be mentally exhausting to continuously figure things out and navigate new places on your own when hopping from town to town.  And of course, there are times when you’re witnessing something really special and wish you had someone to share it with.  Typically, however, there are locals and fellow travelers available to help when you need it and folks back home who are excited to hear about your adventures when you return. 

What about safety?  Most of the raised eyebrows and surprised reactions I get when planning solo travel are due to safety concerns.  Personally, I tend to be more alert and aware of my surroundings when traveling solo than when distracted by a travel partner, so I have had less incidence of lost items, etc. when alone.  However, I do take precautions such as keeping valuables out of sight, not walking alone at night (unless in a well-lit and safe area), and booking day tours to experience places I don’t feel confident exploring on my own.  I also always let someone back home know my itinerary and contact information for all my lodging in case anyone needs to contact me, and I leave copies of important documents back home in case anything is lost abroad.  Most importantly, I do my research and trust my gut.  If I’m not comfortable going somewhere alone and no group options are available, I make alternative travel plans.  Thankfully, I have felt very safe on all my solo trips so far. 

Traveling alone is a unique experience.  It pushes you out of your comfort zone and shows you sides of yourself you didn’t know you had or had forgotten.  It is liberating not only in who you are, but in what you can do.  You are completely free to design your itinerary around your interests and timetable and take breaks whenever you need to.  It’s perfectly safe if appropriate precautions are taken.  And after a while, you (mostly) get over the awkwardness of asking a stranger to help you apply sunscreen…or just use a rash guard 😊

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