It’s a funny thing.
I end up traveling alone quite a bit. It’s not really what I set out to do… it’s just sort of… what ends up happening. I plan a trip, I get someone to go with me. They can’t make it for some reason/change plans. I’m usually not upset about it… in fact, I’m pretty damn understanding most of the time. But I have to believe there is a greater meaning behind it… why the world, the universe, God wants me to experience the world alone.
When I booked my trip to Australia, I booked it with a girlfriend of mine- and (believe it or not, this was the second or third time this has happened) plans changed. Life changed. So I was off to Aussieland on my own. We were planning on staying with our mutual friend (The Aussie) in Bondi Beach – so I was technically not alone? No. I had someone. When I called him to tell him that galpal had rescheduled her trip, he said it would be no problem and he would accompany me to Melbourne after my time with him in Sydney.
Er. Why have I not learned at this point to have a Plan B?! Because the damn universe wants me to travel alone!! Lol.
True to my traveling luck, The Aussie couldn’t make it to Melbourne with me- due to whatever. Work. Life. Changes in plans. The reasons never really seem to matter to me.. I just know whatever it is must be amazing and/or very important. So I leave it at that. I don’t ever get upset or mad, I just go with it because whatever will be will be and usually the solo trip ends up being a great experience regardless.
So this trip? I was basically alone 7/10 days of the trip. Even with The Aussie there… I’m not sure if I overstayed my welcome, if I was never welcome to begin with… I’m not sure, but throughout the course of the trip it became evident that I was certainly on a solo ride and I would need to make the most of it on my own. Even with my good friend Ang being in Australia the same time… I was basically the third wheel with her and her man (although they never made me feel that way), and with my childhood friend Joe, who also happened to be there with ten friends- I was globbing myself onto his trip (I know he would also say otherwise).
I’ve spent six weeks in Europe alone, signed up for a Thai yoga trip without knowing a soul, and now spent time in Australia solo. I’m sure most of you out there would never dream of traveling somewhere alone where you knew no one. Especially the female folk out there. I have a couple philosophies about solo traveling I’d like to share. Some things I’ve learned along the way, some theories as to why this predicament seems to find itself in my lap so frequently.
1. You become an observer as a solo traveler. Having a friend or group of friends means you are talking with them. Yes, you share a memory with them, but you probably missed that one small thing because you were gabbing away. Being solo means seeing everything around you. Hearing things, conversations that wouldn’t normally gain your attention. You notice the little things. Roads, trees, lights, signs.
2. And to piggyback that thought, you must pay attention. Since it’s just you- you do need to be smart and watch out for yourself. Avoid darkened streets. Speak up, ask for help, directions, advice. Watch out for trams in the street, for the next train. You will have to look at a map, find a restaurant, do all of that on your own.
3. You are forced out of your comfort zone. I think a very small percentage of people adores being alone 24/7. Without a pet, a person, a TV, a blanket lol. Especially in another country. Double especially in another country where english is not the primary language. You may be more reserved without the safety of your crew/friends/family/shelter. It’s good for you. Trust me. No better way to grow than to get yourself out of the zone.
4. You’re going to get lonely, frustrated, upset, lost- and end up stronger than you ever thought before. I can tell you in all my solo trips, there were definitely times I broke down in tears because I felt so…. alone. Just invisible. Lost. Even when I was with people. I’m so used to having an amazing support system and family; real, genuine, and loving friends here at home (albeit, most can’t go on these trips!)… so to be in a new environment without them- I’m not gonna lie here- is tough. Without a ‘home base’ of friends, you are forcing temporary relationships with people you don’t know. Sometimes one or two of those may stick, and perhaps develop into better friendships over time… and while that is a positive outcome, the time you are there may be a bit fleeting.
5. You’ll meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise. A different kind of breed. And you’ll wholly appreciate them. Oh, man oh man. If there is one lesson I learned- is that if I ever stumble across a solo traveler- whether just on their own, or staying with a friend of mine, I’m going to go out of my way to make that person feel welcome. I think that is something I hadn’t done before. And when it happened to me- Smish, Joe, and the darling gent in Melbourne… they all took me in. None of them knew me and they brought me in. I didn’t feel so much like an outsider, like a freak of nature. I felt a part of the environment. I kept telling the Melbourne kid he was the nicest Aussie I had ever met. And I meant it. I was so appreciative he recognized I was alone and was so welcoming.
6. You take risks. Not the crazy risks you would take with your friends. But risks like walking around alone late at night, going to a bar by yourself in a town you don’t know. As the Melbourne guy said, “I admire your bravery for coming to this bar alone- especially as a girl.” Is it awesome that I was doing that? I don’t think so. I just didn’t want to waste a single night on vacation. But yeah, I don’t think most chicks would do that.
7. You learn way more about yourself. As I took in the sights, I also took note of myself. How I was feeling, what I was thinking. I was aware, cognizant. Taking down notes for writing ideas and blog ideas and book ideas. My creative brain came alive with ideas that I saw and experienced. I thought about the present. I lived in the present.
8. You become appreciative. You start out small- thankful for being able to walk. Thankful for sight and hearing. Thankful for the opportunity to travel. For the new feelings, sights. Your home. Your friends at home. Your job, the people who were so kind to you on this trip. You appreciate life.
9. You are so free and flexible. Definitely the bonus to being a solo traveler? You can do whatever you want. Most days I stayed where I was supposed to. Other days I didn’t. I originally had plans in place then moved them all around and spent time with other people I had connected/reconnected with on my trip. You truly are free and flexible to live day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Truly, one of the few times in life when you can do this.
10. Your confidence may suffer temporarily. Being out of your element puts you at a disadvantage. You have to navigate, become comfortable. I was definitely out of my element this trip. Typically very-confident-me did struggle a bit among people, places and situations I wasn’t used to. Did I handle it the best way? Maybe, maybe not. But I did my best in an unfamiliar environment. And I gained some confidence back. And when I returned? That confidence gained back was tenfold.
11. My thirst for adventure and the world is greater than my fear of loneliness and the unknown. I’m never going to pass up a travel opportunity if I can’t find a travel companion. I love travel, it is in the essence of my being. I think most people who travel alone share this sentiment.
12. Take it all in. As my good friend Ang likes to say, “one day we’ll be bored out of our minds with babies stuck to our nipples. Let’s enjoy this while we can.” Yes, Ang, let’s.
Solo travel and I have a love/hate relationship. There are times when it feels so freeing to just be on my own and do whatever it is I want to do. Other times, I wish nothing more than that special person to be by my side during those new discoveries.
I don’t want to make it sound like traveling alone completely sucks and this trip blew ass. That is not what I’m saying at all. I’m just laying it out there that it is not all glamorous. That I’m being truthful about my experience. That upon reflection, traveling solo is so good for you- so good for the individual soul. I’m not saying I recommend or not encourage it either way- I think it just depends on how strong of an individual you are and what type of journey you are seeking.
What I learned on this trip was valuable. I regained, strengthened, ended, and found new friendships- all in one trip. I got stronger. I sewed every wild oat I could imagine. I culminated the last ten months of being single into nine days in Australia. And it was insane, amazing, easy, hard, lonely, and fulfilling.
I know that my solo days will probably come to an end in the future… I see myself married at some point to someone equally in love with the world as I am. Although sometimes it can be challenging, I’m thankful for those moments of solitude… I know they are special times that some people will never experience out of fear or avoidance- and I’m just lucky to have them.