I recently took my first solo trip to Costa Rica and didn’t realize the reality of it until about two days before when I sat in my room thinking, “WTF am I doing?” Friends constantly told me how traveling solo is life changing, but for some reason the only thing I could think was, “I’m not really losing that much money if I just don’t go, right?” That not being an option, I forced myself to embrace being uncomfortable. I jumped out of a plane a few months ago, so how tough could this really be?
When I arrived in my hotel room the first day, again, I sat on the bed and thought, “WTF am I doing here?!” With barely any cell service throughout the entire trip, I can certainly say that this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I recommend everyone do this; especially if you’re on a soul-searching journey, you must take on the challenge given the opportunity. Independent traveling has helped me understand certain aspects of my thinking and decision-making, without having someone by my side to weigh in their opinion. Here are some ways I’ve found traveling alone can truly help with mental clarity and provide answers to many of life’s uncertainties.
1. It humbles you.
In today’s world, we are told to “fake it till we make it.” We must act confident in our careers for a promotion, or to be trusted with more responsibility, even if we aren’t at all. Not saying it’s a negative thing, but it becomes part of your identity. For me, it makes it hard to let my guard down because, well, I’m used to having to mentally position myself in a certain way on a daily basis. When traveling solo, you can’t even pretend to know what you’re doing. Not only is it a new place with new faces, but you are forced to interact with locals, even if you don’t at all speak the language. All built up walls come down and you have no choice but to become as open as possible to understand what they are trying to tell you. It’s a magical process, and you come to realize that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It’s part of life and the learning curve that comes with it.
2. It makes you more alert.
When traveling with someone, you rely a lot on that person (especially if you’re not much into planning like me). When I traveled with my friend, she would have all of the plans mapped out and I never gave much thought as to how much work went into planning. Being on your own makes you more alert and attentive to details. You pay attention to where your hotel is located; you remember the restaurant/bar you went to the other night so you can go back next time; you triple check you have your passport because otherwise, you’re SOL and have no one to blame but yourself.
3. It forces you to keep an open mind.
When traveling with a buddy, you’re less likely to interact with everyone you come in contact with. Your comfort is the person you’re traveling with. You may be in unfamiliar territory, but you’re with a familiar person. When alone, everything is unfamiliar; the places and the people. This makes you want to create a sense of comfort in any way possible. You agree to partake in activities that you typically wouldn’t engage in if you were with someone, and you talk to people that you probably wouldn’t talk to if you were with someone. The number of emails and Facebook requests I’ve received along the way is far beyond what I imagined and leads me to my next point…
4. People are genuinely interested in your story.
First they will ask you where you’re from, followed by who you’re with. The moment you say you’re traveling alone, people will take you in (this was quite a surprise). They will share their travel stories, teach you bits of the language they speak and will reiterate how brave you are for doing such a thing. You’ll come out of the trip with new friends around the globe. Just on this trip I met two couples from Holland, a couple from Arizona, another solo traveler from LA and two friends traveling from Maryland. The relationships you begin on your journey will leave you yearning for more because everyone has such an exciting story.
5. You’re forced to face yourself.
You won’t have anyone to vent to or gossip with. It’s only you. Traveling alone literally forces you to relish in your experience unlike ever before. Especially if you have limited cell service, you don’t even have your IG to scroll through. And this is the best part about it. You come face-to-face with your fears and demons. You force yourself to take on challenges because the only other option you have is to stay in your hotel room…and that’d be pointless. You go out there and tell yourself that fear is just another obstacle to conquer on this journey.
6. You become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
The dreaded phrase “Stepping outside of your comfort zone.” Everyone says it all. the. time. but what’s it really mean? Traveling alone, you will wake up every morning confused reminding yourself that you are in a foreign country…alone (at least I did). There’s nothing like fighting through that feeling and knowing that at the end of the day, you’ll achieve a sense of accomplishment after taking on a new challenge. It means not wanting to do something because of fear, but saying fuck it, and doing it anyway. I can say that every night I went to bed feeling more confident than the night before. That’s when you truly come to understand that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
7. You develop a new perspective on life.
There’s a quote that rings true to traveling, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Being alone in the unknown for a certain period of time makes you realize how grateful you are for your life back home. You also realize how much you have, even though in the day-to-day it’s never enough. We are so caught up in our every day lives that sometimes all we need is to experience the unfamiliar to realize what it is we truly want and need in life.
8. You learn that material possessions rarely are the key to happiness.
As cliché as it sounds, it’s true. Sometimes when we feel something is missing in life, we buy things to fill the void. This, most of the time, is instant gratification. Experiences shape us into who we’re supposed to be. Being uncomfortable, yet finding comfort within that, builds us as humans. Sure, certain material things make us happy in the moment, but long-term fulfillment is deeper than that.
9. It gives you confidence to follow other interests…alone.
Normally, if there is something that I want to do but can’t get one of my friends to join, I won’t do it. The typical thought process is, “Why would I do this alone? It can wait till later.” Actually, it can’t wait because the longer something is postponed, the lesser the chance you’ll actually do it. You’ll realize that if you conquered traveling to another country alone, everything else will seem like a piece of cake. Just because your friends don’t want to do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either. It’s important to find that thing you’ve been afraid of for some time, and to just do it. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
10. You realize it’s just the beginning.
I’ve only been on this one trip alone, but am already planning the next. After taking a few days to reflect, you realize how truly liberating of an experience it was and that maybe something even more challenging could be in the works the next time around.