Two weeks ago, I hopped on a plane and traveled 2,300 miles to Portland, Oregon by myself. It was perceived as insanity by some and as daring and inspiring by others, but it was well worth it. I don’t regret my decision even a little bit, because it was such a fun learning experience.
In fact, traveling alone so far away from home was one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life, and here’s why I think everyone should try it at least once:
1. It’s liberating.
There is something so incredibly freeing about being in a new city where no one knows who you are or where you’re from. You can be whoever you want because you’re not trapped by all of the things that already define you.
You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference the relief of that pressure can make until you experience it for yourself!
I struggle with social anxiety and the people that know and love me are sympathetic to that and whether it’s consciously or not, they tend to cater to me and make an effort to keep me comfortable. While I have always appreciated them for doing so, this trip made me realize that it’s entirely possible to stunt personal growth by getting too caught up in your defining characteristics.
It’s possible to subconsciously feel pressure that you don’t even realize exists.
My friends and family know that I’m socially awkward, so it’s always been easy for me to use that as an excuse to keep being that way. It’s always been a way to avoid challenging myself. Portland kind of changed that.
Yes, I still had trouble in some social situations because I can’t help that I do have anxiety. But I really shocked myself with how much easier it was for me to relax and have fun when I didn’t feel any pressure to be what most people already see me as.
I was in a different city, surrounded by people I would never see again. If I made a fool out of myself, I wouldn’t have to feel longterm embarrassment anyway!
It’s also amazing to not have to run on anyone’s time or preferences. There’s no compromising when it comes to when and where you’re going to go, which makes the experience much less stressful and much more enjoyable.
2. It forces you out of your comfort zone and gives you a newfound sense of independence.
If you’re quite introverted like I am, this is inevitable. You will absolutely do things you wouldn’t normally do and talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to, perhaps without even realizing it until later.
New people become part of your experiences that wouldn’t have if you were traveling with people you were comfortable with. And that’s a great thing. I met so many awesome people in Portland that either approached me or I had to talk to out of necessity. Sadly, I probably wouldn’t have talked to any strangers if I had much of a choice so I’m grateful that I was forced out of my comfort zone (now, anyway).
Initially, I panicked a little bit. When I landed in Chicago for my layover, I thought to myself, “Shit! What have you gotten yourself into?! You can’t do this!”
On top of having social anxiety, my sense of direction is the f*cking worst, so I had no idea whether or not I was even going to make it to my hotel.
I had to navigate myself and ask for help when needed. I had no one to rely on but myself, which is really unusual for me, and that turned out to be the best thing for me.
While I did take a few wrong turns and get on the wrong train once, getting lost felt a lot less like actually being lost and a lot more like exploration (both literally and figuratively).
It made me realize that I’m more capable and independent than I thought I was and that’s one of the most incredible feelings in the world. I came home feeling proud of myself for the first time in a long time and I have no doubt that other people would feel the same!
3. It’s a chance to find yourself.
Being thrown into a completely unfamiliar situation on your own can be eye-opening, and so can your reaction to it. You might just learn a thing or two about yourself that you didn’t know.
It’s a chance to explore any secret passions you may have, or maybe even stumble upon your purpose in life, if you believe in that sort of thing.
For me, a lot of things clicked that didn’t before. Whether I owe that to my choice to travel on my own for the first time or to the city of Portland itself, I’m not sure. But I came to a few really important realizations about my character, my potential, and my dreams, regardless.
4. It gives you a new perspective on life.
It might sound crazy, but you look at things differently when you’re alone than you would when you’re with people you know.
I honestly never realized how much I was missing by having someone glued to my side. When you constantly have people you’re super comfortable with right there, you become too invested in a conversation with those people instead of soaking in your environment. Thus, it becomes all too easy to block out and miss cool things that are happening around you.
It’s a real shame because I don’t think most people even consciously think about that happening, but it does all the time.
Being alone helped me see places and people in Portland that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It helped me experience that wonderful, weird city fully, rather than half-assed.
(Becoming a bit more privy to my surroundings did have it’s downside though, because I became so much more aware of the heartbreakingly large homeless population in Portland. I was almost brought to tears multiple times when I was hit with the sad reality that here I was, vacationing in a place where they are barely surviving. With no one to stop me, I nearly gave all of my money to homeless people, but I digress.)
Traveling alone also helps you gain a new perspective on your life at home. There are very few things that compare to the feeling of being able to escape everything that’s suffocating you. Even a few days can make a huge difference.
It gives you a little bit of time to miss what’s normal and routine to you. It helps you realize what and who are the most important to you and gives you a new appreciation for it all.
It simply revitalizes you in a way that nothing else can.
5. It’s an awesome story
This one is a given. How many people can say they just decided to hop on a plane and travel somewhere new by themselves?
It’s been a fun story to tell people at home for obvious reasons, but it was actually more fun to tell people in Portland about how I ended up there. Everyone I told seemed genuinely intrigued.
I had a really amazing talk with a girl who ended our conversation with telling me how inspired she was by my free-spirit and how cool it was that I decided to just travel there on my own for the hell of it.
So as you can see, there are so many reasons why you should travel alone. There are so many valuable lessons to be learned and unforgettable experiences to be had. Don’t let any fears or doubts keep you from doing it; I’m so glad that I didn’t. In fact, I’d do it ten times over.
The world is your playground, so get out there and explore!