I get this question all the time. Often followed up by, “Pretty girl like you … I’d think you’d have a boyfriend or husband by now.”
I internally roll my eyes but politely answer, “Haha nope, not waiting for one either. And all my friends are married and settled so it’s either go alone or sit at home. I’m not good at sitting at home.”
That is true and after years of traveling alone I’m grateful for the things that I’ve learned and the strengths that I’ve come to know about myself. Five of these strengths may have come from traveling solo, but they now help me in every aspect of life.
1. I depend on me
Yes, there are times when the kindness of strangers helps me out and I’m extremely grateful for it. But for the most part, I’m depending on myself and that feels wonderful. If I screw up travel plans and end up missing a plane or train, there is no one else to blame but me. If I try a tour and I don’t like it, well I picked it, so do better next time.
This dependence has taught me to think ahead, to examine situations from numerous angles to determine the best possible outcome as well as possible negative outcomes. Depending on yourself is like exercising a muscle and mine has been well developed over the years. I’m calmer now and I don’t get flustered easily. My flight or flight reactions have been well honed. I don’t panic and I stay one step ahead of situations for the most part.
One honest downside of this: I find it very hard to depend on other people and I’m very picky about who I travel with and who I let make plans. (But I’m also aware of this and working on it so you see … one step ahead.)
2. Everything can be figured out. Just keep moving forward
Any mistake, any itinerary, any missed plans can be figured out. It may not be the ideal situation but once that train has left the station without me on it, there’s no use in crying over it. It’s gone. Done. Now what? Asking and answering “Now what?” always keeps me moving forward rather than dwelling on the past. I need to go to the ticket window. I need to check on options for the next train. If that’s not going to work I need to look into a plane ticket. I need to call ahead and move my hotel reservation. Go, go, go, on to the next thing. Just figure it out and keep moving. Yes, there are times when I feel like I’m burning money, as in, “Wow! I’m never going to make it tonight. I just wasted money on a hotel room I won’t even be able to get to until tomorrow.” But life happens and you just keep moving forward.
3. I, as a human being, am remarkably small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things
In March of 2015 I sat on a random beach in the Dominican Republic. I’d just gone horseback riding and hiking to a waterfall called El Limon, and then hitched a ride to this beach with a couple of New Yorkers who had since gone on their way. I was sipping a fruity drink on an almost deserted beach where no one knew my name, and I thought about friends and family back home and the fact that no one knew “exactly” where I was.
No one. It’s good to be alone in the great big world sometimes. I thought about the fact that I’d hopped a bus a few days before to the northern part of the island. Then, I’d gotten a random hostel. Then, I’d woken up earlier that day and decided to go hiking. Then, I’d landed on this random beach whose name I didn’t know. I mentally zoomed out: from the tiny beach, to the tiny island as a whole, to the tiny Caribbean and how small it was compared with the United States, then to the United States compared with the whole world, and land as a whole compared with the oceans that cover the planet. It felt good to be a tiny dot. Suddenly nothing going on in my life seemed to matter that much. Whenever life takes on too much stress and things seem to be getting tough, I remember that I’m just a tiny dot in a great big world.
4. I’m not alone. I’m just on my way to make new friends
I’ve made incredible friends all over the country and the world. I’ve met people who were just friends for a few hours or days and we’ll never see each other again. But I consider them friends for the time we spent and the fun we had.
I was in Austin Texas once and returned to my hostel at 11 p.m. tired and planning to head to bed. Someone invited me to have a beer at the picnic table outside and next thing I knew I was deep in conversation with a group of girls. They were from Houston, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. All these different accents, opinions, backgrounds, and lifestyles melded together into hours of conversation. The next thing I knew it was 5 in the morning and we slowly staggered off to bed. I’ll never forget those girls though nor the friendships forged if only for one day.
When I took the Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle a few months ago I made friends with one of the attendants on the train. He showed me some of the local hangouts in Seattle and we’ve stayed in contact every now and then ever since, even meeting up to grab drinks in different cities. This is the beauty of travel. You smile and talk to people you don’t know. Then, these people become your friends. Then, before you know it, you are never alone because you know people everywhere.
5. It’s OK to be nervous. But do it anyway
Many people think that because I travel alone I have no doubts, fears, or struggles, and am this magical Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to confidence. Not true. I struggle with insecurity just like other people. I just usually make myself do whatever I’m fearful of anyway.
Take heading out to explore a new city. I’ve done it a ton of times, not a problem. Except some days it is a problem. Sometimes I literally am almost frozen with a feeling of “I don’t want to do this!” Yes, you should listen to your gut. But I know my gut too well and I can tell when my gut is just acting out for no reason.
I deal with this a lot at the beginning of trips. When my alarm goes off at 3 a.m. and I’m wondering for the nth time why I do what I do. But I do it anyway. I push through the nerves, and the fear, and I have incredible amazing experiences that I would have missed out on if I’d turned off the alarm and crawled deeper under the covers.
I will tell you this though, that doesn’t come magically. It comes with practice. It comes with stepping outside of your comfort zone once, then twice, then again and again until you find yourself living comfortably in a zone you’d never thought you’d be in — and looking for new ways to stretch outside that zone.