I impulsively bought a ticket to go to Barcelona after visiting friends in Scotland, and it ended up being the highlight of my trip! Prior to Barcelona, I hadn’t traveled alone since I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. I picked Barcelona primarily because I studied abroad in Spain and I had an unforgettable experience the first time – and because I was familiar with the culture. I’m now extremely enthusiastic about the idea of doing more solo trips!
These are some of the things I learned about traveling alone:
1. It’s actually easy to make friends along the way.
I’m guilty of overthinking and worrying whether or not I’ll connect with others while traveling – with my personality, I enjoy being around others and having conversations. However, I’ve realized it isn’t hard to make friends while traveling. Whether you find them in a hostel (like I did), or while on a walking tour (like I also did) – there’s ample opportunities to interact with others, and potentially become friends with people while traveling solo. Since you’re out of your comfort zone when traveling solo, you’ll be more open and willing to meeting new people. I’ve found that meeting other solo travelers is much easier than approaching groups. The only advice I can give is to be open and be willing to put yourself out there – you might end up making friends in the most unexpected places.
Example: I met someone in Barcelona when I walked up to him and simply asked, “Do you speak English? Do you mind taking my photo?” He ended up asking my name and where I’m from – which ended up being a conversation about U.S. politics.
Every stranger you meet may not be someone you keep in contact with after the trip , and that’s okay because you’ll at least have the memories. For the life of me, I can’t remember that guys name and we never swapped contact information – but I do remember the intellectual conversation we shared, and how cool it was that he was willing to take hundreds of photos of me until I got the right one.
Example: I met 3 really cool girls in Barcelona, who I would’ve never met if it wasn’t for all of us staying in the same hostel room. We ended up sharing our social media information with each other and still stay in contact, even after the trip ended.
I tell the story above because, while they’ll be instances where you meet people who you’ll never meet, or contact, again – you may also meet people who become some of your best friends that you wouldn’t have met, or crossed paths with, otherwise.
2. It’s liberating & empowering.
Without getting into a lot of details, this year has been tough for me. So I thought the best way to get away, and somehow reclaim my life, would be to travel somewhere alone. When traveling alone, you can’t depend on anyone but yourself – and your intuition – and I was confident in myself to know I could handle anything that came my way. I came back from my solo trip feeling self-sufficient, self-assured and self-reliant. I felt stronger and confident that I could go almost anywhere and do almost anything – which is such a liberating feeling. I’ve always known I could travel solo but actually setting out to do it, and accomplishing it, was freeing – it’s a feeling I encourage everyone to experience at some point in their lives.
3. It’s always good to get some alone time.
Going off of my point above, I felt that getting away and being alone would be beneficial for me. I was able to: love my own company, reflect on my life and boost my self-esteem – which were all a necessity for me to decompress and feel happier. I came back from my solo trip feeling rejuvenated, empowered and somewhat like my old self again.
At the end of the day, all you have is yourself. That saying may be cliché, but it’s absolutely true – and what better way to get to know yourself, and what you’re capable of, than to travel alone? Of course there’s other, less extreme, ways of getting to know yourself and having that alone time – but traveling alone forces you to be by yourself for a great duration of your trip.
4. You can do whatever you want, at your own pace.
Instead of trying to please others, all you need to focus on is pleasing yourself during your solo trip. You can choose what you want to get out of your trip and set your own pace by making your own schedule. You’re completely free to do whatever it’s you want, without feeling judged or receiving opposition. Want to wake up by noon? Go biking? Take a walking tour? Go hiking? Relax on the beach all day? All of these decisions won’t affect anyone else but you when you’re traveling alone!
5. You get to embrace experiences, rather than fear them.
I’m naturally an anxious person – I overthink every little detail, and the unknown is definitely intimidating. Weeks prior to going on my solo trip, I kept thinking of all the things that could go wrong, (‘What if I get pickpocketed?’, ‘ What if I miss my flight?’, ‘Will I like my hostel mates?’) but once I got to Barcelona I realized there was no reason for me to be anxious or fearful. I faced every experience, head on, and felt accomplished – and capable – of doing anything.
My advice would be to take every experience as it comes. Don’t overthink and don’t over-plan, just go with the flow. I’m guilty of over-planning my trips, having every hour planned with activities, but sometimes you just have to embrace whatever comes your way. If nothing else, traveling alone has taught me that you shouldn’t let your anxiety or fear rule your trip.
Example: I’m absolutely terrified of heights, you couldn’t get me to hike/climb anything if you gave me $1,000 (I’m not kidding). When I was studying abroad in Madrid I hiked up a mountain in Cercedilla. Now I didn’t make it to the very top but I made it halfway up, which was a major accomplishment on my end. Since I was with other students’ from my university, I wasn’t necessarily alone but I also didn’t know them well enough to disclose my fear of heights. But I pushed myself through it and tested my limits. I was proud of myself for having gotten out of my comfort zone.
This story is really just to show that you may go into a situation/trip with preconceived notions of how it’ll turn out (e.g. I told myself early on I wasn’t going to hike up the mountain in Cercedilla), but you get over your fears, and anxiety, and just enjoy the moment/experience (I didn’t reach the top of the mountain, but I was proud of how far I did hike up).
6. You learn what you do, and don’t, like.
Example: My last night in Barcelona I had seafood paella, which I’ve tasted before, but this time there were mussels included. I’ve never had mussels before (shocking being from Boston) and didn’t know if I’d really like it – but I actually enjoyed it, so much so I ended up getting a second plate with mostly mussels.
If I were with someone else, I probably wouldn’t have been so willing to experiment and eat the mussels. But since I was alone, my opinions weren’t influenced by anyone and I didn’t have to worry about embarrassing myself. Traveling alone let’s you experiment and really figure out what it’s you like, and don’t like. So you can eat that weird looking/sounding food, learn a new dance, try to speak the language, etc. without being judged or feeling embarrassed. Besides, if you fail or end up disliking something, it isn’t like the locals will ever see you again .
Advice for potential solo travelers? If you haven’t solo traveled and are contemplating trying it, I would say to just book the ticket! You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and other cultures, if you take that leap.