Today is March 7 … exactly four years ago today I boarded a flight to London and embarked on a seven-month solo backpacking adventure through Europe and parts of Africa.
For months before I booked the trip, I teetered … I dreamed of traveling, but was it the right time to quit my job, mid-career, to hop on a plane across the Atlantic?
As I grew more miserable in my job, my career, the answer became clear: GO.
So, around Christmas 2009, I got on the phone with United and arranged for my solo backpacking trip.
Four years later, I know beyond a doubt it was the right decision. The perfect decision. The decision which gave me the strength, the courage, to forge the past 48 months of my life. It lead me back to Vegas, it lead me to Thailand to volunteer with elephants, and ultimately, it led me to life as an expat in Chiang Mai.
In those seven months, I visited London, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Amsterdam, Spain again, Portugal, Spain again, Rwanda, Spain again, Morocco, Spain again (I had a love affair with the country, what can I say?), Turkey, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.
The things I learned about myself, about life, have fueled me to this day. It was life-altering. What did I learn?
1. Leap. Leap far.
There were so many moments during my travels when I was scared. Hell, even the night before London, there was terror creeping into my blood. What had I done? I quit my job in the middle of a recession to travel the world? To write? At 30, was this really a risk I wanted to take? You bet. When I was offered a week in Rwanda, I wasn’t sure. It was expensive. But. It. Was. Rwanda. And, when on earth would I have the opportunity to trek with gorillas again? So, I leaped. I leaped, and leaped and leaped. Coming back to America, I leaped again. Travel taught me leaping is OK. That if I leap, I will land on my feet, because there isn’t really another option.
2. It is OK to be fearful.
Fear is one of the main things holding us back. Fear of leaving what we know. Fear of taking a chance. Fear of the unknown. Travel makes you shut up that fear. It makes you look fear in the face and tell it to fuck off. Traveling solo, there are ample opportunities to be fearful. Walking alone at night. Arriving to a new country, a new city, and not being able to speak the language. Fear is OK, being scared is OK, so long as you don’t let it paralyze you. Once you can get past the fear, you can experience beauty and a world you never imagined.
3. Everywhere you go, there you are.
My mom used to always say that to me. She would always tell me my desire to travel was because I was running, but I could never run from myself. She was 100 percent accurate. And, when I left, I didn’t want to be running. But, there were times when the unhappiness crept back in to my life during my trip. Being alone in Budapest and being exhausted. Being sick in various countries. Meeting amazing people and then getting on a bus in opposite directions the next day. It is those moments, when alone, you realize you are only as strong as you think you are, and to travel solo, you have to muster up that strength to be strong. Traveling doesn’t solve problems. Actually, it can create a whole new set. But, it does get you much more connected with yourself. It taught me to really look at my life and see what I want. It gave me permission to chase my dreams and catch them, versus just talking about the things I wished I could do.
4. Clarity comes in the least expected of places.
There I was, standing on a rooftop of a medina in the dizzying city of Marrakesh when the realization of what I wanted to do came to light with a boom: to travel and write. Sure, I knew this, but there was something about being in the overwhelming Moroccan city, the mint tea, the snake charmers calling in the distance, that just made it all seem so much more clear. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t just traveling, I was setting the path for the rest of my life.
5. Roll with it. And, if you can’t roll with it, don’t leave your house.
Traveling to foreign countries delivers such unexpected twists and turns — some wonderful and some downright shitty. You miss a flight, you get on the wrong bus, you end up landing at one airport and having to catch a flight at the main airport across the city … you have to be prepared to just roll with it. Never has a lesson taught me the importance of patience, of smiling, of sucking it up and remembering the world does not revolve around me. It also taught me to be nicer — both in travel life and in real life.
6. Go with your gut.
When I was in Kusadasi, I had a bad feeling about the hotel owner I was working for. Bad enough, where a few hours before he came after me, I had already snuck down the block and spoke with another hotel and asked if they had rooms. Trust your gut. If it screams “get out of here!” then listen. Don’t brush it off. After I met with a shaman in Vegas, my gut told me to quit my job (again). So, I did. And then, I ended up in Chiang Mai. Things happen for a reason — sometimes you have to be the catalyst in making a change.
7. The only person in the world you should truly count on is yourself.
If I had waited to go to Europe until someone else could go with me, I’d be sitting here four years later, likely still waiting. During my trip, I realized that if I wanted to go somewhere, to do something, it was up to me to simply just do it. Yes, I put trust in my friends, but I know now that if there is something that means something to me, it might not have the same meaning to someone else. It is up to me to create my happiness; relying on others to do so doesn’t work in the long-term.
8. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I’m not big into taking physical risks, and yet for some reason, I decided to paraglide in Turkey. Only, instead of paragliding, I toppled down a cliff. Shaken (read: hysterical), I sat on a boulder on a tiny road with nothing below it but a valley way, way down. As tears erupted from my eyes, I realized I was lucky to have lived. And while the tour outfit encouraged me to try again (hell! no!), I did manage to stand up, wipe my tears and keep going with my trip. When I returned to America, it was hard. Anyone who says re-entry is easy is far more stoic than I am. But, I powered through it. Now, I live life with this thought. I see a challenge (albeit not really physical ones) and I face it. I deal with issues and I become stronger for it.
9. Believe in yourself.
Going out into the world of solo travel is a brave, brave decision. Not everyone can do it. It is hard. It is stressful, but it is also incredibly rewarding. On the flight back from Europe, I felt so satisfied. I. Did. It. I believed in myself enough to accomplish seven months of being in foreign countries, navigating transportation, hauling a backpack on my back, meeting new people … Believing in yourself opens the world to you. It certainly did for me.
10. And, the most important thing I learned: If you want it, you can get it.
Throughout life, people have told me there are rules to follow in order to be successful. That in order to get what I want, I have to go through X, Y and Z. You know what? That’s not true. At least for me. If there is something I want, if I believe I can attain it, I can. It is all in the power of my mind, and can be in the power of your mind, too. Take the chance. Go after what you want. And get it. It’s the reason I am here in Thailand. It’s the reason I quit my job four years ago and embarked on a solo travel adventure. It’s the reason I ended up back in Vegas. Want something bad enough and you can get it.
Have you traveled solo? What did you learn?
28 thoughts on “10 things traveling solo taught me about life”
What a great post. I agree with everything and can relate really good to all of this. I travelled a lot in the last years, my biggest trip being 7 months work and travel in Australia. Now I have been back home since summer 2012 with short trips in the meantime. But my feet are itching too much and I recently quit my job to head to Mexico in September and then we’ll see where my route leads me. I also published a post on this topic last week if you’re interested in reading it (http://bit.ly/P7lJW0).
Thank you, Stef! I totally understand the itchy feet! Let me know how Mexico is!
Brilliant post! I also just wrote a post about travelling solo on my blog. I remember so many of your points like number 7. The only person in the world you should truly count on is yourself – I could have waited forever for some people to join me on trips, but I’m so glad I didn’t and went and did it anyway. Like Africa – aren’t the gorillas awesome?! And number 8 is similar to my mantra ‘It’s all part of the experience’, when something goes wrong at least its a story to tell right and you grow from that experience? Though I have had any bad paragliding accidents!
Thank you! 🙂 The paragliding accident was definitely one for the books!
Wow. Thanks for sharing these tips and “behind the scenes” of travelling solo. I travelled solo only on business trips, all my vacations I spent with my family or girlfriend but more and more I wonder if I try to travel somewhere without plans, alone, try couchsurfing, just backpack and camera.
I love not having plans! It makes it all the more fun and all the more exciting!
Yes, yes, yes, yes! I can relate to a lot of this. I especially like your remarks about fear – thanks for writing that
Glad you can relate to it!! 🙂
Um….. GORILLAS?! How did I not know about this. Off to the archives…
Haha! Yup, did a gorilla trek in Rwanda in 2010! It was pretty freaking amazing!!
At around 4 months into solo backpacking around the world, with no end in sight, I have experienced and agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. There is no point wasting the best years of our lives doing a job we hate, working for people who don’t care about us, to make money to buy crap we don’t need to impress people we don’t like and rent a place that we’re only in so we can go to the job we hate.
The only things I would add are really just different ways of expressing the same things, I suppose.
Rule #1: Go big, or go home.
Rule #2: You can’t go home.
And also, these last two.
“The meaning of life is that it stops.” -Franz Kafka
“Find what you love, and let it kill you.” -Charles Bukowski
YES, Nathan!!! I agree, entirely. Great quotes, too!
Yes! Such a wonderful post. This all resonates with me, for sure. I have gained so much from traveling solo. I also felt quite satisfied after navigating around South America for 6 months on my own. Which was only possible after believing in myself and not counting on anyone else to make it happen! I love reading about your adventures as a fellow thirtysomething solo female traveler.
Thank you!! It is amazing what happens when you believe in yourself! The world becomes your oyster! Keep up those travels!!
Thank you so much, Sam! I am glad it resonated with you!
Uhm…can I fangirl over you now? It’s the first post I read from you blog but I can already tell I’m gonna be hooked. For one, I can’t wait to submit this comment and check out your travel experiences in Romania (since that’s where I was born). And then I will just admire you having the courage to abandon everything and follow your instinct. Virtual high five! ^.^
Thank you!! 🙂 I loved my time in Romania. I hope you enjoy the posts!
You know what, I always travel solo and Today I am really happy to see your post. I got someone like me and I really enjoyed the way your wrote. Keep updating..!!
Thank you, Sofia!! Solo travel is really eye-opening. And, you don’t have to be solo all of the time to experience those moments. Just yesterday, I was in a cab from the airport to my friend’s house in Prague and sat there with tears in my eyes, simply thinking back to the last time I was in the city four years ago, and how much my life has changed and how I never imagined I would be where I am in life upon my next visit to the city.
Wow, I just love reading it especially on the things that taught you in life in travelling solo. I agree with everything especially on accepting and conquering your fears. For me, when I travelled on my own for the first time after I finished high school, I was afraid first but then it taught me alot of things to explore the beauty of life. Now, I’m so happy to share my travel moments with my family as well as continuing to travel on my own. Thanks for sharing!
You learn so much when traveling solo!
This is a fabulous post. I have traveled alone before, and as you said, have been scared and nervous. I have traveled solo to Spain, Italy, and Colombia and now next week will be doing Nicaragua for just over two weeks alone. YOur spot is spot on. That fear only builds up the strength that only we can give ourselves. It turns us into better people and gives us that understanding of who we are and who we truly would like to be. I also learned as much as I love traveling that I do love coming home. It makes it all the sweeter.
Thank you, Jennifer! Good on you for all that solo travel!! 🙂
It’s the post about “17 incredibly amazing women” that brought me to this post. I totally agree with this post! I traveled & lived abroad for 19 years, mostly solo, well before the computer & travel was so confidence building. Keep doing what you love! P.S. I LOVE Spain as well. (spent much time in Andalucia.)
Thanks so much for checking out the post! 19 years abroad is a long time! I’m really impressed! I have lived as an expat for a little more than three! Thanks you for the support!! If you ever find yourself in Spain, let me know!
Yes, will do. Am mostly living in Canada now but I still do take short trips. (3 weeks is very short 4 me!) In my 19 years, I did come home for a few months every year & a half or so.
If you are so inclined, you can read a few of my travel stories on my blog. http://elenisworld.blogspot.ca
Keep doing what you love!
Hasta luego (or in “andalucian” hata luego!)