After returning recently from a euphoric 5-day solo trip to Japan, I found myself thinking quite often about how much I’ve missed traveling solo, being on my own and seeing the world. Having worked now in my corporate job for about a year, I haven’t gotten as many opportunities to travel solo, so getting to go to Japan on my own had me bouncing off the walls with excitement for weeks. While there, I wandered aimlessly around the streets of Tokyo with my camera and a notebook. At the Tsukiji Fish Market, I stuffed my face with sushi until I could barely breathe. At 2 AM on a chilly morning, I threw myself over rocks in freezing rain up to the summit of Mount Fuji to watch the sun rise from the highest point in Japan.
The one thing I didn’t get to experience during my trip? Feeling lonely.
Throughout the weekend, I experienced a warm, sunshine-like bliss radiating through my mind that was like a letter from an old friend. The adventurous spirit that I’ve kept somewhat locked away during my corporate job made a timely appearance to explore the sights, sounds, and smells of a new place.
Although I’ve loved exploring the world with new and old friends this year, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for traveling solo and the freedom and independence it gives me. When I am at home, my soul aches for the feeling of being in transit once again; choosing where I want to go next, hopping on a bus or train or plane or boat, and taking off.
Do you know what it’s like to feel uncontrollable happiness? During my trip, I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time because I was in my element, on the road once again. I realized immediately that the freedom of traveling solo was something I’d been craving since my jaunt last year to Central America.
As a huge extrovert, I constantly seek interaction with people. Making new friends and conversing with others gives me endless energy. I’m always the person at parties running around from place to place, trying to catch up with all of my friends. I love to talk. I make too many plans. I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself or leaving the house in my pajamas. So, when I tell my friends I’m heading somewhere solo, I’m usually met with quizzical expressions or looks of confusion.
Why on Earth would an extrovert want to travel solo?!
The answer is quite simple, actually. Through my various sojourns, I have come to love being alone because it’s presented me with the challenge of being comfortable being in my own head for a while. I no longer feel the need to be around others to be entertained or fulfilled. Traveling solo has taught me so much about myself and has given me the confidence to seek the unknown, to ask questions, and to allow myself to fall in love with places time and time again. Why do I love traveling solo so much? Read on to find out!
You Don’t Have to Wait Around for Anyone
When you travel with others, you do a whole lot of waiting. Person A needs to use the bathroom, Person B has to take a phone call, Person C overslept…and when you add up these minutes you spend waiting for other people, they turn into hours of travel time lost. I don’t know about you, but waiting around all day while wasting precious time in a beautiful location drives me insane. Traveling alone alleviates this problem because I don’t feel responsible for waiting on other people, and I can operate on my own schedule. If I want to get up ridiculously early for sunrise, I can do that. I can also sleep in until noon if I feel like it.
Waiting for people to make travel plans in general can also cause a bit of decision paralysis. I quickly realized that if I spend my time waiting around for people to feel ready to go places with me, I’d be waiting forever. Other peoples’ financial situations, schedules, and personal preferences can all throw a wrench into travel plans. So if you feel like you’ve been stalling on making plans for too long, stop waiting for that friend, or that significant other, or that sibling of yours to be ready to travel with you. If you want to go somewhere, take the leap of faith and go. You’ll be SO glad you did.
You Learn to Be Truly Independent
Thought you learned independence in college? Just wait until you arrive in a new city in a foreign country where you don’t speak a word of the local language and you have to attempt to hail a cab. Or when your passport gets stolen and you have to chase the thief down the streets of Paris. Or if you missed the last bus out and you need to get to the next city by the morning.
Sure, those things don’t sound great (I never said I was good at persuasion…), but I’ve gained a fair amount of grit and tolerance through these misadventures that’s shaped me into the person I am today. Gone are the days where I was scared to get lost in a foreign city, or when I worried about participating in adventure activities like scuba diving and mountain biking. I now embrace these unexpected adventures and try to learn as much as I can from them. Traveling solo has taught me how to think on my feet, be resourceful, and find solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
You Find that People Are Amazingly Curious and Kind
“Are you alone?” It’s a natural thing for people to wonder, especially when you see a 5-foot tall girl walking around a city by herself with a backpack as big as she is. And when people approach me with this question, it’s always coupled with a quizzical expression, reacting with wonder and awe that a young woman would be traveling to foreign lands without a companion. When you travel by yourself, you become much more open and approachable to others. It’s an inevitable gravity between solo travelers and locals alike. You become the object of curiosity, and deep friendships abroad can start with a simple smile. Because of this, when you travel on your own, you never actually have to be alone if you don’t want to.
Contrary to popular belief, travel friends can often be forever friends. I went trekking in Myanmar with a friend that I shared an afternoon with again in Amsterdam. I’ve laughed with the same friend under the Brazilian and the Boston sun. The friend I met on a snowy December day in Prague, I met again for coffee on a sweltering December day in Dallas three years later. The world seems so vast, but when you get to know people from so many different places, you’ll find that it’s actually a lot smaller than you originally thought. Unsurprisingly, the people I’ve met while traveling have turned out to be some pretty interesting, incredible folks who have the most perplexing stories to tell. And with that…
You Get to Write Your Own Story
Do you dislike cities? Skip them. Do you want to eat street food? Give it a try! Are there things you’d rather do than what the guidebooks tell you? Then do them, and leave the books behind. When you travel alone, you can choose to do the things you want, without the pressure of having to cater to anyone else.
When I travel solo, I like to take things slowly and watching the world go by with my camera in hand, an activity that would make many of my friends a little impatient with me. I could go to a city and skip all of the museums and monuments, instead spending a day wandering around a residential area or camping out in a coffee shop, and I’d feel totally fulfilled. Traveling alone gives you the freedom not only to write your own story, but to embrace it and truly own it.
The bottom line is that if you spend your whole life waiting for other people to accompany you on your adventures, you’ll miss a lot of amazing opportunities to experience the world, while getting to know yourself throughout the process. Climb that mountain. Take that cooking class. Rent that car and drive out until you can see the stars. Be comfortable in your own presence. In the end, you’ll forget about the moments of loneliness and the misadventures that you experienced along the way, but you’ll cherish the lifelong friends you made and incredible story you’re beginning to write for yourself.