Why I Love Traveling Alone (And Why You Should Try It)

When Ginger and I were en route to Atlanta a couple of weekends ago, our conversation turned to the topic of solo travel. She said, “I think I’d like to go somewhere by myself, but it makes me nervous!” Girl, I feel you. Traveling by myself didn’t come by choice; at least, it didn’t at first. During my days as a software trainer, I spent 75% of my time on the road. Prior to this, I had never been anywhere by myself. I was excited to try it but also extremely intimidated. My head swam with thoughts like “I have to drive alone in an unfamiliar place!” or “I have to navigate LAX with no help!”

My first few solo trips were depressing. I was lonely, nervous, and inexperienced. Back-to-back trips for 3 weeks in a row left me homesick. Being new to the software training gig didn’t help, so in addition to worrying about getting around unfamiliar places, I also frequently second-guessed the information I taught during my training classes and lived in constant worry that I’d be fired because my trainees didn’t learn anything. (They actually did, and my trainings were fine, but I’ve always been a perfectionist).

Once I made it past the hard part, my outlook changed. Turns out, traveling alone has become the most therapeutic thing I could have done for myself.

Seeing Things Solitarily is Inspiring

The first time I visited Mt. Rainier National Park to see the wildflowers in Paradise, I did so alone.

The first time I stood in the Pacific ocean, I was by myself.

I marveled at the Oregon Trail Memorial atop a peak overlooking a rolling prairie with no one else in sight.

I walked around Sleepy Hollow in October by myself, crossing the Headless Horseman bridge at dusk.

I sat secluded and in awe of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable exhibit at the Andy Warhol museum for an hour, songs by The Velvet Underground stuck in my head for several days after. During this same trip, I visited Andy’s grave.

I hiked unaccompanied to the Craggy Pinnacle on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the dark to watch the sunrise.

These experiences probably would have been just as cool if I’d had company, but I don’t think I would have has as much of a chance to deeply marvel if I hadn’t been alone. Solo travel allows you to focus on your surroundings and take in so much more.

You Get Out of Your Comfort Zone (and Learn to Figure Stuff Out)

My self-confidence and independence skyrocketed when I started taking solo trips, allowing me to develop problem-solving skills. The prospect of driving in New York City or Los Angeles used to terrify me, but when you’re by yourself, you’re forced to figure out how to get around (especially if you want to see more than just the inside of your hotel). I’ve braved all kinds of weather on the road, including driving around the Michigan peninsula after they had gotten huge amounts of snow. This was a terrifying prospect to a Southerner like me, but places that get snowy weather frequently are well-equipped to handle it. I’ve dealt with more delayed and canceled flights than I can even remember. I can honestly say that learning to troubleshoot travel hiccups has helped me in other parts of my life as well and has taught me to be just the slightest bit more laid-back.

You Call the Shots

Randomly driving 2 hours to the next state for a steak while doing Whole30, touring Fenway Park or Seneca Falls on your lunch break, or scoring a walk-in appointment at the coolest tattoo shop in Asheville? When you’re traveling alone, you can do whatever you want without input or protest. You can also change your plans in a snap without having to consult anyone else.

fenway park baseball field

You Meet New People

Solo travel allows you to interact with people from all walks of life, especially if you stay in a shared space like a hostel. Although I mostly like to keep to myself when I’m traveling, I also find that I’m more observant of other people and more willing to strike up conversations with strangers. From a friendly Bostonian who was in a Led Zeppelin cover band in college to an MTV celebrity hanging out with his pet pig on Huntington Beach, I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with some really interesting folks, several of whom I still keep in touch with.

These great memories make it seem as though I prefer to travel by myself all the time, but I do enjoy occasionally having company on trips. Exploring a new place with someone else is a lot of fun, and you have someone to share memories with long after you’ve returned from your destination. Solo travel, though, is a wonderful tool for self-discovery, personal growth, independence, and creativity. Waking each morning to go where you want and do whatever strikes your fancy is the ultimate kind of freedom.

By the way, driving in an unfamiliar city becomes easier when you have Google Maps, and when you’ve been in as many airports as I have, you realize they’re all basically the same. Just follow the signs.

Quick Tips for Booking Travel

I’m planning a couple of big trips this year, and the organizer in me likes to book travel early. Once you have the structure of a trip nailed down, you get to focus on finding fun things to do and thoughtfully planning your days. I’m also a broke Millennial, so I’m always concerned about how to save money. Here are a few guidelines I always use to stay organized and cost-efficient when booking travel.

You don’t have to stick to a round-trip flight, or even the same airline.

You may be able to score a better deal by looking at one-way flights on different airlines for going to and from your destination. It’s a bit more legwork up front, and you’ll also have to put forth a little more effort in keeping track of your information, but I recently saved around $175 doing this. The money you save can be put toward lodging upgrades or additional experiences on your trip.

Go beyond hotels.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels in my day. They were my go-to when I was on the road for my job. While there are some good things about hotels (fresh towels, a clean room every day, free breakfast sometimes), they don’t give you the full experience of a destination and don’t really allow you to connect with people.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether neighborhoods are being destroyed by Airbnb, and while I understand both sides’ arguments, this hasn’t stopped me from using it. I’ve had great experiences with the service and have been able to stay in some unique places, including a houseboat in Boston, a carriage house in Seattle, and an apartment close to Trinity College in Ireland. My advice when looking for the perfect booking on Airbnb is to pay attention to reviews (read a few pages’ worth) and seek a unique place reflective of your destination’s quirks.

Hostels are also a good option, but my experience with them is a little more limited. They’re great for when you’re traveling alone and don’t need a lot in terms of the comforts of home. My favorite place to stay in Asheville is Sweet Peas Hostel, and I’d love to stay in other hostels in the future if I’m on a solo trip. I’ve been a part of a music circle in a hostel, I’ve been invited to sit down with a group and paint with watercolors, and I’ve whispered good mornings to fellow hikers who were also up before the sun. Even for the introvert like me, it’s cool to connect with people from across the globe, and hostels allow you to do this easily.

Use Evernote or Google Docs to keep a running list of all your itineraries.

This is a great way to see all of your important information in one place and easily share it with people who are traveling with you. For flights, I include the name of the airline, flight number, confirmation number, and takeoff/landing times. For lodging, I include the confirmation number, checkin/checkout dates, and address. I also include the prices of the items in case I’m splitting costs with others. You can even use your document collaboratively to keep a list of your must-dos while on your trip, restaurant recommendations, and planning out your days.

It’s not always necessary to book a rental car.

The first time I went to Boston, my friends and I rented a car. We ended up not using it much at all because of how easy it was to take the T everywhere (and how stressful Boston traffic could be). When we visited the following two years, we nixed the rental car and relied on walking or using public transportation. When I went to Ireland, I walked or used taxis to get around Dublin and took trains and buses to get around the country. On the flip side, when I took a trip out west, I split my time between Phoenix and San Diego. In order to get to the Grand Canyon and then from Arizona to California, a car was necessary.

Read up on the walkability, bikeability, or public transportation in your destination, and also think about the activities and experiences on your must-do list. Let that guide your decision on whether to rent a car.

Pre-book airport parking.

This is mostly important if you’re flying out of a busy airport and plan to park offsite. I live in Birmingham but opt to fly out of Atlanta for some longer trips. Not only is Atlanta one of the busiest airports, but onsite parking can get expensive. To save yourself some hassle, reserve your parking early on. If you’re traveling over a holiday or popular travel time, offsite parking lots can fill up 6 months in advance (lesson learned: I tried to book at the lot where I usually park for my trip that coincides with Memorial Day, and there was no availability… in January).

Booking travel can be stressful even when done several months before a trip, but these guidelines always help me feel more in-control and organized well in advance. I’m always available to answer questions about booking trips, so feel free to comment here or hit me up on Instagram if you’re feeling lost. Look for more travel tips in future posts!