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.
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.
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.