During this time of restricted travel, it’s only natural that we might find ourselves being a little more introspective. Many of us have been reliving our travels through memories, photos, journals, or mementos we have brought home with us. In my case, as I recently shared with the Solo Traveler Insiders, Facebook “memories” have been popping up in my newsfeed, reminding me of the anniversaries of past trips.
Since I don’t have current travels to write about, I’ve been thinking about the impact that travel – and more specifically, solo travel – has had on my life.
As I often do when I’m pondering such things, I consulted the members of our Solo Travel Society on Facebook for their thoughts. Not surprisingly, when I asked them their thoughts on what traveling alone teaches us about ourselves, they had lots of insightful comments to share.
We Make Friends Easily
It can be difficult to make new friends as adults. We may be set in our ways, have particular routines and habits. It requires making a concerted effort to go places and do things where you will be exposed to new people. Most of us do not have the built-in opportunities for meeting new people that we had as kids, and for those of us who live alone and work from home, the challenge is even greater.
Take off on a trip by yourself, though, and you may suddenly discover that you still have that childhood capacity for making friends, and that you are interesting to other people.
Patrick learned that he is very good at making new friends. Ryan has discovered that he meets more people when traveling alone. Patricia learned that she is her own best friend, lending credence to the David Mitchell quote, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”
We Are Brave
I often hear from readers, particularly women, that they are irritated when people comment on how brave they are to travel alone. I think this may be because it can feel like an implication that the challenges of solo travel are somehow too difficult for women, that it is dangerous or lonely or inappropriate in some way. I get it.
However, when we confront our own fears or tackle some obstacle that stands in our way or challenge our personal perceptions of ourselves or the world, we are exhibiting bravery on our own terms.
When I tackled the many firsts of my first solo road trip—first time driving alone two weeks after getting my license, first time in Nova Scotia, first time renting a car, first time driving in fog, first time on a roundabout—it felt like the bravest thing I had ever done.
Marilyn shared a similar story. “I learned I am braver than I thought I was. One summer I drove 1,000 km around Nova Scotia all by myself. I had lunch with a farmer after watching the Tidal Bore come in, saw a lunar eclipse in Liverpool, and visited the Evangeline route where the Acadians were expelled from the area and later resettled to Louisiana. It was a trip I will never forget.”
Wendy learned that “99% of the things about solo travel which scared me before were all in my head.” Debbie learned “hat I love the feeling of satisfaction when I conquer my fears and immediately start planning the next trip.”
Laura learned that for her, “the quest for adventure always crushes the fear. Traveling halfway around the world alone is liberating, empowering. Making friends in new places is priceless. Whatever it costs is worth it.”
What Traveling Alone Teaches Us About Who We Really Are
Away from family and friends and the roles that we inhabit in our daily lives, we have the opportunity to discover – or re-discover – our true selves.
Linda said that she has learned from solo travel “that I am truly me. I don’t have different personas (which is probably why I have not been truly successful in my careers). I have always been alone even when married. It changed when I had children. Divorce meant I could travel truly solo again and I found I have not lost the independent, social, friendly, curious, capable me. I will always be me.”
Through traveling alone, Tony says, “I’ve learned to take time to appreciate the things that I find interesting and beautiful. Not having to worry about whether everyone’s needs are being met, freeing me to do what I truly want, and go wherever I want, is a great liberator and benefit of solo travel.”
Likewise, DeAnna has discovered “that I can spend an entire day wandering in a museum and never get bored. When I travel with others, I'm always worried about them getting bored with my ‘dull' interests.”
We Can Handle Whatever Comes Our Way
What traveling alone teaches us in the most profound way is that we can handle whatever life and travel throws our way. On your own, you have no one to depend upon but yourself—everything is up to you. And when placed in that situation, we really discover what we’re made of.
Peg shared this with us:
I've learned so much about my problem-solving capabilities and my resourcefulness. I once left a bag on a train in Italy and was able to successfully retrieve it from the town at the end of the train line after a frantic series of phone calls with the station manager. I've been able to deal with rental car breakdowns in a foreign country and needing to speak to roadside assistance staff in a foreign language. I've dealt with travel logistics failures like train tickets being unexpectedly unavailable to the town where my hotel was reserved. It feels like I've made just about every travel mistake there is, but only once—I learn from them and don't repeat them. I've learned that I can rely on myself and I don't need to depend on anybody else to handle tough situations.
Traveling solo has taught Jennifer that “even when exhausted, hungry, and overwhelmed I can think clearly and be alright, especially when arriving in a new place after a red-eye flight.
Diane told us that “despite the many warnings I received about a woman travelling alone, I found most people are friendly and helpful–and that I can handle them when they are not.”
In the category of wonderful life lessons, Mandy shared this discovery: “I am capable of more than what I thought I was. I have stopped underestimating myself.”
We Are Stronger (and Cooler) than We Think
One of the great things that traveling alone teaches us about ourselves is that we are stronger and more competent than we realize. Solo travel offers an opportunity to flex muscles we might not regularly use in our day-to-day lives.
Valeria learned that “I‘m more capable of solving unexpected problems than I thought.” Windi discovered that she is “smarter, more capable, and cooler than I give myself credit for,” and Kerin learned “that I am a very capable and likable individual.” Traveling on her own taught Kathryn that “I’m so much stronger and capable than I give myself credit for.”
Michelle shared what she has learned about herself through solo travel. “I have an adventurous spirit, the heart of a wanderer, I love cross-cultural experiences, learning, as well as achieving personal and spiritual growth – and I immensely enjoy the peace and freedom that solo travel allows.”
We Value Solitude
Not every one travels solo by choice, and not everyone enjoys spending a lot of time by themselves. But for those who do, the solitude that traveling alone can offer is wonderful. And some people only come to the realization that they truly value alone time after exploring the world on their own.
Lynne discovered “that I love solitude, and that its perfectly fine to love it.” Tina found that “I enjoy time with myself more than I realize.” Adaline says that what traveling alone teaches us is that “Alone is not a dirty word. It’s been one of the biggest transformational experiences in my life.”
Peg says that the most important thing is “I learned that I really like my own company and I totally enjoy traveling by myself.”
I’m giving the last word to Matthew, who tells us that solo travel has taught him something about himself that has been helping him get through these challenging times. He has learned “that I can definitely take some “me” time and that I don't need to be constantly surrounded by people to be happy. Although quarantine has been hard, I would never have survived it without having traveled the world solo.”
What has traveling solo taught you about yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.