WHAT SOLO TRAVEL HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE
I’m convinced I was born a traveler. Having gone on my first trip while still in my mother’s womb, the “travel bug” bit me before I was even born.
Growing up, my mom wanted to show me the world. With frequent moves to different cities and much more frequent family vacations, unfamiliarity and new scenes were a regular part of my life from a young age.
In high school, while my friends were saving up to buy fast cars, I was saving up to travel. My graduation gift to myself was a three-week volunteer trip to South Africa, where I spent my 18th birthday experiencing life from a whole new perspective.
I hungered for these new experiences–ones that rattled my way of thinking and opened my eyes and mind to other interpretations of the world.
By the time I started university, I was itching to go on more than a “trip.” I wanted to explore new places and perspectives in depth and gain a better understanding of how others perceived the world.
I planned a semester abroad. Having applied for three schools in Australia, I prepared for five months in the sun. However, with so many other students having the same expectation, my application returned to inform me that I would be studying in the Czech Republic—a country I knew nothing about.
During that time, I had one or two classes per week, leaving most of my schedule open to travel neighbouring countries and expand my knowledge of European beers. With no final exams at the end of my semester, I handed in my essays, packed my 60L bag, and set off on a six-week solo backpacking adventure.
That month and a half taught me more about my life and myself than any formal education ever could. These lessons have changed my life beyond belief.
Get to know yourself
Traveling alone is a wonderful and exciting opportunity to spend time by and with yourself. The silence and solitude that come with solo travel allow you to be introspective—to learn about who you are, what you value, and what you want in life.
All too often, we lose ourselves in our busy surroundings and routines. Moments alone in new places allow us to escape the hustle-and-bustle and practice self-awareness.
While it can be nerve-racking to determine who you are outside of your regular roles and responsibilities, I’ve found that this practice allows me to check in with myself and think about what’s important (outside of a nagging to-do list). This awareness is key to personal growth and change. Plus, there’s an overpowering freedom that comes with leaving your obligations at home to get out and explore somewhere new!
Traveling alone forced me to challenge myself, to overcome doubt, and to make something exciting happen. Yes, there were moments when I was uncertain and uncomfortable. But these moments led me to the ones where I felt most alive. Whether riding a bus through a country where I was the only English speaker or hiking up a mountain I didn’t think I’d ever summit, enduring struggle repeatedly forced me into the present moment.
In our day-to-day lives, most of us rely on structure, routine, and security. We rely on the presence of certain people and the knowledge of what is scheduled to happen that day. Traveling by yourself is a great way to explore the massive world that lies outside of your comfort zone to discover what you’re capable of.
On the first day of my solo trip, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. With no structure or schedule, I had no idea what to do. I defaulted to “planning mode,” attempting to create a schedule of where to go and when. This only made me feel mentally exhausted and filled me with doubt.
Once I abandoned my need to schedule and plan, things started changing. I was able to relax, appreciate where I was, and embrace the journey ahead.
It can be useful (and sometimes necessary) to have a travel itinerary, but being spontaneous and flying by the seat of your pants can be incredibly liberating. Adapting to your circumstances—whether wanting to spend more time in a certain country, having to relocate for a job promotion, or preparing for an unexpected child—is a key practice to better embrace and enjoy life.
Appreciate the journey
Letting go of my need to constantly have a plan deepened my understanding of what it means to “be present” and led me to thoroughly enjoy the unexpected events that are inevitable both in travel and in life (like watching your backpack fall off a cliff while hiking up a mountain).
This meant I stopped looking for the “next checkpoint” and started focusing on what I was looking it. I also stopped taking my travels and myself so seriously. I laughed at the fact that much of my communication occurred through charades. And I looked forward to moments that got me out of my comfort zone and reconnected me to my vulnerability. It was all part of the journey.
There’s a sweet balance between looking ahead and being present. Practicing gratitude wherever you are is an important component to being happy—on the road and in general. Alternatively, practicing patience and understanding is crucial on the tough days. Challenges and missteps are also part of the journey and are usually important lessons for growth.
Surround yourself with likeminded people
Taking my previous lessons to heart, I gradually became more comfortable interacting with many different kinds of people. Traveling helped me to become more aware of who I am and what I want, which led me to meeting the right kinds of people—those who liked me for who I truly am.
Whether traveling through foreign countries or life’s curveballs, it’s important to have a solid support system. When things go well, these are the ones who celebrate with you. And when things seem to keep spiraling into a never-ending vortex, these are the people who help pull you out of the abyss.
Traveling taught me to steamroll past small talk and dive into meaningful conversation as often as possible. While I’ve found that people are usually more open to this while abroad, it’s something to practice wherever you are. All it takes is a bit of vulnerability.
Pursue your happiness
Growing up, we’re taught to follow the rules and cross off the checkpoints: go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have a family. By the time most of us reach adulthood, it seems life is already planned out for us.
For me, a big part of life is not only defining happiness for yourself but also pursuing that happiness! With loads of roles, responsibilities, and to-do’s, it can be easy to put the things we love on the back-burner. But life is a series of choices we make based on questions we ask ourselves.
Prioritizing my love for seeking new landscapes and meeting new people has changed not only my lifestyle, but also my perspective on happiness and my motivation to pursue it.
In traveling solo, I had the time and space to ask myself, “Where am I happiest? What do I want my life to look like? What changes can I make to start moving in that direction?” Answering these questions provided me with great adventure and clarified what I need in order to live a happy life.
Experiencing life at its fullest—in the moments of challenge, doubt, and immeasurable joy—is an adventure in itself. And it’s one always worth pursuing.
So get out and explore. Seek your story. Learn your lessons.
No matter where you are in the world and in life, there is always so much left to learn.