For years, you’ve dreamed about hopping on a plane and disappearing into the horizon.
You’ve bought your ticket. You’ve packed your bags. And your parents have finally built up the courage to let you go.
Congratulations! You’re about to embark on a journey that will change your life.
In this article, I share 13 things I’ve learned about traveling alone. Buckle up your seat belt and hop on board. It’s time to fly solo.
1. You learn to be selfish.
When you travel alone, the only person you need to think about is you.
Want to visit the Louvre? Be my guest. Want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Put on those hiking boots. Want to sing at a karaoke bar? Get in front of that microphone!
You get the point. Taste the opportunity of complete freedom, and make your own itinerary.
Be selfish and seek out the opportunities you want to experience. There’s nothing wrong with being selfish, as long as you respect others and their freedom to choose.
2. You learn to play a different role.
When you travel with family or friends, you often play a certain role. The irresponsible little brother. The spoiled sister. Or the shy friend.
Now all that can change. Forget what others expect from you. Who do you want to be?
Step outside your comfort zone and try on a different role. Don’t hide behind a mask or give into social expectations. Get comfortable in your own skin, and explore the role you want to play.
Remember: no one knows you. They only see who you are today. Right now.
Take this chance to get to know yourself and show the world your true colors.
3. You learn to test your limits.
I won’t lie to you. Traveling alone is not easy. I learned this the hard way.
In 2011, I traveled to Hong Kong and ended up staying in Chungking Mansions. It was a bad idea. The place was creepy and dangerous. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I avoided my room like the plague. On the plus side, I explored the city!
This was my first time traveling alone in Asia, and since then I’ve learned my lesson. Spend a few extra dollars on good accommodation. Especially if you’re traveling alone for the first time.
It’s worth every penny. Take it from someone who knows.
4. You learn to plan ahead.
Although my stay in Hong Kong was memorable, it is not a mistake I wish to repeat.
When you fail to plan, you have to suffer the consequences. Such memories teach you the subtle art of forward thinking. As a result, you learn to plan ahead. You imagine different scenarios, and try to think of possible solutions to them.
Of course, a perfect plan doesn’t guarantee a smooth trip. Things happen on the road. That’s life. But the more prepared you are, the more you will be able to enjoy your trip.
If anything, you learn to handle stressful situations, and to play by ear.
5. You learn to take responsibility.
Want to know the worst part about traveling alone? You can’t blame anyone else.
Sure, you can blame the airplane company or the hostel site, but that won’t change the situation you’re in. You got yourself there, and only you can get yourself out. Wipe those tears off your sleeve and fix the problem.
In two words: take responsibility.
Don’t wait for someone to help you. Help yourself. If that means walking up to a stranger to ask for directions, so be it.
Take responsibility and watch yourself grow.
6. You learn to speak another language.
Oh, the joy of not understanding a word of what someone is saying!
Body language can get you far, but a few useful phrases can get you further.
I remember when I went to Barcelona for the first time. I thought I knew Spanish. It turns out conjugating the verb “to be” in the subjunctive is not the same as ordering a pizza or asking for directions. Besides, I didn’t speak a word of Catalan and felt like a fool!
Open your mouth and let those foreign words tickle your tongue. Don’t worry about your poor pronunciation or imperfect grammar. You’re not in the school bench. You’re in Barcelona and the locals appreciate when you speak their language.
Why disappoint them? Give it a try! Speak the language. Nothing builds a stronger connection.
Bonus tip: Learn to speak the culture as well. Sometimes that means you have to kiss people on the cheek. Other times, it means you have to take a bow or shake a hand. Respect these cultural differences and you’ll be a much loved traveler.
7. You learn to grow your confidence.
When you travel alone, your confidence levels grow and you develop as a person. You prove to yourself that you can take on new challenges and deal with problems as they arise.
Yes, it’s difficult and you will have to live with your mistakes. But better make mistakes than not to have lived at all.
You learn to be kind and forgiving to yourself. After all, you’ve got to like your own company. You learn to nurture and protect your confidence, because you know it’s one of your most valuable assets.
You’re not here to shrink. You’re here to expand.
8. You learn to be open-minded.
Traveling invites you to experience the unknown. To make the most of what the world has to offer, you better have an open mind. This is your key. Without it, you won’t go far.
When you travel alone, you test your assumptions and challenge your beliefs. The world is full of imagined barriers. You break them down by evaluating your own prejudice. You’re quick to judge, but fortunately travel brings awareness to your blissful ignorance.
Here’s an important security check: do you keep your mind open or closed?
Remember that the best way to change your mind is to open it.
9. You learn to face your fears.
Fear of heights. Fear of spiders. Fear of being alone and unloved.
Yikes, we’ve brought some heavy luggage on board. I’ve got good news and bad news.
The good news: You’re not alone with your fears. Others have them, too. It’s what makes us vulnerable and human. Find comfort in this.
The bad news: There’s not a fast cure to overcome your fear. There’s no pill to swallow. There’s no app to download. And just so we’re clear: fear doesn’t hand out any Getting Out of Jail Free cards, either.
Sorry, but there’s no way out but to face your fears. When you do, they stop controlling you. And the reward is worth the struggle.
But don’t fool yourself. Your fears are stubborn and they will return.You must fight back every single time.
10. You learn to live with less.
When the luggage limit is low and your bag is full, you know it’s time to say goodbye to a few things.
This can be difficult at first, but after awhile it becomes a welcoming routine. It’s easier to live with less than it is to drag around on useless stuff. Less stuff means less trouble. Besides, you can buy it again, if you have to.
In the end, relationships and memories matter most. You don’t need souvenirs to live a rich life.
11. You learn to look after your belongings.
Sure, less is more when you travel alone, but some things are hard to live without. Say your passport and money for example. These are your personal belongings and you need them.
Here’s the thing: others will try to steal from you. I was at a market with a friend once. We were buying vegetables when someone stole my friend’s wallet. We didn’t even notice.
Case in point: be alert and keep your belongings safe at all times. Choose who you trust. Observe your surroundings and be careful in large crowds and tourist areas.
A general rule of thumb: Do as the locals. They know best.
12. You learn to make new friends.
It’s true. You will build new relationships on your journey, even if you’re shy.
It doesn’t take much. A friendly smile. A helpful hand. Or a shared fear. Indeed, nothing brings people closer than fear.
I remember when I went to the Nevis Valley outside Queenstown. It’s home to New Zealand’s most feared tourist attraction—the 134m bungy jump and the world’s biggest swing. Did we bond over the experience? You bet.
I know it’s tempting to check your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts when you’re traveling. Please resist this temptation at all costs.
You don’t want to miss what’s right in front of you! Take the chance to get to know someone. They can teach you things about life that you can’t get from your phone.
13. You learn to love your own company.
Yes, there will be nights when you sit alone and cry on your bed. Yes, there will be evenings when you stand alone on a beach and admire the sunset. Yes, there will be days when you eat alone and have no one to talk to.
Guess what? It doesn’t matter. You learn to love your own company.
You have moments when you’re alone, but you still feel at peace. You learn to appreciate the company of strangers. You learn to enjoy the beauty of nature. You smile because you live life on your own terms.
You know this: wherever you are in the world, you’ll always have yourself. And no one can take that away from you.
It’s when we are alone that we learn to love ourselves.
Traveling alone is one of the best investments you can make. Not only for yourself, but also for the world.
You fill your mind with memories that will serve you for a lifetime. You have stories to tell and experiences to share.
You figure out what matters most to you. You learn to live with less, but to be more. But above all, you live a life with no regret. And if that’s not worth the trip, I don’t know what is.
What have you learned from traveling alone? Or what stops you from flying solo? Please let us know in the comments.