The first time I traveled by myself was the first time I moved to another country to live by my own for a couple of months, back in 2012/2013. I moved to Oxford to attend a language school and to just experience life abroad. Since then, a few bigger solo trips followed, such as my three months solo road trip through Canada and the U.S. and of course, my recent one which was going to Japan. And every single time, my friends and my surrounding fell in a complete shock when I told them that I’d travel without company. I always had to explain myself, answering questions like “but what if you get lonely, bored, isolated, in danger, aren’t you scared?” etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with friends and family, I had the most amazing trips shared with loved ones. But traveling by myself taught me a lot and most likely, this solo trips have been part of the most meaningful experiences to me.
Making friends and Socialize
I really find it interesting that people are scared of being alone and having no friends while traveling solo.
I’m sure you can relate at some point how lazy we become in networking, making friends and making conversations with strangers if we already have our company by our side. Making friends is hard work, it’s not gained from nothing, and it takes a lot of self exposure and courage. So obviously, it is in fact easier to stick to the people you already have next to you. When you are traveling alone, you don’t have that insurance.
Thinking of all the friends I made over the world during my trips and all the happy days we shared makes me incredibly happy. I met one of my friends four years ago in Toronto at a hostel. She moved from Japan to Canada to improve her english and to find a job. We sent each other letters and messages over the years and last year, we had a reunion in Kyoto. Another friend of mine I met while living in Oxford. She moved there from her home country Hungary for the same reasons I had moved from Germany to Oxford. We met each other again a year later in Vienna, where we both moved to for University.
There is nothing better then getting together with local people in a foreign country and just talk with them about anything and everything. I once took a bus from Sacramento to Santa Barbara, which was a nearly 7 hours drive. I sat at the very front and spoke with the lovely bus driver the whole way through. He told me so much about the landscapes we drove by, his life and about his kids. He told me about this broken right arm, which he left healing by itself since he couldn’t afford medical treatments. He bought himself 10 doughnuts during a bus stop, leaving me with six of them after remembering that he suffered from diabetes. Arriving in Santa Barbara, he called his friend, who was a taxi driver, to drive me to my hotel safely and went to his hotel room to get a bit of sleep until he had to drive the whole way back to Sacramento, as he does every single day.
In Hiroshima last year, I was sitting in a hot, steaming little restaurant by myself eating Okonomiyaki while an American couple came in. I told them what I was eating and they ordered the same dish. And so we sat next to me and we talked about how the lady was a pediatric doctor in NYC and exchanged all the different experiences and differences between American and European health care systems. At the same day, while driving to Hiroshima, I sat next to a guy at the train who was a filmmaker from Hawaii and who wanted to film a documentary in Hiroshima about the bomb attack from 1945. And I could go on and on and on. Having this little conversations and meeting this amazing people made me never feel alone and honestly, it’s true what they say, life is about people you meet!
Spending time with yourself
I feel like in today’s age and society, being able to spend time by yourself is not a given and actually, quite rare. I know a lot of people who get really nervous if they are not constantly surrounded by people and noise and are not capable of taking the silence.
I remember struggling so much with eating by myself in a restaurant, without company for the first time. Or that little panic attacks when I didn’t had wifi and feeling that I was cut from the world and getting nervous about it. But step-by-step, I felt more confident with spending actual time with myself.
For me, being absolutely fine with spending time to reflect and let thoughts come through my mind and all in all, being very self aware and creating a peaceful mind is a foundation for good relationships and friendships. I know that is a very cliché thing to say, but I really got to know myself during these trips as I was constantly in situations and therefore had to act in ways I hadn’t experienced before.
It’s super easy to relay on people, specially during traveling. Organising everything by myself, from accommodations, traveling routes, navigating through a new place, to eventually learn a new language or a few phrases was really fulfilling for me. Gaining that confidence that I managed to plan a whole three months solo roadtrip in Canada and the U.S, visiting 21 cities and an Island via Greyhound bus trips and Couchsurfing made me feel empowered and is something I’m forever grateful for. And also, stepping out of my comfort zone every single time I met my Couchsurfing hosts, people who I’ve never met before, was a huge thing for me!
Flexibility and Freedom
Of course it’s a huge human skill to empathize with people, listening to their wishes, making compromises and paying attention to their feelings. Compromising and Communication is a huge part of traveling with friends/family/partners. Where to spend the most budget in, where to go, what to eat, walking vs. taking public trans, accommodation, the list is endless, is on the daily program. And sometimes, that can be a tough work to get through.
There is a beautiful feeling of absolut freedom and independence when you are traveling alone which I really struggle to describe. Every day is the road you want to take and every step you took is the one you and only you created, which feels amazing.
I really, really encourage everyone I know to take solo trips. These trips don’t have to be big at all. I spend solo day trips last year in Bologna and Salzburg which I really enjoyed and I feel is a really good way of experiencing solo traveling. Opening your heart and mind to people, discovering new places and cultures and having a constant reflecting attitude while spending time with yourself and relying on nobody then yourself is important, rewarding and a huge part of personality development!
Have you ever traveled alone?