I went on my first solo trip when I was 22. Growing up going on mission trips of 30+ high school students (who were probably pretty obnoxious), it wasn’t something I’d really considered or had a burning desire to do. But I was inspired while studying abroad in London.
Previously, the thought of solo travel made “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know” dolefully play in my head. But, after meeting a girl my age who was an avid solo traveler and hearing her stories filled with wonderful things and interesting people, the record scratched and the soundtrack quickly flipped — “I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t do you know what that mean?” Heyyy. Maybe I could do this.
That new mentality and that first trip to Italy welcomed me into the world of solo travel, a rapidly growing movement with women leading the way.
If travel is the best form of education, then solo travel is the intensive crash course.
Every woman who can go on a solo trip in her 20s should. In addition to the souvenirs you’ll pick up along the way, you’ll also acquire up some priceless life lessons.
1. Solo travel turns up the volume of the most important voice of all: your own.
How do you want to spend your time? What do you find interesting? What do you want to eat, listen to, learn about? How does your body feel and what does your spirit need?
Too often we let the voices and opinions of others drown out of own. This can become our default operating system, especially as women. Traveling alone is the perfect opportunity to be unapologetically selfish, creating space for spontaneity and the sweet element of surprise.
Being in tune with your own desires helps you to determine and advocate for your needs on a day-to-day basis. It’s then that you can lovingly put yourself first, which creates the capacity to better take care of the ones you love.
2. When it’s just you, you quickly discover how to depend on yourself first and then look to others for support.
There is no confidence builder quite like getting lost halfway around the world in a country that doesn’t speak your language at night on the wrong side of town and managing to calmly think through every next step in order to get where you belong. Not that I know from personal experience or anything…
When you travel with others it’s easy to assume that your companion has the directions, the plan, the know-how. But when it’s just you, you quickly discover how to depend on yourself first and then look to others for support.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you should depend on yourself and no one else. No, there are times when support is necessary and having the humility to ask for it is crucial. But the point is to know the difference. When the only people around you are strangers or vague acquaintances, the likelihood that you’ll try to figure things out yourself increases — and that’s a refining experience.
Learn to look inward for the answer first, because you probably have it. That realization cultivates a sense of empowerment that will translate into all areas of your life.
3. Open your eyes to the people and cultures around you and see what lessons you can gain from them.
When traveling with friends or a companion, it’s easy to get so focused on the person sitting across the table from you that you miss the opportunity to strike up a conversation with your fellow travelers.
Being a solo traveler can have its lonely moments. But once you decide to take the initial sting of self-sufficiency and turn it into a chance to connect with someone, it completely changes the situation. Who knows, you may gain a travel buddy for a day or a friend for life. Even if the conversation doesn’t go beyond that moment, there’s still an opportunity to learn something new and meet someone interesting.
Knowing you many never see each other again does not mean the connection is a waste — quite the opposite. Enjoy the relationship for what it is, when it is.
4. Say goodbye to your boundaries.
Often, our travel companions are our biggest cheerleaders, pushing us to try something new — to go on the excursion, try the weird mystery meat, or jump out of the plane. I mean, that last one is not my choice of adventure, but I don’t know your life.
While your fellow travelers may push you, they can also be a security blanket. Maybe you’re holding yourself back from a certain experience because you know the other person won’t enjoy it. Maybe your hesitation has been propped up by fear and you’ve never questioned it because those around you haven’t.
Traveling solo brings those things to light. It also brings to light how strong and adaptable you truly are. You have exponential potential for growth, and venturing out on your own provides the freedom to go lean into your limitations.
5. Buy the ticket. It could be a defining moment in your life.
Time or money are always going to be at play, especially the more people you’re trying to coordinate with. I’ve had some great travel buddies, but I’d still venture to say that the perfect travel companion does not exist. Compatible ones? Absolutely. But you are your own perfect partner.
Obviously, your priorities shift when you become a party of two, and even more so as your little group grows. But if you have the means, carve out some time for you. Maybe it’s just a day trip. That’s OK.
And for my single ladies who are waiting for that special someone, maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe the time is now. You don’t want to regret never seeing the places or doing the things you’ve always dreamt of because you were too busy waiting for someone else to get on your timeline.
Buy the ticket. It could be a defining moment in your journey that you pass up because someone else can’t make it. Don’t look back and wonder. Just go and you’ll know.
Just like any type of travel, a solo trip isn’t meant to be one size fits all. Maybe a meetup group for solo travelers is more your speed. Or if you have a travel buddy who is able to venture with you part of the way, it’s possible you simply spend a couple extra days doing your own thing.
My favorite way to travel solo is to visit my friends who live in amazing places around the world and explore their city on my own while they’re working. It’s a solo trip with a dinner date at the end of every day — the best of both worlds.
Whatever you decide, don’t let the preconceived notion of what traveling solo looks like hold you back. Obviously, be smart and safe, and do your research — there are some places where women should simply not travel on their own. But there are plenty more that will offer unique and enriching adventures.
So go your own way, and see what lessons you can learn.