Why I Decided to Travel the World Solo
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For me, the decision to travel the world alone was never a question.
The first time I left the US was to study abroad for fourth months at Harlaxton College, in the east midlands of England. About two weeks after I arrived as a student, I took my first-ever solo trip to Scotland. This was September 2012, and I was 22 years old.
Harlaxton organized a trip every weekend, and if you paid their price, they’d take care of your transportation and accommodations. But I couldn’t afford a flight, so I took a train from Grantham to London and then from London to Edinburgh. It cost £59 (approximately $76) total.
I’ll never forget the moment I stepped off the train in Scotland, surrounded by these unfamiliar accents and filled with both awe and anxiety that I was all on my own. On my way to the hostel, I took a one-hour detour to a pub because a cheerful group insisted I join them. Over pints of cider, they shared tips about places to check out that weekend.
There I was, this fresh foreigner able to do, say and be whatever I wanted. Holy freedom! There’s this unparalleled liberation that comes with being completely anonymous, and it was a feeling I fell in love with.
Following Scotland, I went on to visit 70 countries across six continents while writing about my solo travel experiences with the everyday traveler in mind, knowing there’s a special type of magic in store for people exploring the world on their own. When you’re alone in a foreign country, you experience a mindset switch, and it’s equal parts liberating and terrifying. That’s what makes the experience so unforgettable.
On a solo trip, you’re sure to learn a lot about yourself, the kindness of strangers and who you are as an individual. Solo travel definitely isn’t for everybody, but it is for anybody who’s ready to discover a new side of themselves. Here are seven reasons you should try a solo trip.
You Meet New People
When you take a solo trip, you’re often at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. Besides mastering the, “Help! I’m a tourist!” face, I’ve had my faith in humanity restored every time a stranger goes out of his or her way to make my day easier. Now I have friends in the most random places, because of my travels around the world.
You Learn to Enjoy Time Alone
When it’s time to explore, how do you deal with looking — and feeling — lonely? What do you do when you don’t have a friend to talk to at lunch? I’ve learned to smile, to order Champagne for no reason and to let the good energy come to me. More often than not, someone will strike up a casual conversation. In fact, traveling solo is rarely a lonely experience, because you look much more approachable (especially to other solo travelers) and you’ll have countless opportunities to make friends with just about anybody who returns a smile. Now, I love traveling alone so much that every year for my birthday, I treat myself to a new country for a week.
You Feel Emboldened
I intentionally put out good energy wherever I go, and always try to greet strangers in their native language. And when you’re solo, people feel more inspired to approach you for a friendly chat. Even navigating the Moroccan bazaars when you have seven people trying to sell you the same scarf is an opportunity to laugh and have fun.
As I dodged shouts of, “Serena Williams!” and “Michelle Obama!” in Morocco, you can imagine how hard it was to keep a straight face. But I just maintained my sense of humor and let them know, sadly, I was only the third cousin of Obama — and second cousin to Williams.
You Become More Self-Reliant
And what about missed flights? Delayed luggage? How do you react to stress, discomfort or confusion when you have no one to rely on but yourself? Well, you’re forced to dig a little deeper and see what you’re really made of. You’ll find that you’re more than capable of conquering anything that comes your way.
You Become More Self-Aware
I’m much more cognizant of my surroundings when I’m traveling solo. If I’m on an empty street, I don’t like when there’s a single person walking fairly close behind, so every now and then I’ll stop and take a picture of a random tree — typical tourist move — or pull out my phone and say something like, “Hey babe, I’m two minutes away!” just to make that person think I have someone here with me.
Of course, there’s nobody on the other line, but it’s a warning not to try anything crazy, because I have someone close by. I also have a fake wedding ring I wear out at night when I don’t want to attract too much male energy, especially if I’m experiencing the nightlife.
You’re Totally in Control
Solo travel is the ultimate level of freedom, and of building self-confidence. It means you’re allowed to be completely focused on yourself: to dictate every detail of the experience. I mean, how many times have you been on a trip and wanted to do one thing, only to have your friends prefer to do something else entirely? How many times have you left a trip honestly saying, “I did every single thing I wanted to do”?
Let’s face it: It’s hard to #treatyoself when your travel buddy is on a much slimmer budget. In group settings, we tend to compromise. And don’t get me wrong, group travel is amazing, couple’s getaways are super romantic (I can’t speak from experience, but I’ve seen movies) and family trips are, well … something.
You Learn to Be Brave
Sure, you can just wait for your friends to have the right savings, time off and ambition to see the world. But I’m not going to pretend that fear isn’t a common hindrance for most. The reality is, many of our fears exist only inside our heads, and they’re based on worst-case-scenario events. I get it: Sometimes, the world sounds like a scary place with terror lurking around every corner. I rejected this narrative. I knew that if I wanted to experience the world as much as possible, I couldn’t wait for anyone else’s circumstances (or state of mind) to be right. So I went by myself.
When I started country-hopping, I went wherever I could afford to at first, and didn’t really consider solo travel-friendliness. It didn’t even occur to me that solo travel was this rare, brave thing — especially as a woman — because I’d had a great experience everywhere else I’d been so far, and I was on this perpetual high from finding ways to pursue my dream of traveling full-time.
All photos courtesy of Gloria Atanmo.