The past few weeks, months (really) have been a whirlwind. On April 24, I moved out of my first solo apartment (only 3.5 months after moving in). On May 1st, I wrapped up and said goodbye to my job and amazing company of nearly 11 years, and on May 2nd I set off on my first extended solo nomadic journey. After a few hiccups and missed flights, I arrived in Sydney, Australia on Saturday, May 5th. I spent a week in Sydney, an evening in Singapore, and arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on May 11th. I have been traveling internationally for 14 years with friends but only a day or two here or there by myself. So saying goodbye to a life of comfort and ease and stepping into a world of solo travel, was a leap.
The thought of solo travel can be scary or not appealing to some. Many people can't even fathom the thought of going to a movie, concert, or restaurant by themselves. --"That seems so boring to me." "I would be so depressed sitting by myself." "I feel like everyone would be staring at me and feeling sorry for me."--those are some of the comments I've received from others when they hear I go to concerts or movies by myself. And when it comes to solo travel, fear is added in -- "What if something happens to you and no one is around?" "What if you get kidnapped or someone steals your wallet or passport?"--While those are valid concerns, they're also limiting views to a whole world of possibility and adventure.
In just 2.5 weeks of solo travel, I have learned so much and expanded my own limited views. Solo travel is exhilarating and provides an opening to experience the world from a different perspective and way of traveling.
Here are 15 things I've learned so far while solo traveling (and there are many more not on the list!):
People are more trusting than you may think. When I learned I was going to Chiang Mai, a friend added me to a local Facebook group for nomad girls. I posted in the group that I was embarking on my first extended solo travel journey and asked for tips on where to look for a place to live. This lovely woman (who is a now a dear friend), responded and let me know that she and her partner had an extra room in their house. She invited me to stay with them while I acclimated to being in a new place and offered to help me find a place once I got settled. I immediately felt a connection to this person and accepted her invitation. To take it a step further, she messaged me before I left to inform me that they would actually be out of the country when I arrived. She told me she would leave a key for me. They arranged for two of their friends to meet me at the house and help me get settled in. I was blown away by their hospitality. And it has had me ponder the question, if I found out someone was coming from Thailand (or another country), would I leave a key to my home for a foreigner I'd never met before? This is the kind of hospitality you discover when you travel.
Making friends and finding community is easier than you might think. I have met so many amazing people and friends in the short amount of time I've been traveling. Every day I meet someone new while out and about, and often times end up grabbing coffee or dinner after. There are so many instant connections when you travel by yourself, and you can find community and activities to suit your style if you just look.
So many people are doing what you’re doing. You’re never alone unless you choose to be. I may be on a solo travel journey, but I'm not traveling alone. When you travel, you're only alone if you choose to be. Everywhere you look there are outings, events, and opportunities to connect with others. And if you wish to join an event, but want to be alone, you can. There are no rules. This past weekend, I went to an overnight yoga event. I was surrounded by so many people and chose to be by myself, while still involved in the event. I chose to make it my own mini retreat. And it was my choice to do it that way. At any point, if I wanted to converse with someone, I could.
You try more things than you likely may not have tried back home. Traveling solo has opened my awareness to how complacent I was before. I would see events that sounded fun, but was either too busy or would come up with an excuse why I couldn't or shouldn't go. It's easy to get stuck in your routine life and not branch out and try new or different things. When you travel, you're more exposed to what's happening around you and more apt to just try!
Eating alone is empowering and not scary. Is there a new restaurant you've been wanting to try but your friends are not available? Go anyway! When traveling solo, you're more likely to check out that trendy restaurant or cafe down the street. There's no shame in eating by yourself. And you can always sit at the bar and talk to the bartender or meet the others sitting at the bar.
Self-care is so important. Whether it's a massage, yoga, meditation, a nap or taking a long walk or run, setting aside time to care for yourself no matter where you are is needed. And when you're traveling in a country where there are more massage places than Starbucks, it's a requirement!
Not making plans is okay. I have a tendency to go full throttle and always have something to do. And often when traveling, I feel pressure to get out and see as much as possible. FOMO. I'm learning that it's okay to not make plans and just go with the flow. Sometimes the best experiences are found when you're just walking around and stumble upon a cute cafe or attraction.
Changing and/or not being attached to plans is okay. I'm learning to go with the flow and do what feels good in the moment. If I have plans to go to a yoga class and something else comes available, that's okay. I can readjust to what suits me in the moment and do something else (or nothing at all). Attachment to plans is a big deal. I started my journey out in Sydney. I was going to Sydney specifically to stay at the Park Hyatt Hotel for 2 nights. Due to many delays and airlines hiccups, I ended up missing my original flight to Sydney and lost a night at my hotel. I was devastated in the moment. But when I arrived in Sydney, I soaked up every moment at the hotel and enjoyed what time I did have there. Had I not let go of attachment to what my plans were, I likely would've been sulking and not enjoying the present moment. And now I have an extra Hyatt night to use in another city. :)
It expands your level of curiosity. Walking around in a city or getting lost on a trail provides a different perspective. If I'm walking along and see an interesting sight, I can detour and take the time to investigate. When you're with others, you may not always have the freedom to make room for such detours and follow your curiosity.
Half a mile is not that far to walk. I love being in cities where I can walk everywhere. There's always an option for public transit, but many destinations are not far. And the more you walk, the more you realize how short a time it takes to get somewhere. I'm averaging 4-6 miles a day just by hopping from place to place. When you're lost in the moment and checking out the sights around you, distances become shorter.
Travel inspires authenticity and full self-expression. I've met so many people and our initial conversations are so in-depth and raw. I've had very little conversations that start with "What do you do for a living?" Because when you're a nomad or traveling solo, what you do doesn't define you. It has opened my eyes to how surface level conversations with new people were before. And there's nothing wrong with those conversations, but how open and freeing it is when you can speak what's on your mind rather than coming up with the perfect answer.
Interacting with the locals is rewarding. I had some dear friends travel throughout Southeast Asia for 15 months. They encouraged me time and time again, to find where the locals are and away from the comfort of digital nomad/expat life. I went to a local Farmer's Market and it was all locals. I soaked in the culture, enjoyed sitting and people watching, and visiting with local vendors. I stopped at this one little coffee stand and ended up staying for an hour talking to some locals and made a new friend. It is by far my favorite experience thus far.
Working all day is overrated. I'm just starting this journey and creating what type of work I want to cultivate next. When I was working a 9-6 job, I had the hardest time focusing for long periods of time. When you break it up and work a few hours in the morning or evening, it provides time for dedicated focus while still having the flexibility to explore and play. I think routines and structure are important, and for me personally, I'm learning that I work best in small chunks than extended periods of time. And I'm much more productive in 3 hours than I was when working 8 or 9.
Complaining happens less. The more I travel, the more I realize how much I complained when I was back in the states (weather, travel, food...you name it). Travel strips away your comfort zone and causes you to be in the moment and adapt to your surroundings. I am not a fan of summer. I lived in Dallas for 7 years and always dreaded the 5-6 month span of hot weather. And here I am now, living in a city that's equally as hot and more humid. While I don't necessarily enjoy dripping sweat or being in the heat, I seem to embrace it more here. And I don't have a car or bike so I'm walking pretty much everywhere. I go with the flow. Perhaps my awareness to complaining has lessened. I'm not always around English speakers so I'm not as aware of what is being said. We tend to feed off of each others' negativity or energy. So maybe it's more that I'm not hearing what others are saying that keeps me from complaining so much?
You can have a full life no matter where you live. Solo travel is opening my eyes to living a full life no matter where I am. While travel brings out my adventurous and curious side, I can now see that I can have this no matter where I am. I used to say that I was only alive when I traveled and dead when I wasn't. When you travel and develop your muscles for curiosity and adventure, you can carry this with you no matter where you are. It's not the destination but rather your energy and intention. Remind me of this when I'm back in the states...
These are all of my observations from 2 weeks of solo travel. Imagine what it will be like after 2 years! What lessons would you add to this list? Do you have any discoveries or provisions from traveling or going out by yourself?