I definitely remember there was a time when the thought of doing anything alone seemed so isolating, and almost shameful. “Why don’t they just order carry out?” I’d ask my mom about the people dining alone in restaurants, as if eating alone was some sort of painfully embarrassing experience. “I hope that’s never me.” I thought to myself, never wanting to eat in a restaurant without a meal companion.
As it turns out, doing things alone helps deepen your relationship with your self. In fact, I now view these solo experiences as exercises in caring less about what others think and more about living fully in the moment.
Learning to Travel Alone
My first experience travelling alone was out of necessity. I was attending a conference in Atlanta, GA, to present my graduate research. I casually knew some other conference attendees, but not well enough to room together (actually, now some are among my closest friends!). So I booked my trip alone, arrived alone, took transit alone, checked-in alone, and ate dinner alone…in my hotel room, of course, with room service. I was still terrified of being seen eating a meal without company.
What scared me about being alone was more about people would think of me than it was about safety or well-being. When I set out to explore the city, I immediately noticed an overwhelming sense of adventure and possibility. I quickly figured out which streets to walk down, and which to avoid. I trusted that I could navigate the world safely and precisely, all by myself. Would I make it to my destination without getting lost? Well, I have a fairly good sense of direction, so as long as I understood the bus system correctly, I felt confident I’d find my destination.
The Beginning of a Shift
In fact, I just started feeling confident in general. Being alone made me feel like a badass woman, in complete control of my life, and with all the freedom in the world to seek out my every whim. But with regards to one thing, I still felt tiny. I was still afraid to eat a meal by myself.
Perhaps if the room service menu were more accommodating for vegans, I would never have made it so far; all I know is that I ultimately made it out of the hotel to eat a meal at a sit-down restaurant—alone—and it was liberating! At first, I wondered what others were thinking of me. I hid my face in my menu, and then in my phone, hoping to give the appearance of being comfortable in my solitary experience. But it’s not the illusion of comfort I wanted, it’s true comfort in my own skin.
By the end of that meal, I had put down the menu and my phone. I felt better connected with myself, and I noticed I had evolved as a person. My former self was envious of how confident I was in my own skin, without the false security of another’s presence. Since that first meal, and that first trip, traveling alone has been a regular experience I seek to better connect with myself and with my environment. Within a year, I had already booked and embarked on a vegan cruise entirely by myself (you can read my review of that trip on VeganTravel). And I’ve been travelling solo ever since.
Why I Love Solo Travel
Solo travel is an invaluable experience for me, and one that I find important to pursue on a regular basis. For all that it does for my emotional and mental well-being, and for the opportunities it presents during my trips, solo travel has become a therapeutic escape from the everyday grind.
Probably the greatest benefit of solo travel, to me at least, is the freedom to manage your own itinerary. You won’t find yourself bickering with anyone about what activities you’d rather do in a day, or disappointing anyone when you want to switch up plans at the last minute.
When you travel alone, you are in complete control to do as you please for the entirety of your trip. Solo travel allows you to explore every whim and curiosity, to go at your own pace, to eat where you want to eat—and this part is huge as a vegan! Since becoming vegan, traveling anywhere is now an epic quest to eat all the best vegan food. When I travel with companions who may not be vegan, I find that some meals are significantly disappointing. I see them as missed opportunities to have explored and devoured some amazing local vegan fare. When I travel alone, every meal is incredible.
I also find that solo travel forces me out of my shell in new ways, and I open myself to new relationships and friends. I have met some amazing people through solo travel, and I have stayed in touch with many of them through social media since. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to meet with someone I knew only on the internet once while traveling alone. We were both in Copenhagen for just the weekend—she was coming from London, and I from America. We shared a memorable and absolutely delicious meal at an all-vegan restaurant and chatted like old friends.
I’ve strengthened my relationship with myself, as well. I am able to more clearly hear my thoughts and act or react accordingly. I can be more present, more in the moment. In this way, solo travel is meditative and restorative. It’s a form of self-love and respect.
Confidence + Trust
As I suggested already, traveling solo has instilled a sense of confidence in myself that I previously lacked. I now feel comfortable in being alone. I feel confident that I can succeed. And this feeling of confidence extends beyond the trips themselves and actually helps shape who I have become outside of traveling.
Through my experiences travelling alone, I’ve come to better trust my instincts—both during my travels and in my everyday life. I truly observe how my body reacts in a situation to gauge whether something feels safe, or it the situation is suspicious. In some ways, this has removed fear. As I come to better understand the world, I can sense when I’m being emotionally deceived through perceptions and stigmas. I know what actual warning signals to look for instead. I find that I can trust others because I can read them better; just as I can better trust my instinct.
The Loneliness in Being Alone
Of course, traveling alone isn’t always a cake walk. There’s a lot of responsibility that falls on your shoulders. It’s up to you to get where you’re going on time. You don’t have anyone to watch your things while you run to the bathroom. If you’re having trouble in a situation, you’re left to rely on strangers to help. Either that or you deal with it. I definitely experienced that last year while traveling in Copenhagen. I twisted my ankle on the first day and my foot was swollen for the remainder of my 13 day trip. There I was, hobbling around by myself with no extra pair of hands or friendly face to keep me optimistic. It all came down to myself.
And there have absolutely been times where—amid some spectacular view or exhilarating activity—I pause to think, “I really wish someone were here to share in this experience with me.” Coming home to tell friends and family about a trip is great, but they can never fully share in the extent of your excitement. And you really don’t have anyone for reminiscing about your experiences.
I will admit that this aspect of traveling alone can, at times, be saddening. Yet, while the sharing memories may be limited, the experiences themselves are remarkably fulfilling. So I wouldn’t skip out on a solo trip for the sake of shared memories alone.
Rewarding Opportunities for Growth
If you’ve never explored a new place alone, it’s an experience that I’d highly recommend. There are ample resources on the web and elsewhere to help you prepare for solo travel. Once you’re out and about, it’s really not as frightening as one might expect. In fact, travelling alone is a wonderful way to experience a new place in a way that’s meaningful for you. It presents an opportunity for personal growth and discovery. Solo travel offers the freedom to explore and wander. Through experiences of travelling alone, you can cultivate confidence in yourself and a better trust of others.
If you’re not sure where to start, I’d be happy to help talk you through it!
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