5 Invaluable Lessons You'll Learn from Traveling Alone
How Travel Will Shape You
In September of 2008 a young, bewildered 21-year-old Canadian stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and nearly had a panic attack.
That 21-year-old was me. I was freaking out because my French friend who had said she would pick me up from the airport was nowhere to be seen. Anxious and sleep deprived, my inner monologue was racing a mile a minute and I was pacing back and forth trying to figure out what to do.
Foolishly, I was relying completely on her to guide me in my first overseas experience and I didn’t have a Plan B — no contact information, no alternative place to stay, not even a clue of how to get from the airport into the city by myself.
I was so confused and lost that for a moment I wondered if I should just turn around and get on the first plane back to Canada. Then, I scolded myself for thinking that — I sure didn’t work my butt off all summer at two jobs so I could save up for a Europe trip only to chicken out and go home.
If I was going to follow my dream of traveling the world, I was going to have to learn how to find my way on my own.
So I did.
My French host eventually showed up over an hour late, but during the time I was alone I had gotten over the mental hurdle of being frightened of solo travel. I realized that I was more than capable of making my way around the world on my own steam.
On that trip I ventured further than I originally planned, heading to the Netherlands and Germany on my own and staying in my first hostel.
Nearly 10 years later, I have traveled to more than 50 countries and have built a life of travel inspired by that first empowering taste of freedom. Here are a few important things I have learned from my solo travel experiences.
A Little Bit of Planning Ahead Makes a Big Difference
My personality isn’t naturally suited to planning ahead and thinking about things logistically, but I have learned that when I force myself to research my travels ahead of time it can have benefits when traveling.
Thinking big-picture by choosing some of the best places to travel alone as your destinations, and teasing out the details by doing some research on restaurants in the area are always worthwhile endeavors in the end.
After all, which of these experiences would you rather have?
You booked the cheapest red eye flight. You arrive at your destination late at night, only to find that the bus into the city stops running at midnight and doesn’t start until 5 a.m. You are stuck and your only choices are to pay a crazy amount for a taxi to your hotel or curl up with your backpack on the hard concrete floor for a few hours and wait for the bus.
You looked at the flight options and realized the red eye flight arrived at an ungodly hour. You checked the bus schedule beforehand and saw that it would leave you in a predicament. You researched other flight options and found out that for less than the price of a taxi you could switch to a different flight and then take the bus when you arrive.
When you plan ahead you will find your travel days go more smoothly, because you have anticipated each step of the way and figured out the best solution, rather than leaving it up to chance or finding yourself stuck when you get somewhere.
Educate Yourself About Scams and Safety
There are certain dangers that are associated with solo travel and the best way you can protect yourself is to learn as much as possible. My number one tip for solo travel safety is to do research before your trip and Google “common travel scams in [your destination].”
This will give you travel scam warnings that are specific to your destination, so you will know exactly what to avoid. Knowledge is power.
Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
Every chance I get, I head to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for several days by myself — 2017 will be my fourth time attending. I could go with my boyfriend, or with many of my other friends if I really wanted to. But I much prefer to go alone.
Exploring the beautiful city of Edinburgh and the world’s largest theater festival by myself means that I can do exactly what I want, when I want.
If I want to attend four hours of back-to-back stand up comedy, or an experimental new sci-fi musical, or a really dark and gritty one-man show, I can do that. Or I could sit in a pub, drink beer, eat haggis and read a book.
I can see all of the shows I want to see, even if they look strange or silly. There’s no need to take anyone else’s tastes into account.
This is one of the best parts of solo travel, so make sure you spend your days enjoying what you want and curating your experiences to suit you!