Last year (2017) I took four solo trips to various places around Europe. Therefore, at this point I’m fairly confident finding public transportation, making 1-night friends, and generally living the hostel life. I’m the only one in my close friend group who has really taken the time to travel solo, and in trying to convince them to take up the practice I figured I might as well write down my thoughts in a blog post so that others may be inspired as well. However, reading through some other blog posts on the same topic, I found a lot of the reasons people gave to travel solo were often repeated. That said, here I lay out 7 less obvious reasons why I think every human should solo travel.
1. To have more freedom
I feel like I’m speaking for a lot of suburban kids when I say my favorite thing about finally getting my driver’s license (aside from bragging to my friends) was the freedom that came with it. I could finally go where I wanted when I wanted. I find solo travel to be much the same, except rather than freeing yourself from the limits of transportation, you’re freeing yourself from the opinions and pressures of other travelers. When you travel alone, you decide when you wake up, when you go to bed, where you eat, what monuments to see each day, etc. You are accountable to no one but yourself, and you never have to compromise. There aren’t many other times in life when that’s the case.
2. To become adaptable
Often-times when traveling, the plans you perfectly laid out prior to leaving don’t end up coming to fruition — certain museums aren’t open on the days you’ll be there, transportation gets delayed or canceled, bad weather comes in, etc. In dealing with these set-backs and brainstorming alone how to adapt to them, you put your creative right-brain and logical left-brain in action and you come to accept a certain level of flexibility.
3. To build an international friends list
Solo travel tip #1: stay in a hostel where you can make friends. Things to look for include a common room where people chill, 6 to 8-bed dorms (the perfect size to make friends in your room), and nightly events (bar crawl, beer pong karaoke, etc.). Once securing said friend-conducive hostel, you can start making some international friends! I have met people from all over and have secured invites to many cities around the world. It’s also amazing to see how many commonalities traveling souls have no matter a person’s country of origin. As a bonus, now due to social media I get to keep up with the adventures of my newly-made friends after we part ways, often taking inspiration from them when choosing my next travel destination.
4. To become comfortable with silence
This one may be more particular to me, because I’ve never been able to sit still in a silent room. If there isn’t conversation going on around me, I always have my earbuds in, jamming out to one of my many Spotify playlists. Therefore, when I’m with other people, especially those I don’t know very well, I constantly find the need to fill the silence. I have found that the weather is always a reliable topic. However, traveling alone, I have found myself in a number of situations, from sitting in a restaurant at a table for one or lounging on a bench in a public park, where I have taken out the earbuds and found peace in the quiet.
5. To become a better listener
This sort of goes with #4, but I wanted to emphasize that once you stop trying to fill in gaps in conversation, you are finally able to take in the natural playlist of life. That may just be my flowery way of saying that traveling alone improves your eavesdropping game exponentially. But seriously, sitting down in an airport, a busy café, or even a crowded bus and listening in on the conversations around you makes the world seem smaller and strangers seem more familiar. Hearing a couple complain about the line in the airport or listening to a young girl asking her parents if she can have dessert reminds you that the small moments in life are sometimes the most universal. In addition, you become better at listening to your own thoughts. When your ideas stay in your head and don’t have to be vocalized for others, you no longer have the need to filter them.
6. To improve basic navigational skills
This advantage may be the most obvious in my list, a benefit of travel in general, but I still wanted to emphasize it as a key reason to travel solo. From navigating small poorly-lit alleyways to massive international airports, I’m just thankful that I live in the age of Google Maps and international data plans.
7. To let down your guard and build confidence
People may not guess it upon first meeting me, but I definitely have a certain level of social anxiety. You might imagine that this would be heightened when I’m alone in an unfamiliar city where I probably do not speak the native language. However, I’ve actually found that solo travel has brought out a more sociable, confident side of me — mostly out of necessity. I can’t count the number of times when I have turned to a stranger to take a picture of me after realizing that my entire camera role is selfies or that I have asked someone for directions to the nearest bathroom after having had one too many cups of coffee. In these small moments of human interaction, I had to let down my guard and be vulnerable enough to admit that I needed help. For some, these interactions may already come so easily that you don’t give them a second thought, but for those who may take a second to mentally hype yourselves up to talk to strangers, solo travel will bring you out of your comfort zone and build your confidence.
*I may make a separate post about the struggles of solo travel (because sometimes the struggle is very real), so keep an eye out or leave a comment if that would interest you!