What Solo Travel Taught Me

I cried at least once a day in New York City. Actually, it was more like two or three times. It was the first time I had solo travelled, and the fact that I was totally alone in a city of over 8 million people (speaking over 800 languages) was just a bit much. Scheduled to start a 21-day trip with Trek America, I decided to take a few days either side and spend some time pre-trip in New York (click here to see my photo diary) and in Los Angeles post-trip. It was a wicked idea, if a little daunting, and I’m so glad I did it.

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Coney Island, NYC

It allowed me to realise I had guts, and to create a faith in the unknown that I never knew I had. I’m still not entirely convinced, but I’m now on my way to realising that fate is real. It may take another trip to convince me entirely…

It can be seen as self indulgent to give yourself this much freedom – to take time to really just do you – but it’s also an amazing path to knowing yourself.

You have to let go and realise that sometimes things are out of your control, and to trust the world to guide you to wherever you need to be. You loosen up, go with the wind and let yourself by instinctually driven to places and people.

Don’t worry about the things that you may leave behind, you will gain so much more by throwing yourself into it and doing things that you never thought you would do.

I had days of complete self-awareness stretch in front of me. I had a rough itinerary of what I wanted to do, but it was down to me to get everything done. Navigating the NYC subway system is pretty easy for a Londoner, but I hadn’t accounted for the night subway not travelling to each stop. I ended up at West 110th street at 2am. That was certainly a learning curve.

I laughed, I cried, I even forgot to eat a proper meal the whole time I was in NYC (seriously, I lasted 4 days without any real sustenance). It’s tough. When you don’t have anyone to moan to that your feet hurt, or to help you navigate the LA bus system, you learn to be incredibly independent, because you have to. Being responsible for your own safety, comfort and fun teaches you more than you could ever imagine.

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The view from Central Park, NYC

Everyone should travel solo at least once. It gives you the opportunity to live outside yourself, and to push the boundaries of what you thought you were capable of. You aren’t limited by the preconceptions that the people you are travelling with attach to you; you can be anyone you want to be. You can be the person that learns to free dive, or does a bungee jump just for the hell of it. Whatever you’ve dreamed of being, you can become it. No one’s going to stop you.

There are moments you will wish you never came. There will be times when you are convinced that travelling solo is the worst idea anyone ever had. Sure, those thoughts are unhelpful, but being uncomfortable while you travel will teach you about what you really want to experience.

If you don’t like a museum you’re visiting, just leave. If you don’t like the vibe of a neighbourhood, bolt out of there like lightning. There’s nothing like travelling solo to teach you about what’s truly important to you.

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Amoeba Music, Hollywood

My anxiety is a big problem for me, and my decision making is always either complete and absolute, or non-existent. When travelling solo, you get thrown into making decisions that you never even considered making. If you don’t decide your daily plan of action, you’re not going to get anything done. If you’re on a camping trip and you don’t find your campsite for that night, you’re going to be pretty uncomfortable. If you don’t go and get food, you’re not going to eat (something I totally forgot to do). If you need to sort out a visa to travel somewhere else, you’ve got to do that.

It’s a lot of little decisions (and quite a few big ones) that will dictate how your solo trip plays out. It’s down to you to make everything happen.

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Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

Solo travelling allows you to reach heights you never imagined, and lets you be really and truly free. Free to do what you want, when you want. Free to go wherever you want to go. It’s really rather amazing, if a bit overwhelming at first.

Ultimately, solo travel is all about learning, growing and changing.

Here’s what Erin Outdoors wrote on her blog about “Why I Travel Solo”, a point that I feel sums it all up:

“Solo travel has taught me how to trust my gut and listen to myself, but it’s also taught me how to be resilient. It’s taught me about time management, menu planning and finances. It’s taught me about balance and happiness.”

That’s why you should do it.

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