I think there is a misconception that people travel solo because they are single. Or they don’t have anyone else to go with.
And while they certainly are a couple of the reasons, they are not the only ones.
There are many reasons, and each one is as personal and different as the travellers that embark on these solo journeys.
Please stay with me as I tell you about the place I came from and how I ended up solo travelling, and how it changed my life. Maybe you will be able to relate to some of it; perhaps you know someone who will.
I am always nervous when I share deeply personal things publicly. I hid for a long time.
But I have had people message me saying they could never solo travel, and I want them to understand that I never thought I could either.
To those people, I want you to feel what I do – empowerment, confidence, a sense of achievement, freedom.
I want you to know that it is possible. Not easy, but possible. I want you to write to me and tell me that you did it and I will celebrate with you.
In the last eight years, since my divorce, life has challenged me in ways I would have never foreseen. Over that time, I started setting myself challenges. I had lived far too long in a state of low self-esteem, insecurity and no confidence.
My entire life to be exact.
Challenging myself was a way of never going back and never being complacent again. It was a way to continue working on myself and growing.
I was told repeatedly as a child that I had a complex (a hang-up), and I needed to get over it.
My parents loved me. My Mum didn’t mean to hurt me by it; she thought she was helping me. As all parents know, or should know, we do the very best we can with what we have and know at that time. With the information, we are told or believe to be true.
Telling me, I had a complex was my Mum’s way of trying to help me out of my shell. I was a terribly shy and introverted child. What it actually did was tell me there was something wrong with me and I had to fix it.
I didn’t understand my personality, my introversion, my fears and anxieties.
Years later, as I struggled to work through the reasons, I was the way I was, through counselling and an array of therapies, I found that nothing “happened” to me as a child or teenager to lose my self-confidence, I just never had any.
I didn’t realise how emotional writing this would be. It feels like a betrayal to my loving parents, but it’s not meant to be.
I am just trying to paint a picture of a person who never knew confidence. Never knew what it was like to feel good about themselves, a person who never thought they were good at anything and indeed not an intelligent and worthy human being.
I won’t go into my teenage years and young adult life. Lacking self-esteem and confidence do not lead to good decision-making skills, and that lead me down difficult paths.
But I was always strong; I just didn’t know it.
Around the time I turned 40, things started to change.
For whatever reason, I realised I deserved better. To be treated better than what I had allowed so far. I had had enough. I started to fight for myself, learn more about my personality and realise I was good at more than I gave myself credit for.
One of those things ended up being travel planning.
Time to Change
Things did change. In a big way. None of it was easy, but all of it was worthwhile.
Fast forward a few years I met Dan. And suddenly I knew what a good relationship was — a strong, healthy and loving relationship. Our relationship is one that allows us to grow together and individually.
We are together nearly all the time. We both work from home. We are the perfect team and anything we do together we do well. But being together all the time can take its toll too.
So, on that note when I expressed to Dan that I was desperate to travel, that had been too long between trips, he was the one to tell me to go.
At this point, he cannot leave his business to travel, but more than that, we needed to be us, as individuals, for a while. We both craved the space to pursue our own passions.
And so, I did.
Solo travel was a challenge I had chosen for myself a while back. I knew it was something I wanted to give a go, to see if I could actually manage to work through my anxiety to not only get on a plane but to travel in a way that was meaningful and enjoyable. By that, I mean not sitting in my hotel room too scared to leave.
And it is only now I realise how incredible that was. From the little girl who never believed in herself to the almost 50-year-old women who now knows she can do anything.
At first, I struggled with what I “should” see and do until my friend Sandy reminded me, I only needed to do what I wanted, to not travel someone else’s itinerary.
That’s just what I did. I learnt so much from solo travel. And I was utterly humbled to find that I had a whole community of people following me and cheering me on.
On my darker days, they were there to lift me, support me and give me valuable advice. I had my biggest supporter Dan at home, never doubting for a minute that I could do it and waiting for me as I tearfully walked out of the Arrivals door, entirely overtaken by emotion, not yet able to process it.
So, how else has solo travel changed me? Here are the three main ways; I am sure more will emerge over time.
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Being a Mindful Traveller
Most of us are kind, but we are not always mindful. A lot of the time we are not aware that someone could benefit from a friendly word or helping hand.
Feeling isolated and lonely myself at times made me appreciate how hard it can be for solo travellers.
A smile, some kind words or an offer to share a table would have meant so much. It is something I will always keep in mind when travelling with my groups, or Dan or friends and family. To invite a lone traveller to share our table, enjoy a drink and share some stories.
I want to be that person who extends a friendly offer. A solo traveller may not want or need your help or company, but there is no harm in trying.
You never know, your friendliness could be one of the highlights of that person’s trip. As much as seeing the sites and travel itself are lovely, interactions with other people, no matter how small, can leave a lasting memory.
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Understanding My Travel Personality Better
I made some mistakes with my planning. For whatever reason, I didn’t book my usual type of accommodation, apartments that I usually find on Airbnb (you can get credit here if you would like to use them).
I thought I would benefit from staying in B&B’s and hotels because I was on my own. I didn’t.
There is nothing like spending 24/7 on your own to determine what works and what doesn’t.
I totally forgot what type of travel personality I am. I like to cook whether I am on my own or with a group. That has always been the case, and I should have remembered it.
I get up early and go to bed early too. When I travel, I am usually up late, but that’s because I am with others in my group, socialising, chatting, enjoying a bottle of wine.
I like to get out early and walk and then spend some downtime late morning before going out for lunch and to explore more. I felt I was always dodging around housekeeping trying to clean my room at the time I wanted to work, rest or read.
I found it extremely difficult to fill in time on my own. There are only so many pre-dinner drinks I can have or how much I can write in my journal until it is a socially acceptable hour to eat out.
Lesson learnt, and I will not make that mistake again.
Now all I need is selfie lessons!
Building My Self-Esteem
As hard as it is to admit, I am a little vain.
I have always worried about what I look like, never leaving the house without makeup and worrying about the clothes I am wearing. I’m ok in my usual day to day routine but put me into an unfamiliar situation, and my anxiety goes through the roof.
Having decided to pack carry-on luggage only for three weeks in Italy during Autumn meant I had minimal options. I had also packed clothes that I thought would be suitable but ended up being too light for the temperature.
So, with limited options, I had no choice to get over myself very quickly and just wear what I had. I didn’t want to buy another bag that I could check on the way home, so I was stuck with it.
I bought some jumpers to keep me warm, and another pair of good walking boots, but that was it. The boots were essential; what I had packed were not good enough (my feet didn’t handle walking as much this time around). The boots in my size were limited, so the ones I got are not very fashionable, but that more than made up for it in the comfort department. They saved my feet.
I did not go without makeup. That’s a battle for another day, if ever.
But I learnt that no one gave a hoot about what I was wearing. No one.
I am the only one critical of myself and after three weeks I was well and truly over worrying. I just got on with it and enjoyed my time.
My experiences became far more important than my wardrobe.
And as cliché, as it sounds, I found myself again.
Time away from Dan, my daily routine, from everything, made me self reliant again. And I liked it. I loved finding my independence.
Selfishly I liked doing what I wanted and when. Of course, at times I was lonely. A couple of days were a bit miserable. But that didn’t matter. Nothing is ever perfect, nor should it be.
Being alone and miserable, out of my comfort zone, in a foreign country only made me stronger.
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I never thought I would solo travel. Never!
I used to think people who went travelling on their own were nuts.
And brave. Very, very brave.
I could not fathom how you would do it, or even enjoy it.
I think Dan was a little worried at the airport wondering if I was going to admit defeat. My heart raced, and tears pricked my eyes as I stood there knowing I had to go, Dan gently encouraging me. Internally I think he was yelling “Get on with it woman!!!”
It was hard to force myself to go when all I wanted to do was run screaming from the terminal.
But I did it. I am proud of myself. It has made me feel strong and independent. Knowing that I can travel on my own, whenever I want. And I loved it! It was such a liberating feeling.
It’s not the only way I want to travel. I have lots of plans to travel with Dan, with my daughter and with my travellers on my Small Group Tours.
But now I know that I can, and that feels incredible.
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