Solo travel was something that was at the back of my mind for years.
For the first two years of my travel blogging career, the extent of my solo travel experience reached a few days here and there in Europe. I knew at some point I wanted to experience solo travel for an extended period of time, but I was waiting for the right time.
That time came in October 2016.
Most of my personal travels until this point had fallen conveniently into my friends’ plans, and aside from that, work trips tended to be group trips or were trips with a ‘plus one’ nature.
But in October 2016 I turned a collaboration with Tourism NZ into a five-month solo adventure through five different countries. I knew from the beginning it was going to be an emotional journey and I knew I would experience a life-changing shift. But I honestly didn’t predict the extent of the above.
Self-development is something that has always excited me, and as predicted, after my solo adventure, I am physically and mentally worlds away from where I was five months ago.
Worlds away in a positive way. It’s crazy wondering about where I’d be now if I hadn’t travelled.
My content in the coming weeks will indeed reflect the changes I’ve experienced, the directions I’ve taken, and will unveil the new chapter of Where’s Mollie?.
A chapter that now, after a transition that had me hit an emotional low, I am so very excited about.
But back to the focus on this blog post…
I can only assume you are here because you are heading out on a solo adventure or you are curious about where a solo adventure could take you.
Well, everyone’s experience of solo travel is different, but I’m more than sure there are similarities between what I went through and what other solo travellers go through or can expect to encounter.
(Note: I solo travelled whilst running a full time business, so my experience will most definitely be different to a ‘gap year’ experience. Something to bear in mind.)
Here are the biggest lessons I learnt whilst solo travelling…
1. Getting out of your comfort zone is a positive thing.
Getting out of your comfort zone means you’re probably about to try something new, something exciting or you’re about to be challenged in a way that is going to develop and strengthen you. Embrace growth, embrace uncertainty, and see even fear as a positive thing.
2. Being in a place of struggle shows signs of incredible growth.
Being in a place of struggle means that something isn’t quite right, something needs changing and your body is trying to figure out what it is and how to solve it. Ultimately you’re developing into a stronger version of yourself. Be patient with yourself and trust that the universe ALWAYS falls back into place.
3. Don’t be put off solo travel by loneliness.
Most solo travel articles I’ve seen and read talk about the initial fear of being lonely before you travel. They speak of this feeling totally disappearing as soon as you get on the plane, or as soon as you make your first friend. But they don’t mention the loneliness arriving mid-way through your travels, and not being able to shift it. For me I never ever feared loneliness or thought I would experience it in the way I did. But three months in, it came up and surprised me. This loneliness encouraged me to embark on a new travel experience and to add a plot twist to my trip. I decided I didn’t want to continue exploring the Philippines by myself and so I chose to volunteer, which ended up being the best decision I ever made.
If you get lonely, instead of panicking and booking a flight home, see it as your soul requesting a new path or a different environment. Take some time to listen to yourself and what you might be searching for. Follow whatever that desire is. For top tips on making friends while solo travelling, check out this blog post.
4. Trust yourself to make your own decisions.
You are the only one that can make the executive decisions when you’re solo travelling, and sometimes you won’t be sure if the one you’re making is right. You’ll have to make so many spontaneous and random decisions by yourself and through this experience you will realise that your decisions are never the end of the world. You begin to realise the best choice is usually your gut instinct, and if you need to change your mind or direction at any point after, you can.
5. There’s value in investing more in other people.
When you’re on your own and on the move a lot, the only way you are going to have friends is to make them. The only way you’re going to create those sought after memories is to get out there and create them. If you’re anything like me, I prefer creating memories and sharing them with other people. The simplest of conversations or small talk can lead to a new travel buddy, a new best friend or a new door opening for you.
Open as many doors as possible for yourself. What’s the worst that can happen? You have a nice conversation with someone and you continue on with your day. And the best? THE SKY IS THE LIMIT.
6. You need space and time-out in order to get creative.
If you’re anything like me and come from somewhere where being busy is deemed as being successful, then you will most likely be run off your feet all the time and have very little time to yourself. The times I write the best blog posts, come up with the best ideas and see my visions the clearest, are when I take time out. For me this is usually up a mountain, on a beach or generally just in the outdoors.
7. It’s important to be selfish sometimes.
If you spend your life doing things for other people and following other people’s dreams, how will you ever know what YOU need? What YOU dream of? What fulfils YOUR NEEDS? Solo travel allows you to make your own decisions and simply do whatever it is that YOU desire. This freedom is just the best. No one to answer to, and no one to make you feel guilty about not doing so.
8. It’s important to spend time by yourself and be honest with yourself.
We are all guilty of masking our emotions and burying our heads in the clouds. Sometimes there are things we don’t want to admit to ourselves and sometimes there may be emotions or situations we are too scared to work through. Solo travel gave me the time to really strip myself down and get to know every corner of myself. I admitted things to myself that I had been covering up and denying. The moment you face everything you are and everything you feel, you have the ability to become the best version of yourself.
9. You have the ability to handle anything.
Solo travel is bound to get you in some situations where you feel challenged, or just in a position you have never found yourself in before. Through these situations you find solutions. You learn that you will always find solutions and that there are very few situations you can’t deal with in future. This confidence is priceless and will take you to so many incredible places.
10. There’s value in patience and silence.
If you’ve ever travelled in Asia, you particularly will know what I mean. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned and solo travel means you don’t always have someone to voice the frustration to. Learning to keep somethings to yourself (or being forced to) is one of the best lessons I’ve learnt. Negativity, frustration, anger and other emotions are sometimes better unheard. I’m not saying hold it all in, but sometimes it’s more beneficial to take a deep breath and accept there is nothing you can do about it. If you apply this in the right way, you will see a very positive impact on your life.
11. Smiling will get you everywhere.
A simple smile could and can take you anywhere. Period.
12. You have to deal with your emotions independently.
Learning how to look after yourself, nurture yourself and comfort yourself is a very valuable tool to have and to carry through life. That’s not to say you should always deal with emotions alone. In fact, not at all. But developing this skill will give you confidence, independence and inner strength.
13. It’s time to encourage your independence.
Solo travelling means you take on the responsibility of the likes of: bookings, phone calls, haggling, navigation and foreign conversations – amongst many other things. You can’t get your mum to do this one for you. Through situations like these, you learn to stand on your own two feet and naturally grow more independent.
14. Don’t take shit from anyone.
Whether it’s taxi drivers, employees, market sellers, locals or other travellers, sometimes I found as a female solo traveller I was targeted and treated as vulnerable. Or maybe one would say you are more approachable.
People would try and sell me things at a higher price than normal or expect me to just accept their knowledge or advice. I learnt to put my foot down. To research things and to know my facts on e.g. how much a taxi should cost from A to B. As soon as people recognise the strength and confidence that comes from this preparation, they will back off. The confidence is liberating.
15. Travel medicine is something you should always have with you.
I never usually carry medicine because of the sheer amount of technology and luggage I travel with, combined with the fact I don’t ‘usually’ get ill. After being in the Sahara Desert last week with no strong painkillers and with no access to a doctor, I learnt the hard way. Simple medicine doesn’t take up much room and you can honestly never predict when you will catch something as a traveller. Getting travel insurance for illness is a must for me now, too!
16. It’s OK to change your mind and come home.
Solo travel experiences are different in each country and for each person. I would definitely say that solo travel is easier in some countries compared to others.
If where you are doesn’t feel right, and as much as you try to, you aren’t enjoying it – change direction. I’m not saying you just duck out and just book a flight home when things get tough, but equally I’ve met people that are in such a bad way that continuing to travel when they feel like that would do more damage than good.
Don’t be scared of what people might think if you change your mind. A week before I was due to fly home from my 5-month trip, I had a deep longing to be home. I knew that continuing to travel would do me no good and that I wouldn’t enjoy it or appreciate it. I listened to my gut and I booked a flight home. If it’s what you truly want to do, you will never regret that decision.
17. Don’t get caught up in other people’s experiences. Stop comparing your experience with theirs.
My time in the Philippines was for the most part, quite lonely. I’ll admit that. That comes from someone who has travelled a lot, is very independent, is very social and doesn’t NEED someone to validate her existence. Me.
As I travelled through the Philippines, I read people’s blog posts and saw people’s photos as I searched for inspiration. I couldn’t help but feel I had gone wrong somewhere. Why wasn’t I as excited about the Philippines? How come they seemed to be enjoying it more than me?
Almost immediately there were two things I noticed with my thoughts which were wrong. Firstly, don’t ever ever believe what you see on social media. Take the art that people create and share with a pinch of salt. People’s worlds can be so far from what they portray… trust me. Secondly, my time in the Philippines was four months into a solo adventure, four months into a physical and mental journey that, of course, was going to have me react to my surroundings differently to someone that was just coming here for a couple of weeks or for a month with their boyfriend.
Maybe if I had chosen the Philippines as my first destination, I would have been more energised, more enthusiastic and experienced it differently.
Whatever the case, I learnt that we are each on our OWN journey and your journey is never going to be the same as anybody else, so stop comparing. Do you, be you and do what you feel is right in your heart.
What I realised through solo travel…
There are some additional things that I’d like to share about my journey through solo travel, because it was such a big learning curve and transition for me.
After my five-month solo adventure, I came to the conclusion that…
1. Home is more precious than ever before.
2. Friends and family are everything. Seriously.
We get told this over, and over, and over, don’t we? Until you are in a position where you have no access to the above, you probably won’t realise their true value.
3. Good health is a true blessing.
The opportunity we have to work out and to gain knowledge about how to look after our bodies is a serious blessing. Without our bodies we cannot function daily. I witnessed populations that had zero knowledge about simple things like vegetables and brushing their teeth. To most of us, this knowledge is a given. But to many, this is unknown.
4. If you are lucky enough to have access to healthcare, education, food and shelter, you have a fortune that is denied to and dreamt of by millions of people.Take as many moments as you can to appreciate it.
5. You are never really alone.
Loneliness is temporary and shouldn’t be feared. Even if you find you feel it, it is quickly addressed. Checking into a hostel, making conversation in a bar, facetiming home, smiling at someone at the airport or even jumping on a flight home – human connection is within easy reach and you most certainly shouldn’t let the thought of being lonely stop you from embarking on solo travel. For advice on homesickness during travelling, read this post.