My journey into solo travel wasn’t intentional — I never actually wanted to travel alone. I became a solo traveler because of circumstances. When I was 19 years old I started saving for my first trip to Europe. Various friends told me they would join me on the trip, but when the time came to book the flights, they didn’t have the money. I was faced with two choices. Go alone, or not at all. Going on a trip alone terrified me. Who would I talk to, how would I navigate, how would I communicate, and would I be lonely? But after months of saving, the thought of not going pained me. I took the plunge and went on my own. And this decision ended up being one of the best I’ve ever made because to travel solo and overcome that travel anxiety has been the most empowering experience of my life.   

person holding blue umbrella in snowMy first solo trip across Europe was challenging. For three months I traveled from northern Europe to the Balkans, Baltics, and Mediterranean. I was completely alone, forced to be independent in a way that I’d never experienced before. All decisions were mine to make. I was responsible for my health, my safety, and my overall well being, in a way that I’d never needed to be when I lived at home with my family. Being thrust into full responsibility for myself made me realize how protected I had been up until that point. Parents, siblings, and friends had always been there to talk it out, to find solutions for my problems, and even for simple things, like making sure I was eating properly. 

But the most jarring experience of this first solo trip was the feeling of being truly alone with myself. I’d spend sometimes days on end without having a conversation with another person that was more substantial than a transaction with a store clerk, in broken English. And somehow, the lack of English adds to the loneliness. I couldn’t listen in conversations around me in a restaurant, and I couldn’t communicate with people with the ease that I was so used to at home. 

Loneliness also meant that I had time with myself and my thoughts in a way that I’d never had before. And this loneliness encouraged me to overcome the shyness that I’d always been saddled with. When I checked into hostels, I’d face my fears and confidently head to the common room, in search of conversation with like-minded travelers. This was the way, I learned, to not be alone as a solo traveler. 

Woman in front of skyscrapers, as captured by Victor Cheng.

Plane Photo by: @aljvd

In common rooms around the world I’ve met people that were facing the same fears as I, but for the sake of a shared passion: travel. There was the time I met a woman named Lotem in a crowded dorm in Krakow. We bonded over our shared love of Birkenstocks and reading. That summer, we met several times in different cities across Europe. And there was the time I met a hilarious Australian man, who convinced me to travel in his van with him across Italy. In Costa Rica, I met a pair of Americans who taught me how to line dance on the beach. In Turkey, I met a woman in Antalya who was game to hop into rideshare vans, heading down the coast in search of a seaside village of treehouses. 

And eventually, I met my partner on a Greek island. We named all of the stray dogs on the beach, and we crashed a Greek wedding. It’s been ten years since then and now we’ve built a  life and a home together. The people I’ve met in common rooms around the world have been constant reminders that there is a community of solo travelers, and we all face the same challenges. We all have to learn to problem-solve, overcome shyness, face culture shock, and accept that sometimes, you get lost. 

hands holding a travel guide and backpack

Nowadays I travel mostly with my partner. While my days of solo travel have come to an end, I am so grateful for the period of growth that I enjoyed as a young adult, exploring the world, alone. Solo travel taught me confidence, self-assuredness, and most of all, that I was capable. While solo travel isn’t for everyone, I have learned that if you can muster up the courage — it is an empowering experience. Yes, it will be scary. But it will be worth it.

How did you grow comfortable traveling solo, and what did you discover in the process? Let us know on Twitter

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Erin Elizabeth
Erin Elizabeth Hynes is a travel enthusiast, lover of all things media, and storyteller. Her love affair with travel started at 16, when her parents sent her to visit family in the Netherlands. Following that she spent time living in Europe, and has backpacked across Asia, North Africa, Europe, Central America, the Middle East and North America. She writes and hosts a podcast (www.alpacamybags.ca), writes for her travel blog (www.pinatravels.org), and is editor in chief and executive designer of an independent magazine called Pressed (www.pressedmagazine.com).