Traveling solo is a unique experience, but you already know that. What no one actually tells you though, is how unexpected situations can be. Sure, there’ll be plenty of adventures, but all of those articles explaining how great solo travel can be, miss out on informing you about some much-needed truths.
Allow me to precisely explain what no one tells you about traveling solo.
It will be lonely sometimes
This seems like a no-brainer, but you won’t actually know how it feels until you experience it.
First of all, you shouldn’t travel solo unless you enjoy your own company, that’s a given. But sometimes you’ll be eating a particularly unexpected, delicious meal, or witnessing an amazing sunset, and you’ll feel like sharing all of it – except you don’t know anyone around.
Fortunately, in those lonely times it’ll be easier to reach out to somebody else, ask questions, and make new friends. Loneliness can actually push you to develop new relationships with total strangers, and that’s where the saying “you’re never truly alone while traveling solo” comes from.
Socializing can be hard
When you first imagine your solo trip, the idea of strangers coming up to you on the streets, or a hostel filled with friendly people eager to get to know you is easy to picture.
In reality though, that may not always be the case: Yes, hostels are filled with other travelers but sometimes they will only hang out with their own partner or group. At other hostels you’ll often find you have nothing in common with these people, and that small talk has become an annoyance.
Random people will come up to you in some situations, but you have to put yourself out there most of the time, get past the small talk, and make an effort. Ask questions, invite others along, and show a friendly face. If you’re an introvert or someone who isn’t used to talking to strangers, this can be difficult, but there are ways around it and you will soon figure them out.
While hostel get-togethers and Couchsurfing meetups can help, apps such as Meetup or even Tinder can be a great tool as well.
Expect the unexpected (in all senses)
Perhaps Google Maps won’t work, or you wound up lost because you read the map or street signs wrong. The bus is late, you missed your flight or ended up waiting for hours on the side of the road because no one picked you up while hitchhiking. Or maybe your couchsurfing host has ghosted you, or the hostel has lost your reservation.
If you’re a planning freak, well, good luck because real life has its twists and turns and there’s actually very little one can fully control. It sounds scary, but these things happen.
Traveling solo means opening yourself up to the unexpected, and being able to handle it. In doing so you’ll realize eating alone is neither scary nor embarrassing, and most of the people you encounter will do you no harm, but instead, be of great help.
It will be exhausting
Traveling solo has a way of putting you to the test. Everything you’ve learned up to this point can be challenged, and that can be as exciting as it is nerve-wracking and yes, exhausting.
As a solo traveler, you’ll be in charge of what you do every day. When most people think of travel they imagine a vacation, but unless your plan is to sip cocktails by the beach for a week, you’ll actually have to be in charge of planning and executing your full itinerary, while dealing with everything else that comes up in between, a foreign language and culture. Trust me, you’ll feel drained after a while.
Whenever you find yourself at this point, make sure to book a day off. There isn’t any pressure in doing anything as you’re the one who’s entirely in control of the whole trip.
Oh, the photograph conundrum
One of the advantages of traveling with others is you’ll always have a photographer at hand. As a solo traveler, that’s a luxury you’ll need to renounce. So either get comfortable with asking a stranger to take your picture, get a selfie stick or a tripod, or simply keep on living without that particular photograph.
Sometimes, you’ll have to opt-out of things
As your own guardian, you’ll be in charge of establishing your boundaries and sticking to them. Perhaps you’re a woman traveling solo and you don’t feel safe exploring a new city by night, or maybe that particular hike is a bit too far off the beaten path, and tackling it alone can put you at risk; it is your full responsibility to take care of yourself, so make sure you do.
It’s one thing to get outside of your comfort zone but doing something you sense to be reckless or dangerous is another ball game. Yes, it sucks sometimes, but it’s also okay to miss out on certain things if you’re simply not prepared to tackle them.
Eventually, you will cry
No one ever mentions this, but trust me, it will happen. After everything I’ve mentioned up to this point, you can imagine why a good crying session can be the best way to get it all out there and move on.
There’s nothing wrong with it, in fact, you’ll find it is quite a relief at times, so go ahead and cry yourself to sleep if you have to. Just make sure to wipe the tears away, get yourself a warm drink, and keep up with the adventure!
In the end, you’ll most likely realize that traveling solo, and the experiences that come with it are always worth it. It’s important to keep your wits about you, solo and otherwise. Check out Learning to Laugh as a Solo Traveler.