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life lessons i learned from traveling solo

12 Life Lessons I Learned From Traveling Solo

I am a firm believer that traveling solo is truly the most liberating thing you could ever possibly do.

When I was younger I used to be really shy and introverted. I could pretend to be outgoing. I was a dancer and a performer. But I couldn’t talk to people to save my life. When I went to college I made one total friend my first semester. ONE. And it was because she was my roommate.

The first time I ever traveled outside of the country I was meeting a friend in Italy. But I had a weekend layover by myself in Paris first. My anxiety was so severe that I visited 2 attractions and then stayed in my hotel the rest of the weekend.  

I kept trying to make more travel plans over the next year, but at the time all of my friends were in college and couldn’t afford to go on international trips unless they were studying abroad. In my early twenties scheduling was a regular issue and I wanted to go on longer trips. 

I realized that if I wanted to travel at all, it was going to have to be a solo trip. I’d always liked the idea of traveling solo, but I was terrified to actually do it. 

I wanted to get rid of my fears.

To be more social and outgoing.

To be independent.

I decided I just had to book a ticket and go. 

In 2019 I went through a pretty rough breakup and had a lot of work to do for myself. I thought this would be the perfect timing to conquer my fears. I’d finally go on a solo trip! 

I bought the cheapest flight into Europe (Barcelona) and the cheapest flight out (Amsterdam).

I visited 12 countries by myself in between. In doing so I broke out of my shy, introverted shell and became that wild, free and independent person I’d always dreamed of. 

I learned how to be outgoing and extroverted, and I made TONS of friends along the way.

I learned how to not only be comfortable being alone, but happy with it. 

I’d even say that I actually prefer traveling solo now. Once a year I take a month long international solo trip and it is the greatest thing I could ever do for my personal growth and mental health. 

Keep reading to learn about the biggest life lessons I’ve learned through solo travel! 

Life lessons I Learned from traveling solo

HOW TO BE MORE OPEN-MINDED

Growing up with two gay siblings and then a transgender twin, I’d always felt like the most open-minded person on the planet. I accepted others, but I didn’t understand different perspectives or different walks of life until I started traveling.

The Italians taught me how to value the relationships in my life.

The French taught me how to slow down, enjoy life, and not take moments for granted.

The Swiss taught me how to show respect. To take care of the planet, to be polite to every person you meet, and how to be efficient.

I’ve really taken the time to experience every new place from a local’s perspective, and because of that I’ve learned a new trait or value from every single culture I’ve gotten the chance to experience. That’s so much more valuable to me than any souvenir.

HOW TO BE MORE POSITIVE

Like most teenagers, I used to be so negative all the time. One minor thing could ruin my entire day, or trip in general.

I got on a wrong bus in Italy, but got to explore a really cool city that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to experience.

It rained the week I was supposed to go camping in the alps. I “had” to go to the French Riviera instead, which ended up being one of my favorite places on the planet.

When I was in Amsterdam I had an incident where I got followed and attempted to be drugged. Instead of spending my last night in Europe scared of Amsterdam, I switched around my mindset and tried something new. I met some of the coolest people from all over the world, and had the BEST night with them before heading home.

Your experiences in travel and in your every day life are all about your perspective of the situation.

Don’t let one bad moment ruin your day or an entire city.

HOW TO BE MORE SOCIAL AND EXTROVERTED

My whole life I was always scared to talk to people and make new friends. I didn’t think someone would like me. Or I didn’t think they’d care to hang out with me. I was scared to get rejected. The usual excuses.

When I was traveling alone I realized that if I didn’t just talk to people, I was going to get really lonely really fast.

I started making conversation with people in bars or inviting someone I met on a walking tour to lunch afterwards.

I’ve met some of the coolest people in the world just by initiating a conversation. And the only reason anyone has ever said no to hanging out was because our schedules didn’t line up.

This helped me make friends easily and smoothly anytime I’ve started a new job, wanted to go to a bar but my friends were busy, and when I moved.

THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE AND BAD PEOPLE EVERYWHERE

When we’re kids, we’re fearless. As we grow up, we become more fearful.

We’re taught not to talk to strangers, and we’re taught to stay away from anything that isn’t comfortable. 

Erase these fears.

Proceed with caution, but realize that the world is generally not a bad or scary place.

Maybe don’t walk around a high crime area by yourself at night. But go out to the bars and dance with a stranger!

I saw someone get mugged and beaten for their wallet in Barcelona. But I also made a good friend when I lost my passport and cell phone in an airport in that same city.

Be cautious, but don’t let fears stop you from living your life.

HOW TO MAINTAIN LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS

It’s no secret that distance shows you who your real friends are. Distance can make the heart grow fonder, or it can tear you apart real quick, especially when there’s a drastic time difference involved.

Since most establishments are closed on Sundays, I started planning Sundays abroad as a day to do laundry, catch up on work or homework, and facetime my friends or family back home.

I usually planned about two hours that day when the times were reasonable for both parties to schedule facetime calls. This made sure that I had an even balance of enjoying my vacation but not worrying my mother or neglecting my friendships back home.

These skills carried over when I moved or when friends have moved. I’m able to easily prioritize keeping in contact, which helped me be able to enjoy my solo vacation without getting lonely, and be a better long distance friend when I move as well.

HOW TO PRIORITIZE SPENDING HABITS

When you’re traveling by yourself, you don’t have anyone to justify your purchases. There’s no one there to stop you from eating out every meal or from spending way too much money on a dress you’ll never wear. 

When you’re on a solo trip, t’s up to you if you want to take an uber instead of the train. It’s up to you if you want to go to an expensive restaurant every night for dinner or eat from a street cart.

When solo traveling I give myself a budget to stick to for that particular city or country. For example, when I was in the French Riviera I was there for 5 days and had a $500 budget. 

I went to the grocery store upon arrival and was on the go a lot so I generally packed food for the day or stopped for easy to grab street food. I allowed myself to eat out most nights for dinner, and limited my souvenir spending to just one item for myself and one item for a friend that I thought would love the area. 

With the money I had left over from my budget on my last night, I took myself out to a really fancy dinner in Monaco, and saved the rest for my next stop (Switzerland). 

Sometimes I allow myself to splurge a little.

There was a specific watch I’d been eyeing for months before my trip and since Switzerland is known for their watches, I had saved up my money before my trip, done my research, and bought myself the watch. I know that it’s the best quality watch money can buy and I’ll have it for years to come.

Budgeting is nothing more than just planning your spending in advance. For more guidance on spending habits while traveling, read my post on How To Save Money While Traveling.

RELATED: How To Travel On A Budget

YOU HAVE FULL CONTROL OVER YOUR INCOME When you’re traveling solo

At 20 years old I was paying rent to live in a big city, had a car payment, was paying for my own college out of pocket, and trying to survive too.

I’ve been so broke in my adult life that I was stealing food from the grocery store because I couldn’t afford to buy it, and I’ve also been able to take a month off work to travel the world. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life in general in my early twenties, it’s that you have full control over your income. 

Taking a month off work every year to travel is planned into my expenses. I could survive off of one job, but I work two so that I can save to travel. 

I work while I travel too.

I’ve taught nutrition camps in Italy, bartended at a beach club in Cannes and worked as a receptionist at a hostel in Amsterdam. Not only does it help me earn some cash, but free accommodation is usually included as well which helps me spend less and have longer trips.

EXPERIENCES ARE FAR MORE VALUABLE THAN MATERIAL OBJECTS

Material items have become a LOT less important to me since I started traveling solo. 

At home, I’d rather spend $10 on a bottle of wine and drink it in the mountains than go out to the same bar every night and rack up a tab.

I’d rather spend $200 to go paragliding in the alps than $200 on a pair of shoes I’ll probably only wear once or twice.

My financial priorities have shifted from things I want to own, to experiences I want to have.

HOW TO NAVIGATE FOREIGN PLACES AND FOREIGN LANGUAGES When Traveling solo

I didn’t learn Italian until after I had spent a few weeks in Italy my first time there. Then I went to Switzerland not knowing a single word of German. 

I became really good at reading maps, figuring out directions, figuring out public transportation, buying tickets, and reading menus in languages I was unfamiliar with. 

It’s definitely easier to navigate a country when you can read the signs or talk to the locals, but overall I developed skills that allow me to feel comfortable anywhere in the world regardless of whether I know the language or not.

YOUR OWN LIKES AND DISLIKES

Traveling solo was when I really learned about the types of places that I liked, what I was looking for, and what I liked and disliked. 

I learned that I had little interest in beaches and skyscrapers, but that I LOVED mountains and adventure sports. This made it easy for me to plan to just stop in Zurich for a couple of days and spend a whole week in the mountains in Interlaken.

I learned that I valued spending time visiting attractions and museums more than I valued sitting down in a restaurant, so I buy groceries and get food from street carts more often than I go out to dinner.

This isn’t to say that I never go to a restaurant or that I never go on vacation to just lay on the beach, I just choose to make those things a quick stop rather than a long ordeal.

This skill helped me a lot when deciding where I wanted to live.

I realized I was unhappy in Chicago, and I learned that I would be much happier in a place where I had access to nature and mountains. This encouraged me to take the leap of faith and move, and I’m so happy I did because I am a thousand times happier living in Colorado than I ever was in Chicago.

HOW TO BE INDEPENDENT

Lastly, and most importantly, solo travel taught me how to be comfortable being alone.

The more comfortable and secure I was with myself, my intuition, and my decision-making, the easier it became to leave a relationship I was unhappy in, to move somewhere where I didn’t know anyone, and to make friends and try new experiences.

SOLO DOESN’T MEAN LONELY

Even though I’ve technically spent a lot of time alone for the past year, I’ve never felt like it. In fact I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

I’m just as comfortable sitting on the side of a mountain with my thoughts as I am with a group of friends.

I enjoy figuring out new places by myself.

I’m comfortable planning things and making itineraries because I know what I like and what I want to do. I don’t waste my money or time on attractions or restaurants I know I won’t care about.

I’m able to patiently wait to develop meaningful relationships in new places because I’m not in a rush to not feel lonely. 

I’m no longer the girl stuck in an unhappy relationship because I’d rather be in a shitty relationship than by myself.

Traveling solo is the most important, life changing thing I’ve ever done. It’s why I continue to travel solo even though I now have a group of friends to travel with too. I love traveling with my friends, but if they are unavailable or we have different interests, I’m perfectly happy to travel by myself or just with my dog too.

I hope you get these same experiences and memories from your solo trips as well!

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