13 Invaluable Lessons That Prove How Important It Is to Experience Traveling Alone
"Travel far enough, you meet yourself." — David Mitchell
There's nothing more enriching and invaluable in life than travel. While it's absolutely a privilege that's limited to those who are fortunate to do it, those who do have the luxury should do it and do it often. In fact, the biggest regret many people admit to having is not traveling enough when they were able to.
Travel, in general, offers new perspectives that allow you to see the world and yourself in an entirely different way. Travel alone and the adventure becomes that much more enlightening. You gain a sense of independence, a worldly knowledge that can compete with classroom education, and so much more. I asked POPSUGAR employees and friends what the most important takeaway they've had from journeying alone is, and they returned with some newfound insight that will hopefully also convince you to try tackling the world by yourself. See their 13 life-changing lessons ahead!
You can do anything.
"Traveling alone is my favorite way to experience the world! It has taught me how to quiet my thoughts (not easy for me) and take in new experiences with an open mind and heart. It has taught me more about people, including myself. It has taught me to take risks I wouldn't have taken otherwise. It has given me confidence that if I can do this, I can do anything!" — Hilary White, POPSUGAR editor, Travel, Smart Living, and Love & Sex
The more open you are to new experiences, the more you get out of it.
"Being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by a foreign culture — it was like this constant crazy obstacle course. Each time I was confronted with something new, I was faced with a tempting choice to dodge (which I did at first). But then I found that the more I said 'f*ck it, I'm immersing,' the higher I got from the experiences, and the wider my heart and mind opened up, ready to receive more. Traveling solo nurtured this unquenchable curiosity and hacked away at a lot of the fears that were getting in the way." — Brandea Bunnag, business analyst at Tally Inc.
We are all the same.
"I have been traveling solo for a long time, and I have a nice story for you. A couple of days ago, my Uber driver from Cuba asked me, 'Is the US different from where you're from? Are people different?' I always have the same answer to that question: once you start traveling a lot and meeting people from all over the world, people are really the same! Different looks/shapes, but you start noticing that we all belong to the human race. It may sound cheesy, but it is very true. I am from Saudi Arabia, and I moved to the US alone after high school (around seven years ago)." — Saif Al-Sobaihi, POPSUGAR equipment coordinator
You have to learn to rely on yourself.
"I had very much been dependent on someone else for my entire life for travel. Whether it be my parents, my friends, or my significant other, someone else would always do all the planning. I am very much the introvert. Toward the end of my last relationship, at 33, I was forced to finally take a camping/hiking trip by myself to a place I've never been before, and it was the greatest experience I've ever done and hands down my favorite trip. I had never experienced such freedom and true relaxation to not be asking, 'Well, what do you want to do? What do you think about this?'
"When I got back to the land of the internet, I immediately booked another camping/hiking trip for a few months later. However, being a short female (5'0"), I did purchase a new machete! A lesson learned was to double-check everything twice because you don't have that other person saying, 'Don't forget to pack this!' . . . and I did forget to pack a few things the first time around. Another lesson is just having more knowledge for future solo trips, and I've become more bold because of them." — Angie Woo, POPSUGAR ad trafficker
Don't be afraid to ask for directions.
"It made me realize and also forever accept that I have absolutely zero sense of direction . . . and that it will 100 percent never change. So don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions in whatever language you're trying to learn." — Murphy Moroney, POPSUGAR assistant editor, Moms
It takes courage to be alone.
"In May 2017, I went on a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to Washington, DC, by a southern route. I traveled by myself for the entirety of the trip. When I wasn't driving (and singing horrible car karaoke to keep myself engaged), I was camping or hiking in a National Park or exploring a city with newfound friends from my hostel. There were definitely some safety precautions I had to take to make sure I was prepared for as many possible worst-case scenarios, but the most important was that I checked in with people every day to let them know I was alive and well and having the time of my life. My check-ins were phone calls to a family member (who would pass the message on to the rest of the family) and a daily Instagram post to show what I had done and where I was.
"However, I never felt like I was in danger, not once: I met wonderful people at the hostels that I now call friends; I got to see 10 National Parks, explore four new cities, and reaffirm my relationships with those I love, including myself. There were a lot of people during my trip that told me I was being brave for traveling by myself as a woman, but it wasn't because I was a woman that made it brave. I feel that a lot of people do not like being alone, particularly with their own thoughts, for so long, and choosing to embrace yourself, well, that takes true courage." — Patricia Kwon, POPSUGAR paralegal
You'll take away valuable self-reflection.
"Last month, I took two weeks for a solo 'eat, pray, love' trip from the top to bottom of Italy (although it turned into mostly an 'eat' trip, unless you count my trip to the Vatican). I learned some valuable life lessons, like how many carbs are too many carbs, Instagram stories reign supreme over Snapchat stories, always bring spare phone battery packs, and always read the reviews before you book an Airbnb.
"On a more serious note, traveling alone allows for a significant amount of self-reflection between all of the train rides, long walks, and solo meals. Having so little human contact (aside from the ciaos and grazies), forces you to have all of the contact with your inner self. Taking advantage of this helped me to decide on a career change and cleared myself of everything stressful that had happened in the past few months. Traveling alone can be daunting, but it is well worth it, and at least you'll get way better at taking selfies by the end of it!" — Neysa Smith, associate director at Digital Investment
Learning how to navigate on your own is empowering.
"I have learned to LOVE traveling solo. As someone who grew up ridiculously directionally challenged, traveling on my own has taught me to be much more aware of my surroundings and learn to navigate a new place quickly. When I'm with other people, I often follow their lead without paying much attention to direction. When I'm by myself, I feel confident navigating international airports, new public transportation, and cities where I'm the only person to rely on. It makes me feel empowered and independent.
"Also, I love being able to call the shots and do whatever I want! When you don't have to ask anyone else if they feel like stopping at a wine bar, going to explore a certain spot, or trying out a new restaurant, you get to experience a trip the way you want to." — Erin Cullum, POPSUGAR assistant editor, Food
Stronger communication skills equals more confidence all around.
"I traveled for three years around the world (Australia, Thailand, and South America), so I've got lots to say. There were a lot of takeaways, but I think the most valuable thing I gained was a much stronger sense of verbal communication. I was forced to interact with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds (sometimes dealing with a strong language barrier).
"Plus, I had to put myself out there and get out of my comfort zone so many times, so I learned how to effectively communicate in a unique way that I was never taught in school. Overall, my travels just made me a lot bolder as well. I became much more likely to take risks, go after what I really want, and speak up in difficult times rather than backing down!" — Gina Florio, POPSUGAR editor, Fitness
You'll surprise yourself.
"I traveled to Nepal by myself for two months when I was 23. The experience taught me to really appreciate quiet moments alone, to open myself up to new experiences and adventures, and that I can actually come up with pretty creative solutions to problems when I need to (like selling used books for bus fare when I ran out of money in a town with no ATMs)." — Stacy Hersher, POPSUGAR director, Social & Partnerships
You'll appreciate traveling with others.
"When I traveled abroad in Europe on my own after college (London to Amsterdam to Italy), I learned so much about myself. It 100 percent made me more independent; it gave me the confidence to rely on myself and trust my instincts.
"It also made me realize how much I love traveling with my husband (or any great travel buddy) now, because while I wouldn't want to miss out on seeing parts of the world just because I had no one to go with, traveling solo makes me appreciate experiencing new places with someone else." — Christine Harrison, POPSUGAR project manager
Don't be afraid to start small.
"I've always been too scared to travel alone (and I used to be scared of doing anything by myself, including just going to lunch or a movie!), so I started small. While living in San Diego, I decided to take a weekend trip by myself to San Francisco. I figured out the public transportation system on my own (another first), had coffee alone, read a book or two, enjoyed some sunshine walks, and got a tiny taste of independence. This baby step to some was a giant leap for me — I ended up moving to SF by myself a couple years later, which has been my greatest adventure yet!" — Dominique Astorino, POPSUGAR assistant editor, Fitness
You'll be forced to learn independence.
"I think everyone should travel alone at least once in his or her life. It's a true test of independence. I enjoyed the challenge of having to find my bearings and navigate completely on my own. Plus, being on your own schedule and having 100 percent of the say in what you're doing every moment of every day is a major plus!" — Sarah Paciocco, POPSUGAR associate video project manager