7 Valuable Lessons You’ll Learn From Travelling Alone
In my very short 22 years, I have learned that there are few things more terrifying, exhilarating, and liberating than booking a one-way plane ticket to an unfamiliar country with no one by your side.
This was my reality when I was just 17. Fresh out of high school and completely unaware of what I wanted to do with my life, I booked a ticket to Europe to work, volunteer, and explore the many beautiful cities I’d heard so many incredible stories about growing up. The result of this seemingly irrational decision was a nine-month journey of adventure, exploration, and life lessons, topped off with memories that will last a lifetime.
There’s something particularly rewarding about travelling alone. Of course, travelling with friends or family has its own perks and benefits, but there are so many experiences to be gained and lessons to be learned when travelling by yourself. If you’re considering planning a trip that just won’t fit into any of your friends’ busy schedules, I urge you to take the plunge and hit the road solo, because along the way you’re bound to learn these seven lessons that will make the entire experience—the ups and the downs—completely worth it.
Lesson 1: It’s okay to get lost—because sometimes it leads to the best discoveries
Even in a world of smartphones, GPS systems, Google Maps, and travel apps, getting lost on your travels is almost inevitable. And personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s during these moments that everything you discover is something you otherwise would have never known existed—a local coffee shop, a hidden park, an ancient church or even a new city. Getting lost can truly open your eyes to the local beauties of the area you’re in and create some of the greatest memories of your entire trip.
Lesson 2: It only takes a few hours to create lifelong friendships
What is perhaps the most incredible part of travelling alone is the exposure you get to the expansive community of other solo travellers. These adventurers will be some of the most interesting, bizarre, beautiful, and genuine people you will meet in your life, and they will be the source of many memories from your time on the road. You will realize that it only takes a few hours to truly get to know someone while travelling because, in many ways, you’re both in the same boat, regardless of where you come from or where you’re heading. “Don’t talk to strangers” is no longer relevant when you’re travelling, because talking to strangers will make your trip that much more interesting and memorable.
Lesson 3: Adapting to change is necessary
Regardless of where your final destination is, there will always be cultural, political and economic differences between the country you’re visiting and your home country (yes, even if you’re a Canadian travelling cross-country through the United States). Adapting to these differences—or at least recognizing that they exist and being respectful of them—is a very important part of travelling and can make or break your experience in any given country. Even simply adapting to changing circumstances while on the road is important, because the truth is, plans change all the time. Flights might get delayed. Hotels could book up. Bad weather may hit. These are the realities of travelling, and it’s rare that a solo-traveller is not faced with some sort of set-back during his or her travels. So when things don’t go according to plan, don’t give up—it’s all part of the ride!
Lesson 4: Sometimes it’s better to toss the rule book
As a solo traveller, you will not only learn to throw out the rulebook (or in this case, the guide book), but you’ll realize that you don’t even have to pick it up in the first place. You have the opportunity to tailor your travels to your own interests, and visit (or skip out on) any city, museum, monument or tourist attraction you’d like. Who says you need to visit the Louvre while in Paris? Or Buckingham Palace while in London? It’s often the simplest moments—the ones that occur when you toss the rulebook and spend your days simply enjoying the city you’re in—that create the best memories. When you’re traveling alone, you will learn to let your own feet guide you, which will allow you to make your trip exactly what you want it to be. It’s much better to follow your curiosity, not the guidebook.
Lesson 6: You will learn a lot about yourself
Despite the fact that you will meet many amazing people while travelling solo, you will likely still spend a great deal of time by yourself. This is often the main reason people choose to travel with friends or family—because travelling alone can be scary, lonely and stressful, and you don’t have anyone else around to rely on except for yourself. But the beautiful thing about travelling alone is that you eventually learn to enjoy your own company, and you learn so much about yourself that you may have otherwise never discovered. Perhaps you’ll learn that you actually like being alone! Or realize that you have a naturally strong sense of direction. Or that you absolutely love a food you previously thought you would hate. Your travels will teach you many things about yourself, which might even result in an entirely new sense of self. You’ll never know until you take the plunge!
Lesson 7: Be grateful for what you have
I can’t sugar coat the fact that travelling alone is hard work. You will run into stressful situations, discover new barriers you did not plan for, and hit roadblocks (sometimes literal ones) that will require an entirely new plan. But overcoming these obstacles is often the best part of travelling because it gives you an opportunity to truly reflect and be grateful for the things, people, and opportunities in your life. There will always be small moments of gratefulness while travelling alone—you will be grateful when your plane lands safely; you will be grateful to be visiting such incredible and foreign cities; and you will be very grateful when you arrive at the only hostel in a remote village and discover that they have one more single bed available for the night. But often times, it isn’t until you return home that everything sinks in and you realize how truly fortunate you are to have had such incredible experiences.