While taking a Core Values assessment workshop the other day (super helpful on the "know thyself" scale, by the way!), I was asked to think of a moment in my life that brought me intense joy or fulfilment. It only took me a few seconds to be transported back to that sunny September afternoon in Budapest, sitting in the back of the taxi that was taking me to my hostel, on the very first day of my life as a solo traveler - and a heart bursting with a crazy mix of many emotions.
I had traveled several times before then - always with friends, visiting friends or on a business trip, knowing I'd have company the entire time, but this was my first time arriving in a new city, where I knew nobody, ready to explore it on my own. I had been saving for over a year, working two jobs, to be able to quit and move overseas - but not before going on a 3 month (mostly) solo Eurotrip.
Why was that moment so utterly special that it has stuck with me after all these years (and the many other solo trips that followed)? I think I could give many answers here, but the truth is simple: it gave me a sense of confidence and empowerment I'd never felt before. I checked-in at the hostel, dropped my bags and set off to explore Budapest and all its glory on foot, with a paper map I barely knew how to read. I walked for hours, ate Hungarian food, talked to locals, drank from a Jäger-train and ended the night singing "Under The Bridge" by Red Hot Chili Peppers in an underground bar with a band put together last minute (this actually happened). And I still think of it as one of the most fun days of my life so far.
If you've been thinking of booking those flights on your own but keep hesitating (I know it can be scary at first!), here's a few reasons why you should just take the leap:
1. You get comfortable being on your own - and really enjoying your own company
If you're an introvert, you're probably way ahead of the curve on this one (after all, you recharge through alone time!). As an extrovert who always loved being surrounded by people, enjoying doing things on my own was a bit of a foreign concept to me. I thought I might get bored or feel awkward walking into a restaurant and requesting a table for one - would people think I'm a loser? Well, it turned out that not only did I not care at all what people were thinking, I also never felt uncomfortable. Having those experiences made me fall in love with my own company and realize I never needed to wait on anyone to do something I wanted to do - so much so that I now take myself on regular brunch and movie dates, even in my own city.
2. You meet more people - and some of them become lifelong friends
Let's face it: when you travel with company it's easy to stay in your little bubble and not mingle with new people. Human beings tend to fall back into what's comfortable and familiar and not break out of their comfort zone unless there's a bit of a push. Solo travel "forces" you to mingle with a bunch of cool random strangers - after all, just because you're traveling solo it doesn't mean you want to do things solo all the time (and that's the beauty of it: getting to choose when to seek company and when to just enjoy alone time). I met some wonderful people on my travels, some of whom I have visited in their hometowns and am still in touch with years later.
3. You discover a lot about yourself - and this discovery continues post-travel
Travel has a different meaning and purpose for each individual, depending what stage of life they're at. Sometimes you travel just for fun, to take a break from the daily grind, and sometimes you travel to heal - from a heartbreak, from the chaos, from when it all just gets a bit too much. I call the latter the "journey back to self". It was during some of those trips that I learned to sit with the discomfort, re-evaluate priorities and really lean in to my intuition and what I wanted to do next. Not to mention that you don't have to follow anyone's schedule - which means having the freedom to choose exactly what to do with your day, and in turn discovering which activities you get the most enjoyment from. This has helped me learn to honour my needs and say no to certain activities that I know do not bring me joy.
4. You gain a newfound confidence - and taking chances is suddenly much easier
After traveling solo, I moved to a new country for a year, then moved back to where I was living before, once the year ended. Upon returning I realized it wasn't really where I wanted to be at that stage in my life. While a few years earlier I probably would have just stayed put and dealt with the dissatisfaction, this time I felt empowered to take a risk. I gave myself 6 months, and once I hit that date in my calendar, I evaluated if I still wanted to leave. The answer was yes, and about a month and a half later I was back on a plane, having sold all my furniture and quit my job, returning to the country where I'd spent a year, ready to continue my adventures. People called me crazy, and said they didn't understand how I could make those decisions on a whim. The answer was that I was no longer afraid - I knew I'd make things work one way or another. 3 years later and I'm still here, residency in hands!
5. You will get hooked - and travel will be much more than just tourism
There's something about traveling solo - and really connecting with a place, culture, and yourself - that makes travel take a different shape and meaning in one's life. I always enjoyed going on holidays, but it feels different now. It's part of my identity and my values, and takes priority over many other choices I could have made in life. It doesn't work this way for everyone, but I've heard many people express a similar sentiment. Many of these individuals have chosen a digital nomad lifestyle, so they can move freely and work from anywhere. Whatever path you choose to take, you'll likely find yourself constantly daydreaming about new destinations, and looking out for those cheap last minute flight deals.
If you're reading this and still feeling that nervousness in your stomach, wondering if solo travel is for you, the last thing I can say is: embrace the fear, and do it anyway. There's a world full of incredible things and people out there, waiting to get to know you.
And please come back to tell me your stories - those are my favourite ones to hear!