Thanks to a few business trips, in 2016 I’ve traveled alone more than I had done in my entire life previously. I’ve journeyed through Munich, Neuschwanstein, D.C., and Boston, all by myself.
Before you want to cue Celine Dion’s All By Myself for me…. Hear me out.
Initially, I traveled alone out of necessity – I was already there, instead of staying in the hotel all day, I might as well go out and explore. But over time I realized I actually LOVE travel solo which is a huge surprise because I am one of those people that could never shop alone or go to a restaurant alone (not the case anymore but more on that later.)
Traveling solo, I realized, is incredibly liberating.
Traveling alone is amazing because it allows you to..
1) Do what YOU really want to do
If you want to explore a corner in the city, you make a turn. If you are intrigued by the décor of a coffee shop, you walk in. If you see a high tower on the top of a hill, and wonder what it’s like to be in it…. You climb it! There’s no people’s interest level to consider, you just gotta do you.
For people that are always saying “but I don’t know what I really want in life” – take a trip solo, go to places by yourself, and listen to your gut telling you what you REALLY want to do, and hone in on your self-listening skills. It’s a very common but profound practice!
2) Have no distraction and be present
This doesn’t mean you can’t text or email friends once in a while, or even yelp or google places to go. I think there’s a reverse, good kind of FOMO when you’re traveling alone because you’re afraid of missing out what’s right in front of you. Somehow when we are traveling with others, when we know they’re taking photos, or they can tell us about what we missed if we just got distracted for a minute… it’s still being “captured” and can be "replayed." When you travel alone, if you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you’ve missed it.
Without any friends or family to talk to by your side, when you are at your destination, or a spontaneous visit to some unknown part of the place you’re visiting, you are there. It’s you and that lake, or you and that castle, or you and that view; there’s nothing in between. I call this the “I am here” moment… when you are fully aware and present of yourself being in a new environment, and fully appreciating the moment. It’s an amazing feeling. You should try it.
3) Learn to be a mindful & responsible traveler
I for one am guilty of relying on friends and family for directions and ideas when I travel in a group. I know someone will come up with the place to go to, directions to get there, and what to do when we get there. I tend to just go with the flow in a group.
When traveling alone, this approach won’t take me anywhere. I have to proactively plan, look things up, and know where my destination is. I am also notorious for being a very forgetful person who loses her belonging everywhere she goes. Traveling alone forces me to develop ways to keep myself more responsible and mindful of my belongings because I can’t count on people reminding me that I left my sunglasses in the café, or I dropped my ferry ticket behind me when I stopped to take pictures, or that I left my camera on the bus I took. If these examples sound really specific, it’s because they all have happened to me. But strangely, it never happens when I am traveling alone. It’s because I am actively watching my belongings as move about.
4) Make new friends (if you’re lucky like me!)
Striking up a conversation with a stranger may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the key here is to be open. Be friendly, and smile a lot. If you do this, people will come up to you.
When I was exploring Munich this year in May, I wandered into a Jimmy Choo on Maximillian Strasse, a super high end, Rodeo Drive kind of place. I was just randomly browsing the beautiful shoes, thinking maybe for my wedding I would wear one of these beauties. A friendly sales girl started asking me about what I was looking for, what I liked, etc. We went on to talk about my wedding, and eventually where I’m from. It had turned out that her parents are from Taiwan, and so am I… Next thing you know, we are looking at our schedule to get coffee the next day.
Long story short, we became friends and toured around Munich the next day, and are still in touch today. She is moving to NYC later this year and might even come to California to visit me.
Isn’t this just amazing?
5) Find confidence and a new you
If you find traveling alone scary, well, you’re not alone (haha). Typical thoughts are as such “what am I going to do with myself?” or “How do I know where I’m going to go?” or “What if I get really bored by myself?” or “Wouldn’t it be dangerous?”
These are all legitimate concerns, and it takes intention and preparation ahead of time to deal with them. In this process, you will learn to have faith in yourself, know that you are in control of your destination as long as you are prepared and willing and that even if things go unplanned, you can troubleshoot or go with the flow if need be. There is something that is not just liberating, but inspiring and growth-inducing about this very process. You learn to trust yourself in a way that you haven’t before, and that makes you confident.
Traveling alone, by default, also gives you a lot of time to be with yourself. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the truth is in our busy lives, we rarely spend alone time with ourselves. When we are, we feel the urge to fill it with our computer, phone and apps, and TV. When was the last time you asked yourself the same questions you ask your friends and family, “How have you been?” or “Are you happy with your life?” or “What’s been on your mind lately, is there anything I can do to help?” A lot of these questions lead to discovery about where growth and improvement will come from in life, and are an incredibly critical skill to develop in life.
So, have I convinced you a little bit? Let me know if you want to start planning a trip solo now, or you've done it before, and where did you go!
All Photography By Justin Tsai Photography