Since returning home from a two-month sojourn in Southeast Asia, I’ve had many people ask me what it’s like to travel alone, especially while female. The truth is, most of the time it felt extremely normal. I met tons of other solo travelers along the way, and often had to actively pursue alone time. But as with anything in life, there are ups and downs. Here are four things I learned about traveling alone.
It’s more common than you think.
I never really questioned my decision to travel alone. Other people did. But it was always something I felt I needed to do at least once in my life. Having traveled a lot with my family growing up, I’ve become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I moved to a foreign country when I was 14, where I didn’t know the language or anyone there—and I loved every single minute of it. The exhilaration of being completely out of my element and learning to thrive is a feeling that I will chase for the rest of my life.
Despite being a first-time solo backpacker, I felt fairly confident in my ability to navigate another country independently. But upon landing in Bangkok, I learned that I didn’t necessarily have to. There are plenty of other solo travelers doing the exact same thing, and I learned to rely on them not only as resources but as friends. One phrase that consistently came up at hostels was, “You’re never truly alone.”
It’s okay to feel afraid.
That being said, I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t completely terrified boarding that 16-hour EVA Air flight. As confident and excited as I was, I also had the sneaking suspicion that I had no idea what the hell I was doing.
With months of preparation, from telling friends and family to quitting my job and moving back in with my parents, this was the moment that it had all led up to. After countless people telling me how brave I am or asking me how excited I am, no one ever brought up the possibility that I could be scared shitless. Fear is a feeling that I’ve become quite familiar with throughout this process, but I’ve also learned how to tell it to take a seat.
Loneliness is your friend.
Aside from fear, loneliness is another feeling I had to come to terms with; I’ll even go so far as to call it my companion on this trip. Loneliness creeps up on you. It shows up after you meet a new group of people at the hostel, only to realize that you have little in common. It shows up when you see a honeymooning couple canoodling on the beach, while you frolic and take solo selfies. It shows up when your temporary travel buddies have to fly home. It shows up when you have your 10th meal alone and resort to watching Netflix on your phone.
And that’s okay. Traveling alone is about feeling all the things, both good and bad, and learning to own those things as part of the experience. For every time that I felt lonely, there was another time that I felt equally empowered.
It’s fucking empowering.
Traveling alone is the ultimate form of freedom. It means doing whatever you want, whenever you want. I’ve learned that unless I have a compatible travel partner that I value spending time with more than with myself, I will almost always choose to travel alone.
Want to wake up early to go on that tour? Do it. Want to ditch that tour because you’re too hungover? Do it. Want to wander around a city until you get lost and your feet hurt? Do it. Going at it alone means that you are in complete control of your own adventure (or non-adventure).
Everyone gets caught up in their day-to-day, whether you’re at a desk job or exploring a foreign country. But every so often, I would get this feeling like, I did this. Every decision I made led me to this place, and it was my decision and no one else’s. I got that feeling while hiking to a hidden temple in Chiang Mai, while looking at the dark shores of Halong Bay as they lit up with bioluminescent plankton, and after getting a tattoo in Taipei without telling a soul. After months of planning, dollars spent, and moments of uncertainty, that feeling made it all worth it.