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I’m not going to lie. My first ever solo trip was not the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.
So many blogs will tell you that traveling solo is the single best thing you can do. That you’ll have amazing experiences you would never be able to have if you were traveling with companions. That you’ll grow exponentially as a person.
I didn’t experience that.
In fact, there were a lot of realities of solo travel that I just wasn’t alerted to before I experienced them myself.
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled a lot in my life. I visited three continents before I turned 10. But before this spring, I had only ever travelled with companions. There were a few times that I’d been on a plane alone, but I always had someone waiting for me on the other end.
In the spring of 2017, I set out with the sole intention of having the sort of solo adventure that social media fawns over. On the outside, I did everything right: I travelled alone, stayed in hostels, and made spontaneous decisions I wouldn’t have if I was traveling with someone else.
But the entire time, something felt missing. I was exploring beautiful places and experiencing amazing things, but I felt removed and distant from all of that. I felt like an outsider looking in. Like a person in a movie theatre, watching as other people lived their lives. None of it felt real.
Part of what I love about traveling is sharing it with another person. I love having an experience that we will always remember, and I love being able to look back on mistakes we made and laugh. I love annoying other people by constantly bringing up “that one time, in Paris…”
So no, my solo trip wasn’t the most amazing experience I’ve ever had.
I don’t think I’ll never travel solo again — I’d still like to give it at least a few more tries to figure out what everyone is raving about (in fact, I travelled solo for 3 days in Belgium in May). But I’m also not about to drop all of my travel companions in trade of a year long solo trip around the world. I like sharing moments too much.
I don’t want to discourage people from traveling solo. It’s a really great exercise in learning about yourself (for example, I learned that I may not be cut out for solo travel). And for some people it really can turn out to be the most amazing time of their lives. I just don’t want everyone to go into their first solo trip thinking it will be all sunshine and daisies, as so many solo travelers make it out to be.
So here are a few of the tougher things I learned while on my first ever solo trip. Take note, sunshine and daisies solo travel blogs.
1. You will be lonely
Sure, hostels can be a great environment for meeting people. But you don’t have the same sort of connection with people you’ve just meet as with people you’ve known for a long time. Unlike when you’re traveling with someone else, literally every single person that you will want to tell about your day will be back home. I can’t tell you how many times I just wished that I could be back home with my boyfriend, rather than in absolutely beautiful Switzerland, just because I was feeling lonely.
Even if you do make friends in your hostel, chances are that you’ll find yourself doing things alone more often than not. While this can be fun, it can also feel really isolating. You’re going to feel lonely at least once during your time traveling solo. It’s pretty much unavoidable.
2. You might not meet loads of people
While we’re on the subject of hostels, let me be the first one to tell you that not every hostel is a huge party full of people wanting to meet other people. Sometimes, you’ll find big groups who want to stick to themselves. Other times, you might find people who don’t speak your language. And sometimes, people just aren’t interested in making friends.
When I was in Switzerland, I frequently encountered dorm rooms where none of us would speak to each other. Like, at all. I would say hello and people would look at me like I had stepped over some sort of invisible line. Like I was crazy for just trying to be polite. Not the greatest environment for making friends, to say the least.
That’s not to say that I haven’t encountered really great people in hostels. Quite the opposite of that. But making friends while traveling solo isn’t as easy as some people will make it out to be.
3. You probably won’t have a lot of pictures of yourself
Unless you’re super comfortable with rocking the selfie stick, you’re probably not going to end up with that many pictures of yourself. I literally only have two pictures of myself from one and a half weeks of traveling solo in Switzerland.
And let’s be real, pictures of yourself are some of the best parts of traveling. No one wants to see yet another picture of the Eiffel Tower. But a picture of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower? That’s a memory that you’ll treasure forever – and it’s a lot easier to get if you’re traveling with someone else.
4. It’s harder to get caught up in the moment
There’s really something to be said about laughing so much that you’re peeing because you and someone else saw something really funny happen. When you’re traveling alone, you might see something really funny, but you’ll be far less inclined to laugh. And in general, it’s a lot harder to get caught up in the moment when you’re mostly just stuck in your own head – as you will be most of the time while traveling alone.
5. People will look at you weird
Unfortunately, going to restaurants alone isn’t quite socially acceptable yet. Showing up to a walking tour alone doesn’t seem to be super common either. Traveling solo allows you to blend in easier when you’re walking on the street, sure, but people will look at you weird when you show up at a restaurant alone. You kind of just have to get used to that one.
6. You might not always feel safe
Even in Switzerland – an extremely safe country – it took me more than a week to even consider going out after dark. As a woman, I just didn’t feel comfortable walking alone at night. Which meant that I missed out on a lot of really cool experiences, just because I didn’t feel safe.
Even if it’s completely, 100% safe where you are, you might not ever feel totally safe while you’re traveling solo. Simply because you’re traveling alone, and oftentimes walking alone at night simply doesn’t feel safe.
7. Spontaneous decisions don’t always go to plan
One of the most common arguments for why people should travel solo is that they have the power to make spontaneous decisions that they wouldn’t make if they were traveling with a partner. But when I randomly decided to go to Heidelberg, I ended up nearly having a panic attack in my hostel dorm because I had changed my plans. So yeah, sometimes spontaneous decisions aren’t actually all that great.
Also: you can totally make spontaneous decisions while you’re traveling with other people! When my boyfriend and I were in Panama, for example, we decided the night before we were supposed to leave Boquete to stay an extra two nights and completely skip Santa Catalina (that time our spontaneous decision worked out great, no panic attacks). I don’t know why everyone is acting like you can only make spontaneous decisions while traveling alone. That’s just not true.
So there you have it. 7 things I learned on my first ever solo trip.
Hopefully this post has enlightened you, at least a little bit, about what solo travel is actually like. I don’t want to bash solo travel too much, but it’s important to realize that solo travel can be a lot more lonely and difficult than many solo travelers make it out to be. And while solo travel can be great, you shouldn’t go into it thinking that it will be super easy and amazing right off the bat. Like anything that’s worth doing, it’s going to take some work. Hopefully I’m up for the challenge.
Have you ever travelled solo? What did you think? Do you think that solo travel blogs often skim over the bad parts and laud how amazing it is to travel solo? Let’s have a discussion in the comments down below!
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