I recently went to Quebec City and Montreal where I was a chaperone for a school trip. Aside from the students, I was the youngest person there. The other chaperones were older teachers or parent volunteers which resulted in them roaming off together during our free time – leaving me alone. Sounds pretty sad, right? Wrong! Yes, I was alone but you know what? I actually grew from this experience, which is why I think every girl should travel alone at least once in her life.
Traveling alone means you do not have to rely on anyone but yourself.
I imagine many of you are like me and come from a cultural background that views independent traveling as a girl, as a major taboo. Girls are seen as fragile and vulnerable, and bad things happen to women out there in the big, bad, terrible world. In fact, I am sure parents are armed with an arsenal of statistics about attacks on solo women travelers to deter you from considering traveling alone. It’s just a fact of life that girls need someone to be there to protect them, right?
But what if I told you the only person you really need while traveling is yourself? That being able to rely on your wits and smarts is one of the greatest life gifts God could bestow upon you? Being an independent woman is one thing, but being able to be independent and capable while traveling alone is a marvelous feat. Traveling by yourself sets up a whole new dynamic and opens doors for new realizations about yourself that you may have never come across otherwise.
This doesn’t mean that the world isn’t a bad place and that terrible things won’t happen. Part of independent traveling is smart traveling, which means being aware of your surroundings. And that is a life skill worth learning.
Feeling lonely is important because it teaches you about yourself.
During my time in Quebec City, I had five hours to kill all by myself and I immediately reached for my phone to call my mom. I couldn’t stand the idea of actually being alone with just me, myself, and I because it left me in a vulnerable position. I felt exposed and truly alone. And in all honesty, at first, it was such an awkward feeling. I felt like people were judging me for being alone (because obviously they had nothing better to do *sarcasm*) and that made me even more uncomfortable.
…Don’t try to hide from that feeling of loneliness.
I got over it though. I wasn’t going to waste 5 hours moping about nothing in such a beautiful city so I decided to grab the reins and take control. I realized that when I felt vulnerable, my immediate reaction was to call my mom or a loved one, to act as my safety net – which, in theory, makes me more vulnerable. Sometimes you are not going to have access to those supports and when that happens, what are you going to do?
Traveling alone showed me that as much as I thought I was OK with being alone, I really wasn’t. I am confident being alone when the situation is under my control and within my realm of comfort, but that isn’t helping me grow or learn anything. So next time, don’t try to hide from that feeling of loneliness. Embracing it is actually what makes you stronger.
You open yourself up to new experiences.
How many of us have wanted to do something but are unable to because the rest of our group doesn’t want to? Or when you want to do something, you look to your best friend first for their nod of approval? Each time you resort to that action, you prevent yourself from experiencing something new.
Don’t get me wrong, group activities are super fun and rewarding and sometimes you just need your best friend by your side to get through the night. But what happens when you keep relying on others to dictate your experiences for you? I imagine, after a while, you start to miss out on the things you really want to do and a missed opportunity is the worst kind.
Opening yourself up to new experiences also means opening yourself up to others. I fully admit when I am in a new situation with people I do not know, my immediate reaction is to withdraw from the group and be stand-offish. I know how terrible that is. In fact, I am not happy with that reaction but at least I admit to it. When you are reserved from your environment, you miss out on some cool things. For example, when I had lunch in Quebec City, I immediately made the decision that I would just read and scroll through my phone. However, a couple next to me (from Texas) began to strike up a conversation and it turned out to be the best lunch ever. They were the kindest people and enhanced my experience in Quebec City. They even paid for my meal and – get this– one of their friends is neighbors with Lady Gaga. Pretty cool, eh?
Traveling alone forced me to open up more and be friendlier and less reserved. I haven’t fully mastered that skill, but I am getting better.
Facing uncomfortable situations makes you learn to deal with them.
OK let’s be real, if we could wave a magic wand and make all of our problems go away without confronting them, I am pretty sure everyone would choose that option in a heartbeat. Confrontation is awkward and messy, but it is an important life skill to practice.
My trip roommate snored – really badly. Like, so badly that the pounding bass of my music couldn’t drown it out (sorry Yeezus, but even you couldn’t save me!). For three days straight, I ran on 4 hours of sleep. When I told my mom about this the first night, she told me to confront the situation. But how could I? It seemed so awkward. How do you politely tell someone they snore and it’s ruining your sleep? So, of course, I suffered until the last night when I finally reached my breaking point. And do you know what she said?
“Well I wish you told me sooner!” And on the very last night, I got my own room. By then, of course, we were leaving the next day, but the experience taught me to face things head on. Yes, life is going to be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you do not face these things now it only gets worse!
Traveling alone inspires you to be fearless and creative.
Feminism has fought for the right for women to be badass and unchained from the constraints of the world. Do not take that for granted. Traveling alone is such a daunting but liberating experience that will shape the person you become – for the better.
Solo traveling might not be all rainbows and sunshine and, at times, you WILL get lonely, but no one grows from only positive experiences. The challenges you face while traveling alone prepare you for the challenges you will face in life. In the end – the more women that are fearless and creative in the world – the better.
Ultimately, I learned that I wasn’t as comfortable being alone as I thought I was. I learned that I need to be stronger and more self-assured when it comes to dealing with confrontation. I learned that when you open yourself up to different experiences and move away from being reserved and aloof, life hands you wonderful surprises.
I understand that not all women will be able to have the opportunity to travel alone – especially if you may come from a more conservative background. However, I hope this piece inspires you to live as fearlessly and authentically as possible in all areas of your life. You don’t need a plane ticket to change your world – all you need is yourself.