Travel is one heck of a learning curve. Whether it’s your first trip, or your 100th, we’re all still learning with every step that we take. I’ve been travelling since I was born, and I’ve been travelling solo for over three years. Even when I think I’m finally getting the hang of it, then life throws me a curveball in the form of my new boyfriend, and now I’m learning all over again how to travel, this time with a buddy. But no matter how long we travel together or where we go, I can see all the amazing skills I’ve learnt through my years of travelling solo coming into play. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I have spent so long travelling on my own – it’s definitely one of my biggest life achievements and I know it’s something I will look back on when I’m old and grey, and I’ll smile. I’ve learnt more in the three-and-a-half years of travelling solo than I did in 18 years of full time education and the best thing is that now from starting this blog, I have the opportunity to share what I have learnt over the years with all those first-time travellers.
The last few weeks, I’ve had so many messages/emails asking my advice for trips and solo traveller tips, and it genuinely amazes me that I have become a person people can go to for help. I think it’s one of the things I value most about the experience and I can tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feeling when you get a thank you message from someone crediting you with making their trip incredible with your tips. Travel is one of the most valuable things I have ever done, and if I can make even one person excited to do the same, or to find their own way of incorporating travel into their life, then this blog has already achieved more than I ever could have dreamed. But why is solo travel so great? There’s something about going it alone that really challenges you in a way you won’t have experienced before and because of that, you end up picking up skills you’ll value for life.
10 invaluable life skills solo travel teaches you:
Reading People & Trusting Your Gut
The most valuable lesson I have learnt since travelling – to actually trust and listen to my gut. It’s easy when you’re at home to be swayed by society/politeness and other people’s opinions rather than actually listening to your instincts. Being truly by yourself means your ability to read people and to use your gut to make decisions about people can save you from some nasty situations. By recognising these before they become a problem, you take care of your own personal safety without relying on anyone else, if that’s not a skill, I don’t know what is. Check out this post on travelling solo as a woman.
To Value Yourself
Travelling solo means it’s all about you, you choose the activities, the food, the schedule, the people you hang out with. Having to make all your own decisions without taking anyone else into account really makes you learn what you love and value what you like. If you take an instant dislike to someone in your hostel, you don’t have to spend time with them. If you want to sleep until noon in your lovely hotel, you can and no-one will complain. If you want to just go to the most instagrammable locations and can’t be bothered wit museums, no-one can force you to do otherwise. Realising yours is the only opinion that matters really helps you to value your preferences and your own time. No matter how long the trip, applying this in your daily life becomes a lot easier after a solo trip.
I am the queen of organisation but travelling solo really taught me a level of organisation like no other. It’s exhausting and it’s hard work when you’re the only one who can take responsibility for organising flights, visas, transport, insurance, accommodation, activities – I could go on. Taking control of all this really gives you a sense of ownership of your trip – you organise the way YOU want to travel and YOU make the best decisions for you. It’s really made me wise up to procrastination and I’ve managed to save so much of what was previously wasted time. Now I’m productive when I need to be so that I can make the most of time when I want to relax and enjoy myself.
Patience & Acceptance
Travelling solo really made me realise how little control I have over everything around me. You can’t control flight delays or overbooked accommodation, you can’t stop loud dickheads waking you up in a hostel and you can’t stop the person from stealing your milk from the fridge. But does it even matter? I used to let things like this get to me, but I’ve now just realised it really doesn’t matter. I’m more patient with people because let’s face it, they are the way they are. Humans are frustrating and annoying, but we love them so just accept the way they are. Likewise with patience, if you just accept that travel will never go as planned but that’s half the adventure, you’ll be a heck of a lot happier than you were before. All of this just helps you to turn patience and acceptance inwards, the more forgiving you are of others, the kinder you become to yourself.
I’ve written before about how travelling solo gives you confidence – but I’ll never get tired of saying it. I’m never more body confident than when I live every single day in a bikini and stop caring what people think. I’m never more confident and self-assured than when I know what I’m capable of in organising an amazing trip, being strong and calm in the face of a crisis. Basically I’m never more confident than when I’m using all of the skills in this list.
The Art of Packing
If you’re travelling long term you’ll quickly learn the value of packing smart – you can cram so much more into your bag and it will save you later on when you desperately need something from the bottom. Likewise, if you’re just travelling short term and only have hand-luggage available, you have to be clever at using space effectively. I’ve become the queen of packing over the years and I think more than anything, I have a realistic view of what I actually NEED versus what I WANT to take, I just pack essentials rather than getting swept up in what a MIGHT need but never actually use.
Budgeting and Finding a Serious Bargain
One of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from solo travel is the tips and tricks of the trade – all those ways of scoring an epic bargain for a trip, of cutting corners so I can splurge and treat myself when I want to. Instead of dreaming of private jets and luxury villas, I make them a reality by being a smart traveller and finding ways around huge bills. This mindset translates to every part of my life and means I know how to live, and save, on any budget.
How to Be a Bloody Good Friend
Long distance friendships are hard, there’s no doubt about it – it’s horrible to miss out on big moments in friends’ lives and upsetting when you can’t always share your news with the people who mean the most to you. But travel and distance are also the best test for friendships. You really have to make the effort and to put the time into making each other feel loved and cherished from a distance, and you also need to accept that your besties can’t always drop everything for you, just like you can’t for them. It’s an adjustment, but you soon learn who your real friends are, and which ones you really want in your life.
If you’re backpacking solo, you’ll quickly pick up some strength from being the one carrying your bags everywhere. Living that outdoor life, you’ll be fit in a way you’ve never needed to be before. Backpacking is a physical challenge, but I’m also talking about inner strength – being able to mentally pick yourself up after a bad day, picking up all the slack and coping when you feel lonely.
How to look after yourself
I always thought I was really good at taking care of me, until I went travelling and realised I have a habit of letting myself reach exhaustion point before making any changes. I would always try to see everything and do everything, even if it meant I had no time to just sleep. Travelling solo long-term helped me to recognise when I’m exhausted, or when I need to eat and I’m getting grouchy, or when I just need to get away from people for a bit. You have to put your own needs first because no-one else will.
Finding a friend wherever you go
Travelling solo, whether for the weekend or for a year, means being alone. That’s great if you love your own company, but sometimes we just crave people and you really have to step out of your comfort zone if you want to hang out. You soon realise it’s not a big deal to make the first move, to invite someone for a drink or to take photos for other people. You may have spent your life being warned that the world is a place to be feared or treated with caution, but travelling solo reverses all of that – it teaches you that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.
What has travelling solo taught you? Have you ever been on a solo trip – where did you go? What do you prefer – solo travel or group travel?