Solo travel is one of the biggest and fastest learning curves you can face in life. No matter how experienced the traveller, you are learning new skills every single day. I've now been travelling for over five years solo across 40+ countries, 5 continents and for over 5 years. Yet still, every day teaches me something new, and that's what I love about it, the constant challenge. Travelling solo for so long, is one of the achievements I am the most proud of in my life. I see every day how I use the skills I learned when I was first starting out, and the huge value it has brought to my life. Far more valuable life skills than I learned while I was at school, that's for sure.
One of my favourite things is getting to share the things I learned through this blog and to help add value to other travellers' lives. Every day I get countless messages asking for advice and solo travel tips. So I wanted to share some of the greatest skills I have learned along the way. 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. As a result, 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 is to trust my instincts. At home we're easily swayed by society, manners and the opinions of others rather than listening to your gut. When travelling solo, your ability to read people and make decisions quickly can be a lifesaver. No more feeling unsafe walking by yourself, or getting ripped off by taxi drivers. 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.
Read: The dangers of 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. Making all your own decisions and focusing on only you really helps you learn what you love. If you take an instant dislike to someone in your hostel, you don't have to spend time with them. 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 skip the museums, that's fine! 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.
Learning true organisation
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. You're organising flights, visas, transport, insurance, accommodation, activities - the list goes 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 make the best decisions for YOU. It's made me much more aware of procrastination so I can stop myself wasting time and get focused. Now I'm productive when I need to be so I can really relax and enjoy when I want to.
Patience & acceptance – for others and for yourself
Travelling solo really made me realise how little control I have over everything around me. You can't control flight delays, overbooked accommodation, or people waking you up in a hostel. I used to let things like this get to me, but I've now realised it really doesn't matter. I'm more patient with people because humans are frustrating and annoying and I can't change that. If you accept that travel will never go as planned and that's half the adventure, you'll be a lot happier. 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 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. When I know I can stay 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 a front-loading bag and it will save you later on when you need something from the bottom. If you're just travelling short term and only have hand-luggage available, you have to use space effectively. While I've learned the best ways to pack a lot into a small space over the last few years. I also have a more realistic view of what I actually need versus what I want to take. I just pack essentials rather than getting swept up in what I might need but never actually use.
Read: How backpacking makes you more creative with your style on a budget
Budgeting and finding a bargain
One of the most valuable things I've learnt from solo travel is the best ways of scoring a bargain. Cutting corners so I can spurge 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.
Read: 8 ways I ALWAYS manage to save money on my trips
How to be a good friend no matter what the distance
Long distance friendships are hard, there's no doubt about it. It's horrible to miss out on big moments in friends' lives and tough when you miss 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 from a distance. You also need to accept that your friends and family can't always drop everything for you. Just like you can't for them, it can be a big adjustment. But you soon learn who your real friends are, and which ones you really want in your life.
Read: Top tips for maintaining relationships at home while travelling
Physical and mental strength
If you're backpacking solo, you'll quickly pick up some strength from 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. 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 – I can be a bit of an introvert! You have to put your own needs first because no-one else will.
Read: How to find balance in your life as you get older
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. You really have to step out of your comfort zone if you want to hang out and make new friends. It's not a big deal to make the first move, to invite someone for a drink or to take photos for other people but it can be super intimidating at first. 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?