Do you ever wonder about the advantages of traveling alone? Do you worry that it's weird to travel alone? Read on to learn how solo travel changes you—in a good way!

My family didn't travel much when I was a kid. We didn't go camping or go on long road trips or have family reunions on the other side of the country. So I didn't really get into traveling until I went to university and studied abroad in Granada, Spain during my fourth year.

It was a bit of a shock: I'd never been outside the United States before, and I'd barely ever been outside of California. And suddenly I was in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language—and I had just a few days to find a place to live before classes started. Thankfully, I found somewhere to live, and I settled in, and by December I was ready to go on some adventures.

I started out by traveling with my housemates, where I learned the advantages and disadvantages of traveling with other people. Later on in the year, I traveled up to Madrid on my own for a short trip, and I got hooked on solo travel. When the school year ended in June, I went off on my first bigger solo adventure to Italy, where I visited all the usual places: Rome, Florence, and Venice. The advantages of traveling alone were clear to me, and this set a precedent for future travels.

Advantages of traveling alone

When you're traveling alone, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.

That's it, in a nutshell. You plan your trip, you choose your itinerary, you wake up and go to bed when you want. You can have a super busy day that's packed with excited places, or you can have a more leisurely time where you spend all day in a single museum, with a break for lunch.

The biggest advantage of solo travel is that you can create the experience that you want to have. You don't have to negotiate the details. In the same way that shared travel can be a lesson in compromise, solo travel can be a lesson in self-knowledge.

Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You

How solo travel changes you

When you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn what's important to you: you can do what you want to do, not what the guidebooks or tour guides tell you to do. You learn what your priorities are: the most important things to take with you and leave behind. Solo travel is a lesson in self-knowledge.

I firmly believe that the better we know ourselves, the better we're able to make decisions for ourselves. If we know our preferences in life, we'll be able to create the life we want for ourselves, rather than letting life happen to us. Making conscious decisions about what we want to experience is the key to living a joy-filled life.

With that in mind, here are some ways that solo travel has changed my life and helped me to live a better life. I hope this gives you an idea of the life-changing advantages of traveling alone. More importantly, I hope it inspires you to start planning your first—or next—solo travel adventure.

Enjoy your own company

I'm an only child, and there weren't a lot of kids in my neighborhood when I was growing up, so I learned to play on my own. I loved reading, and that was a great solo activity as a kid. But it wasn't until years later that I learned to really enjoy my own company.

This is one of the most important advantages of traveling alone. You are always with yourself. If you enjoy your own company, then you'll be okay with being alone. You'll have more time and space to reflect on things and recharge your batteries (especially if you're an introvert).

When you enjoy your own company, it gives you more options in life: you won't always be waiting for other people to be available to do something. You'll go out and do it on your own—or you'll be happy home alone doing something you enjoy.

It's okay to be alone

I used to feel so insecure when I first started solo travel. What would people think? Did I look like a sad, lonely girl who didn't have friends to go traveling with?

Eventually, I learned not to care. I learned that it was okay to be on my own. I brought my guidebook to dinner, to keep myself entertained as I waited for my meal. I also learned that it was okay to have a drink with my meal (I used to worry about what people would think of me having a drink on my own). I learned that most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, they don't care what anyone else is doing. And if someone criticizes me for traveling on my own, that says more about them than it does about me.

Now, I don't mind going out on my own even in my day-to-day life. I'll happily go to a museum on my own, or to a botanical garden, or to the movies. I truly believe that my solo travel adventures were what made it so natural for me to spend so much time outdoors on my own. This is a huge game-changer for me: I love walking, hiking, and camping—and I'm not afraid to do it alone. It gives me a great sense of freedom.

Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You

Independence

I'm one of those people who likes to look at all the things when I go to a museum, whether it's an art gallery or a natural history museum, or something else. I like to read all the information boards and the signs and stare at every exhibit. When I visit a museum with another person, I really struggle with this: I don't want to lag behind and spend more time looking at things than the other person, but I don't want to rush through everything.

One of the advantages of traveling alone is that I can spend as long or as little as I want. I don't have to manage other people's expectations. I don't have to depend on others to do things with. The same goes for outdoor adventures: I can hike at my pace. I don't have to worry about pushing myself to keep up with others or about slowing down because I'm walking too fast.

Solo travel has given me the practice I needed to become more independent. And it did this straight off! I remember people observing that I was a really independent person as soon as I got back from my study abroad year. Being independent brings me a lot of happiness: I'm happy to do things on my own and not rely on others.

Face fears

I'm not going to say that I've never been afraid when camping alone. There have been times when I've been alone in my tent at a remote campsite and I've heard all kinds of strange noises outside my tent—I've heard voices and seen flashlights moving around where I didn't think there should be people.

I recently heard someone say that “You don't hear what you're not listening for” and that's true. If you've got your ears straining to hear footsteps around your tent or voices next to your campsite, then you might very well hear things that appear to be people even when they're not. By all means: stay alert and stay safe, but don't be paranoid.

One of the advantages of traveling alone has been that I've faced my fears of being alone in new places. And I've found that when I face my fears in one area of my life, it stretches my comfort zone in all areas of my life. It makes it easier for me to face fears in other areas.

Confidence

In the same way that traveling alone stretches my comfort zone in other areas of my life, it also boots my confidence. This allows me to make bolder decisions and have the courage to do things that I would have been too scared to do years ago. Traveling solo gave me confidence in life: confidence to plan all the little details of a trip, confidence to walk around a new city on my own, even confidence to move to a new country on my own. When I moved to Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, and England, I had never been there before. I just packed up and moved there. My previous solo travel adventures gave me the confidence to do this.

I used to be painfully shy and quiet. I was the kid who never raised her hand in class, despite knowing the answers. I didn't have the confidence to take the risk, answer the question, and be wrong.

Now, I'm not afraid to speak up—be it here on the blog, in my books, or on the podcast. People often praise my openness with which I share personal stories in my writing and on the podcast. I feel comfortable opening up and being vulnerable when I tell personal stories because I'm a lot more confident in life in general. I know that other people will benefit from hearing about my experiences, so I share the full story, fears and all.

Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You

Experiences are important

I absolutely loved my year abroad in Spain, and I was gutted when it was time to return. As soon as I got home, I started researching new ways of getting out of the country so I could have other international adventures. I taught English in Costa Rica between undergrad and grad school, and I studied abroad in Guadalajara, Mexico for the second year of my graduate studies.

I think this is one of the biggest things I learned from solo travel, and I learned it early on: I want to spend my money on new experiences, not new stuff. Yes, I like stuff. But the stuff I buy tends to be things that will help me to have the experiences I want to have: camping gear, good hiking boots, a well-fitting backpack.

Because I've learned the value of fun and joyful experiences, this has helped me to create better experiences for myself in other areas of my life: work, learning, and creative ventures.

Personal responsibility

When I was living in Costa Rica, I went to an internet cafe (this was in the mid-nineties) to send some emails shortly after changing money. I had more cash than usual on me, and someone stole from me while I was focused on my emails. I left my wallet in a place they could get to it, rather than hiding it away. Lesson learned.

When you're traveling alone, you and only you are responsible for your experience. You're also the only one responsible for your stuff: the things you take with you mentally, emotionally, and physically. You've got to look after yourself and your things.

This carries through to everyday life: we are responsible for the life that we live. Yes, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. But there's a lot that we do have control over, and we are responsible for creating the experiences that we want to have in life.

Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You

Live with less

When I go on one of my walking adventures, I carry everything I need in a 36-liter Osprey Kyte backpack. I don't have a bigger bag that I send via transport, as some walkers do. I love the idea of walking a hundred miles with everything I need on my back. When you're traveling alone, you can't share things with your traveling buddies, like toiletries. You need to carry everything yourself—which means you need to be mindful about what you pack.

I certainly wouldn't consider myself to be a minimalist, but people have been very surprised over the years at how I am able to pack light, not just for walking adventures, but for travel in general. Still, there's a lot I can learn. I'm really enjoying Queenie Mak's minimalist travel blog posts, particularly these two:

How to Create a Minimalist Travel Wardrobe for Every Trip

Pack Like a Minimalist: My Minimalist Toiletries for Every Trip

These blog posts have practical advice that can help you not just with packing for casual travel, but with outdoor adventures. Plus, her minimalist packing strategies are much superior to my own! Take a look at the links to her favorite traveling backpacks in those articles.

This carries through to my everyday life, where I live in a very small two-bedroom house where my husband and I both work from home. Again, I'm hardly a minimalist, and we definitely have too much stuff, but I've managed to keep things down quite a bit in thanks to my solo travel: it's easy for me to see what I need and what I don't, and I do regular decluttering to get rid of the stuff that I don't need.

Don't have the money?

Are you inspired by solo travel, but you just don't have the cash? I was super inspired by one couple's journey: they saved $60,000 USD and quit their jobs to travel! Not only that, but they built a business on the side that allowed them to become digital nomads.

Now, I know this isn't the lifestyle for everyone (it's certainly not for me), but you can learn so much from their blog post on how to save money for travel. They give many, many examples of things you can do to save—and they share the struggles and temptations along the way. Learn more in their blog post: How We Saved Enough Money to Quit our Jobs and Travel.

How about you?

What have you found to be the advantages of traveling alone? How has solo travel changed you?

If you've never traveled on your own, what's stopping you? I'd like to encourage you to plan at least one solo adventure: no matter how big or small. It could be a day trip to a nearby city or a visit to a botanical garden—or something bigger.

If you're looking for specific ideas on countries and places that are considered safe for solo travelers, check out this blog post on The 20 best solo travel destinations. Emma, the author, is an experienced solo traveler who has been all over the world. In this post, she shares the best places for solo travel on every continent. Most of these are places I've never been, so I found it really useful to see what places she considers to be safe for solo women travelers. the author, is an experienced solo traveler who has been all over the world. In this post, she shares the best places for solo travel on every continent. Most of these are places I've never been, so I found it really useful to see what places she considers to be safe for solo women travelers.

Or, if you're UK-based and want to travel closer to home, check out 33 of the Best Places to Visit in the South of England. I haven't visited all of the places on this list, but a lot of my favorites are on there: Avebury, the South Downs, the Seven Sisters, Stonehenge, the Cotswolds. If I had to pick my top 3 new places to explore from that list, I think I'd pick the New Forest, Dartmoor, and Cheddar.

Finally, if you want to get inspired through television, watch these Top 50 Best Travel Shows to Binge Before Your Next Trip. My top three favorites from the list are Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (one of the greatest shows in the history of television), Downton Abbey (yes, it can be inspiration for your travel—I actually went to Highclere Castle for my birthday this year), and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (learn all about mastering the elements of good cooking around the world). 

So—where will you be going next? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Related reading

Read about my two adventures along England's most popular National Trail in this second edition of my book Alone on the South Downs Way. This book contains all the blisters, sweat, and tears from my first life-changing journey—and all the joy, presence, and magic of the second one.

More than just a walking travelogue or memoirs of a walking holiday, this book contains my reflections on walking the trail, including lessons learned and practical information to help you plan your hiking adventure. It includes a suggested packing list, gear recommendations, and other useful tips, such as when to walk the trail, where to stay, and how much you'll need to budget.

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Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You
Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You
Advantages of Traveling Alone: How Solo Travel Changes You

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