“Aren’t you going to be lonely?” “Wouldn’t you prefer doing this with your boyfriend?” “Isn’t it scary?” “Don’t you have anyone to go with you?”
No, not this time, sometimes and sometimes. There, I saved you the time to read this whole article.
Jokes aside, if you’ve ever thought about traveling solo or have ever read anything by a solo traveler, especially a female one, you’ve probably run across one, two or a jarring combination of all these questions. They never stop and they never get less annoying, let me tell you that.
I’d like to share the story of how I started traveling by myself. Keep in mind: It doesn’t start particularly happy.
My first solo trip was in June 2014. I just dropped out of my prestigious art major and felt lost, confused and emotionally tapped out after struggling with my decision and its fallout for months. I knew that I wanted to continue studying in a different field, but I didn’t know where and honestly wasn’t sure I would even get in anywhere, considering I finished my A-levels on a pretty sour note.
I don’t know how I got the idea, but I felt a distinctive tug at my side, a powerful impulse to break up my routine, to get away, even if only for a little bit. Without thinking twice, I booked an Airbnb in Copenhagen, a city I’ve always wanted to visit, as well as an overnight train ticket to go with it. My plan was convoluted at best, insane at worst: I’d took a train to Dusseldorf, 345 kilometers from where I lived. Then, I got on a train to Dortmund, where I got off again and got on the overnight train to Flensburg and then a bus to Copenhagen. All in all, it took 18 hours. In retrospect, flying might have been cheaper and quicker. But you know. Hindsight is 20/20.
The Airbnb I booked was beautiful; a small, rustic flat in trendy Osterbro with a balcony overgrown with plants. Tumblresque, you might call it.
After I arrived, my temporary roommate announced she’d go to visit family and viola – I had the entire flat all to myself. Pretty awesome! I spent my days in Copenhagen reading by the sea, drinking smoothies and walking around the beautiful city. At night, I’d sit on the balcony, drink wine and watch YouTube videos. I felt relaxed, for what seemed like the first time since I’d started university.
I finally felt like I could breathe again. My problems at home seemed a million miles away. Looking at my issue with some distance gave me perspective – was it really so bad that I dropped out? I had been unhappy with my major for a while now; in addition to not really learning anything, more and more of my time was consumed by my two jobs that still only barely kept my head above water. I felt completely isolated from the other students as well as becoming completely estranged from my friends back home. I was doing well in school but feeling like I was wasting my time. What did prestige matter if I didn’t take away anything from my schooling?
For the first time since deciding to drop out, I looked up other options. I decided on my new major then and I can’t say I regretted it.
After that, I planned more and more trips by myself, even if they were “only” city trips. I went to several cities around Germany by myself, repeating what I’d done in Copenhagen: eating, walking around, reading. I kept my earbuds in all day, listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks.
I had two big realizations: One, I don’t need company. I can just do things by myself and enjoy it. And two: Distance gives me the option to think about my life without the pressure of pleasing my family, friends and surroundings. It reigns in my ego when I most need it.
I started taking myself on dates. Going to the cinema on my own, going to restaurants I wanted to try out, visiting museums, art galleries, concerts. I would get weird looks every once in a while, but being kind of an off-beat character, I was accustomed to being looked at. I didn’t mind. I was happy.
I grew to love spending time by myself. I’ve always been kind of an anti-social person, but traveling solo taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being by yourself. That I don’t have to feel lonely or left-out or pitiful just because I don’t have somebody constantly attached to me.
Don’t get me wrong: I love traveling with other people, my boyfriend especially. He’s a wonderful travel companion and there are definitely places I’d prefer to see with him (either because of safety concerns or because it’s something I just want to experience with him). But I don’t feel like I have to wait for him to want to or be able to go traveling with me. That feels and has proven to be incredibly restrictive.
As women, I feel we both tie ourselves and let ourselves be tied to our partners too much.
In my experience, whenever I had a partner, I would always get weird looks or comments any time I’d do something by or for myself. “Doesn’t x mind?” “What does x think about that?” It makes me feel like I’m not allowed to be my own person and at this point in my life, I refuse to think about myself that way.
I’m an individual, no matter my relationship status and I will not wait for somebody to allow me to follow my dreams. I have too much to win by traveling and spending time with myself.
That’s why I travel solo. And that’s why I suggest you try it, too.