After traveling nonstop for over eight years, I prefer traveling solo, an idea that frightens many people. When the economy tanked in 2008, I quit my jobs and spent a year globetrotting. (Recessions aren’t good for freelance photographers.) It was my first long-term solo adventure—eight countries in 13 months. I booked the flight and never looked back.
If you have never tried it, here are ten reasons why you should travel solo:
1. Expand your comfort zone
The only way to overcome fear is to do the things you fear. Almost everything I do scares me. I hate heights, so I went bungee jumping in New Zealand. I find the idea of being alone in a foreign city where I don’t speak the language to be exhilarating. The courage and confidence gained from traveling alone can transform every aspect of your life, including your career.
2. Be master of your own schedule
Traveling solo is the ultimate freedom. Eat pancakes for breakfast everyday. Get up at sunrise to go hiking, or spend your afternoons reading in a hammock. No dragging your night-owl friends out of bed to catch an early flight. And, most importantly, no fighting over what to eat for dinner! You do what you want when you want. No waiting. No silly fights. No questions.
3. Learn about yourself
I consider travel to be an education—an in-depth look at world history and yourself. I had a master’s degree by age 25 and lived on four continents by the time I was 27. There is a clarity that comes from being 5,000 miles away from everything familiar and all of the things that influence your decisions. It cleared my head of society’s expectations and allowed me to simplify my goals and priorities to build the life I wanted, which involved traveling for a living.
4. Make new friends
The easiest way to meet people is to travel alone. It forces you to be more outgoing than normal, and it makes you more approachable. Conversations with strangers are easier and more natural because they revolve around simple questions like “Where are you going?” and “Where are you from?” Plus, other travelers are the best resource for recommendations on food, transport, and accommodation.
I met the majority of my closest friends while traveling. Each one started as a chance meeting in an unlikely place—a pub in chilly Northern England, the humid streets of Luang Prabang. I couldn’t imagine my life without these people.
5. It's easier to plan
The stress of planning is significantly reduced when you only have to plan for one. It’s easier to find a single spare seat on a last-minute flight or a sold-out bus. Plus, you don’t have to coordinate multiple work and vacation schedules. I usually leave my options open by booking a one-way flight.
6. Save money
It’s easier to stay within your budget when you are traveling solo. Everyone has different comfort levels, which can lead to drastic price differences for accommodation, food, and transport. I usually prefer to walk or take public transport, both for the experience and to save money. I’ve traveled with friends who insist on taking taxis everywhere because they can’t take the crowds and heat.
7. No regrets
The best way to live the life you daydream about is to travel alone. If I want to do something, I find a way to make it happen. Sometimes it can take weeks, months, or years. I refuse to spend my life waiting on other people. If friends can join me for an adventure, then great. If not, then I go alone. When I’m 80 years old, I will never say, “Man, I regret that year I spent living in Australia and those two months I spent hiking in Patagonia.
I was THAT girl. The one dragging two suitcases twice her size through the airport. Thankfully, that girl has learned to carry on her luggage. Nothing teaches you about minimalism better than a long-term solo trip. When you are alone, there’s no one to watch your luggage while you run to the bathroom or grab a coffee. An overload of luggage makes any traveler an easy target for thieves and unwanted attention. Plus, giant bags will kill your back, energy level, and mood.
9. Singing in the car
The best part of road trips is singing horribly loud to your favorite ‘90s mix with no one to judge you or roll their eyes. Nothing makes the miles pass as quickly as singing and dancing in the car!
10. Inspire others
My courage to travel solo across five continents has inspired my friends to take advantage of gaps of time to join me for a small part of a trip or to take their own journey. I am the excuse people use to travel and face their fears. Be the inspiration for your friends to take that trip to Cuba or hike Kilimanjaro!
© 2016 AFAR Media