On a freezing winter night at the age of 20 I found myself walking to a hostel in Paris, completely alone. Alone and absolutely terrified. What if I didn't make any friends? What if solo travel wasn't for me and I had to go back home defeated?
Fast-forward three hours and I was drinking wine while watching the Eiffel Tower light show with my four new Australian friends. I was hooked. This first week-long solo trip to Paris was soon followed by a solo 5-month trip around Eastern Europe, and later a 3-month trip around the entirety of Europe.
Let me be clear—female solo travel isn't easy, but it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. The freedom, personal growth, and high moments make all the obstacles more than worth it.
Considering solo travel? Here are the six must-know lessons I've learned as an experienced female solo traveler.
6 Surprising Lessons Learned—Told By An Experienced Solo Female Traveler
1. People will constantly question why you're traveling alone.
It's a sad reality that traveling alone as a female is often considered a radical act. From the second you plan your trip, be prepared to constantly get hit with questions from friends, family members, and even acquaintances: "Don't you have friends who can travel with you? Won't you be lonely? How will you stay safe?" It might come from a good place, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.
What people often don't realize is that solo travel has some huge advantages: being able to plan your travels on your own terms, getting to do what you want when you want, and meeting tons of new people. Luckily, as more and more women join the solo travel trend, people are starting to realize these advantages!
Bottom line: just remember, every woman is absolutely capable of solo travel. No matter how long you travel for, you'll discover strength, instincts, and skills that you never even knew you had, and you'll grow so much for getting out of your comfort zone. Trust me, you'll be hugging yourself for taking the leap!
2. You will barely actually be alone.
I feel like when people back home pictured me solo traveling, they imagined me wistfully sitting at European cafes alone and lonely. That image couldn't be more wrong. My experience solo backpacking was amazingly, and sometimes even exhaustingly, social. Between constantly meeting people at hostels, going on group tours, and going out with friends at night, I was barely alone. It's funny to think back now on how anxious I had been about making friends. If you're worried too, I would highly recommend staying at hostels. Trust me, everyone is in the same boat and all it takes to strike up conversation is just a friendly hello.
Personally, I can be an introvert and I actually found myself needing to plan out time to be alone and reflect. Buses/trains between cities and solo hikes became some of my favorite times for introspection. Just be sure to balance your social time in whatever way is best for you!
3. Your travels will not be Instagram perfect.
Repeat after me: Instagram does not show the whole picture. More-so, Social Media will never determine the worth of your travels. Honestly, most days traveling I was a sweaty mess with my hair in a bun and no makeup on—but I also felt more confident (and bad-ass) than I ever have in my life. Traveling is a great opportunity to let go of image expectations and allow yourself to live fully in the moment. Be sure to take advantage of this freedom.
Bottom line: if taking nice pictures is your thing, absolutely get dressed up and go out for your dream photoshoot! But do NOT be hard on yourself if your day-to-day pictures don't live up to your Instagram feed full of professional travel bloggers.
4. You will experience the most freedom of your life.
Women in particular have spent their whole lives being critiqued for everything from their appearance, behavior, manners, to even their eating habits. One of the most life-changing things about solo travel was the freedom from these judgements. I could wear sweatpants, or my dressiest outfit, at any given moment. I could lay around the hostel all day and sleep at 9 P.M., or I could go out until 4 A.M. every night. It was all completely up to me, with no fear of maintaining any sort of public image or living up to anyone's expectations.
I have truly never felt so liberated. This lack of judgement helped me get to know myself in ways that I found so much more difficult in the constraints of normal life. I honestly don't think I would be the woman I am today without experiencing this freedom to travel on my own terms.
5. Goodbyes don't get any easier.
I promise you will fall in love with countless people you meet and tons of the cities you visit. The connections I formed while solo traveling are unlike any I've ever made. People tend to be at their most open and vulnerable while traveling, which leads to a phenomenon I like to call "instant best friends." Maybe you only meet someone for one or two days, but you manage to share your hopes, dreams, most embarrassing moments, and fears. It might sound cheesy, but it's true! The other reality of solo traveling is that you're constantly on the move, so most of these friendships are short-lived.
These constant goodbyes will become routine, but truly don't get any easier. It can be heartbreaking at times, but at least you'll have plenty of hellos waiting for you at your next stop.
Plus, remember that these goodbyes aren't final—I still message people I met traveling over three years ago! Just be sure to add people you want to stay in touch with on Social Media or WhatsApp.
6. Your return back home will be tough.
No one likes to talk about coming home from traveling, but I'm here to get real about it. It will be tougher than you imagined. Going from a constant stream of new friends, destinations to explore, and exciting activities back to the slower pace of "real life" can result in some serious social withdrawal. Returning from solo traveling can be especially depressing because you don't have anyone around to reminisce with, and it's easy to feel isolated.
What can help? Reach out to friends you made while traveling (this is where social media can really come in handy), tell your family and friends stories, journal about your experiences, and join travelers communities in your area. You can even plan a short trip around your area or "play tourist" in your own town.
Even if the adjustment back is tough, just remember how much you've learned and grown. You'll always have those invaluable experiences and memories. Plus, the window for solo travel is always open!
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