My first solo trip was to Mexico City, circa 2016. It was 4 days, 4 nights and by far one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. I bought the tickets somewhat impulsively before telling anyone what I was doing (but after a modest bit of research). Once I started letting friends and family know how I was going to be spending my Spring Break, I got all the looks and expressions of concern. “Are you sure?”, “Why would you go by yourself??”, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?”, “Girl, you mad?” Regardless, I ignored them all. I would just smile, nod and shrug my shoulders saying, “Welp, I already have the ticket!”
Now, I had taken my fair share of group trips – planned conferences and leisure escapes – and while it’s great to have company and people to split costs and make plans with, there’s just a different level of experience that comes when it’s just you, your two feet, two eyes and a whole new world ahead. In this article I’ll share a few of the reasons why I think solo travel is something you need to do at least once in your life (that’s all it takes!) and how it can deeply change you.
I’ll start with the obvious. If you’ve ever planned a group trip, you know how stressful that can quickly become. From the very start, you have to get everyone to agree on the location, coordinate multiple schedules, make sure everyone is on the same page with bookings, payments and all that jazz. The more people, the more struggle. Not to mention if you’re traveling with others who may not be planners, but always want to know what’s happening – you now have to do all the research yourself and report out to the team for approval. It can be a stressful situation.
On a solo trip, there’s no need to worry about any of that! You can plan as much, or as little as you like and there’s absolutely no one who needs to sign off on any of your decisions, but you. Which leads me into my next point.
The Joys of Serendipity
Sweet, sweet, serendipity! When there’s no one to report to and no plan you have to stick to, that opens you up to discovering so many new things by chance. You’re more likely to stumble across an experience you didn’t know about or couldn’t possibly have planned for.
In Mexico, I came across an epic rap battle in the streets (didn’t understand every word, but the reactions to a cold line are universal). I got to tour the auditorium of the Palacio de Bellas Artes and, while there, found out about an international ballet performance happening that night. Best. Performance. I’ve ever. Experienced. Hands down. And I probably wouldn’t have seen it if I was traveling with a group, either because something else was already planned, or not everyone would have been that into it.
I strolled the streets of downtown Mexico City one morning, grabbing a chai latte and musing at the gorgeous murals on the walls, window shopping, walking into towering cathedrals and interesting book stores, people-watching and just absorbing the vibe of Mexico through every sense.
You Notice More
Speaking of absorbing – solo travel is definitely an eyes-wide-open experience. You have to let go of preconceptions and allow yourself to be consumed by the environment. When you’re not busy chatting with people around you or following schedules and looking for pre-planned directions, you can truly take in everything you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Have you ever people-watched all by yourself? Humans are super interesting, sometimes even more so in a different language.
Meet and Connect with New People
If you’ve ever been to a club or outing with lots of people in their own cliques, you know how difficult it can be to engage with others when you’re in a group. Everyone’s already got their own thing going on.
When you travel alone, it makes it less intimidating for others to approach you (or vice versa) and start up casual conversation while standing in line, looking at the same piece of art, or simply walking through the same group space at your hostel.
I’ll never forget the people I met on my Mexico trip and the fun we got into while there. Some, I’m still in touch with today and for others (sometimes with an even more profound connection) we just shared a moment in time that will forever change the way I view certain parts of life. You just never know.
You Can Learn New Languages
When you really open yourself up and immerse yourself into a setting, it’s not that difficult to pick up on the important body language and other contexts that help you learn foreign languages. I’ll admit – I had a decent history with Spanish before getting on the plane to Mexico, but I was absolute basic conversational at best and tragically rusty at worst.
I made myself some flashcards before leaving that could help me in important situations (where’s the bathroom?, How do I get to…?, I’m staying at…, How much does it cost?) and kept those with me at all times. On the first night of my arrival I avoided getting dropped off at the wrong location, blocks away from my hostel, after midnight in the middle of the city by explaining to my taxi driver that we were in the wrong place and clarifying the correct address for him.
Even though I was only there for four days, by the end of it I found it easier to interact with people and respond in cohesive (if not fluent) sentences without having to do full translations in my head first. I can only imagine what living there for a few months would have done for me, but that’s a conversation for a different article!
You Understand Yourself Better
You know that introspective question – ‘who are you when no one is watching?’ You get so much closer to answering it on a solo trip. You can take a step back and say hey, what do I actually want to do? What interests me and helps me connect to a new place? Like I said before, once you’re stripped of all the expectations and pressures of conforming to what others want, you gain the clarity of allowing yourself to gravitate to what you naturally enjoy.
Heck, if you decided to spend an entire night sitting at the edge of an ocean contemplating life, who would stop you??
I came back from that first solo trip reinvigorated at a time when I desperately needed a break, and it left me feening for the next one. You can be sure I did that again a couple years later, next time to Seattle for a weekend.
Even when I’ve traveled in groups for conferences, group trips or visiting friends, I almost always spend some time roaming the streets by myself, walking into unknown cafes or parks and truly observing the city and its people. You’ll be surprised what you can find – both within and without – when you just let yourself go a little.