travel

The Truth About Solo Travel

‘’Not all those who wander are lost.’’ J.R.R. Tolkien

 

So, you've been longing to go on a trip for a while now - to take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, go skinny-dipping in the warm Caribbean blue sea, or climb to the top of Machu Picchu and feed a baby llama.  But unfortunately, you have no one to accompany you, and it’s the only thing that is stopping you from going on your worldly adventure.  Your friends can’t afford it.  Your significant other can’t get the time off work.  Or simply put, you don’t know anyone who can commit to a two week, one month, or let alone to a one year backpacking trip through South America. The thought of going alone is out of the question for you – it seems lonely, intimidating, and risky. 

Agreed. Venturing off all on your own, into an unfamiliar place, halfway across the globe, to somewhere where the locals don’t speak your language, could seem scary at first. However, with preparation and some guts, I can guarantee you that there are perks to traveling solo. Big ones!

 

1.     You have more freedom and independence.

If you are an adventure type traveler like me, you will probably have a list full of things you wish to do, see, and eat. Or maybe you are the opposite, and look forward to just relaxing on the beach while drinking margaritas all day, up until the day you have to return home. When you travel solo, you have complete freedom to explore the new city or country you’re in – however you’d like, and according to your own interests. Others that you're traveling with may, or may not, be looking to have the same experiences as you. For example, you know that if you and your boyfriend went on this trip together, you’d probably be guilt-tripped into paragliding, and you’d much would rather do yoga on the beach. Or maybe all your friend wants to do is party, but you really want to take some epic natures hikes. This type of freedom comes down to even the small stuff. Are you looking forward to waking up at 5am to catch the sunrise or sleeping in until noon? Would you rather peruse the street food carts for dinner than dining at a fancy restaurant? Not that you can’t have great experiences when you are traveling with others, but solo travel is definitely something to think about, especially when planning for long term travel.

 
 

2.     Your itinerary is completely up to you.

The only person you have to consider when planning a solo-itinerary is you. When I backpacked from Colombia up to Mexico last year, I began the journey with two girlfriends. The plan was to end our trip together in Mexico, and then from there fly to our hometowns back in the States, just in time to have Christmas dinner with our families.  Well, a few days before we crossed the border, the girls decided they wanted to check out Guatemala as well, which meant cutting our time in Costa Rica down to just two days. I’d heard so many amazing things about the land of the Ticos that I knew a couple of days was definitely not going to be enough. I had big plans to hang out with the sloths and monkeys. So I decided to stay, and the next day my friends got on a bus to Guatemala City. Following their departure, my original plan was to spend two days in Puerto Viejo, a cozy beach town that sits just above the Costa Rican/Panamanian border. However, the Pura Vida vibes kicked in, and I ended up staying a week! Solo travel allowed me to do all of this and more. 

 
 
 
 

3.     You gain more personal growth.

Solo travel forces you to put yourself out there. I can honestly say that traveling without a companion has definitely helped me gain more self-confidence.  If you are traveling alone, you really only have “you, yourself, and I” to depend on, from deciding which Airbnb to stay at, or asking for directions and ordering food. People travel for many different reasons. One reason being to take a break from their everyday routine, and to take some time to reflect. If that is your goal, traveling solo is one of the best ways to achieve this. By being on the road alone, you have so much undistracted time to explore you and your surroundings, without being rushed or waiting around for someone else.  This also helps you to learn a foreign language faster if that is your goal. After every solo trip I take to a Latin country, I swear my Spanish improves each and every time.  When I traveled to Cuba with a friend who was fluent in Spanish, as much as it was convenient to have her there translating for me, I hardly got to practice at all. Think about Julia Roberts’ character in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love”, do you think her experience of self-discovery would have been the same had she been traveling with someone else? My guess is probably not.

 
 
 
 

4.     You make more friends.

Okay so I know this article is about traveling solo, but unless you’re going to Easter Island or some other super remote destination, you will be engaging with other people at some point, whether it’s other travelers or locals. You are bound to make friends either on a group tour, at a hostel, or asking for information. The same concept applies if you are hanging out at a cafe or bar alone, people will be much more inclined to approach you rather than if you are in a group. In turn, you will be much more open to approaching others as well. One of the biggest perks for me when traveling solo is meeting other people, especially other solo female travelers like myself, from all around the world.  It is awesome to learn about where they come from, and very inspiring to hear their stories. I have made several long-lasting friendships with people from many different places, and can delightfully say that I now have a place to crash in every continent (still working on Antarctica). Had I been traveling with a group, I may not have met some of these adventurers that I can now call my friends. So, the truth is – when you are traveling solo, you are never, ever, really alone.

 
 
 
 
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Travel 101: How to Choose and Book Your Destination

I didn’t always have a desire to travel. When I was younger trying to get by in college with little money, I didn’t understand the reason or meaning of travel when friends talked about it. Five years ago my dad took me to Taiwan, my parents’ native country, I fell in love with the culture and lifestyle there. I loved tasting various foods in each city, observing people’s interactions and listening to conversations. Now that I'm older with a steady job and have traveled to several countries ranging in Asia, South America and Europe, I have certainly caught the wanderlust bug and want to share with you some tips on how to choose your next destination!

1.     Determine Your Budget

Now that you have made the decision to travel, check your finances and figure out how much you can afford for your trip. This will help you determine where to go and for how long.

2.     Choose a destination

When it comes to thinking about where you want to go, how do you get started? For me, I love being outdoors in nature and indulging in food, so the first thing I do is narrow down my research to the places I want to see and food I want to eat. Think about what you’re interested in – is it nature, multi-day treks, the city, the best restaurants in the world, learning about a specific history or a desire to eat a country’s food? I had a friend in college who wanted to study abroad years ago. She spun a globe with her eyes closed and decided that wherever her finger landed, she was going. She did it, Barbados for six months! If you are as adventurous and spontaneous as she is, go for it and spin that globe!

3.     Decide how long you will stay

For some people, choosing and committing to dates is the hardest part of planning travel. I would recommend making it a priority to figure out exactly how many vacation days you are able to take and from there, narrow down the top three to five countries and/or cities that you would like to see.

4.     How many places would you like to visit?

Based on your budget and the length of time you plan to getaway, you can plan how many places you would like to see. Some people enjoy being on the go and seeing multiple countries in one trip. After trying both, I realized I personally enjoy getting to know one country, the languages and dialects, trying foods in different regions, and seeing what each city has to offer. One of my favorite trips to date has been Peru. I spent 18 days there and was able to see its extremely diverse geography, from the capital city by the coast and the mountains of Cuzco to the Amazon rainforest and desert sand dunes in Ica.

5.     Purchasing your flights, hotels and packages

I suggest booking flights and hotels three to six months out. Consider travel deals or packages to save money and time, or if you are willing to put in the time to research, you can book everything separately and still be able to save some money. Websites such as Kayak.com, Expedia.com and Travelocity.com offer bigger discounts to those who bundle their travel arrangements into one package; however, the downside to it is that you do not always get to choose the airline, the hotel, what time you fly out, or how long your layover is. I personally enjoy researching the cities and countries I plan to visit. It gives me an opportunity to be in complete control of which airlines I want to fly with at specific times and how long my layover will be – whether it is a few hours or a whole day. 

 

Now the hard part – the waiting game! It is the best feeling to have something to look forward to, especially when you are visiting some place new.

The meaning of travel is different for everyone. For some, it is crossing a destination off a bucket list. For me, it is about immersing myself in another country’s culture through learning the basics of the language to eating the local foods. Every experience can be a life changing one if you want it to be, and… if you let it be.

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