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What Solo Travel Teaches You

Despite all of the stress, fear, and self-doubt, exploring the world on your own is worth it. Here are the truths you learn when you take the adventure into your own hands:

A woman with a gray backpack looks out on the top of a cliff into the view
Gazing into the spectacular view at Angel's Landing, Utah

1. ) Being fulfilled by yourself is a skill


My first international solo trip was full of loneliness. I sat alone on the bed of a strangers house thinking to myself, "what's the point?". I had been hoping on and off planes for four days in a row and was extremely exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep in my own bed, eat my own food, and be with my friends. A sort of emptiness came over me as a thought crossed my mind, "why force myself to constantly chase new places and put myself in uncomfortable situations when no one is going to know?"


Sure you can face time your friends and tell them all about your day and post a couple of pictures on Instagram, but the truth is no one will be there to truly share the moment with you. To share that smell of bread wafting from the market or be in awe of the beautiful architecture before you. If anything, your friends will say "that's cool" and then move on with their lives. You will get some likes on social media before people scroll past and forget that they ever saw it.

To know that your experience can never be truly shared on the same level as you is a lonely feeling. But it's also freeing.


a woman journals under a lamp with a cup of tea
Enjoying a solo coffee date at Sunshine Cafe, Taipei

I had to teach myself to forget the futility of it all -that I am enough and that being the only witness to these adventures is a good enough justification. I started taking pictures, not for the likes but for me, so I could look back and remember how special a moment was. Journaling also helped a lot. Writing poetry and jotting down how new places made me feel truly made it feel like my experiences were worth appreciating even if only by just me.


You can learn to love drinking coffee alone at a cafe, going for aimless walks in a new city, and disappearing into the hustle and bustle of a crowded bazaar. Sure, there are times where it makes you feel so alone. But there's nothing else that makes you feel so alienated yet empowered at the same time.


2. Frustration and fear is part of the process


I have a vivid memory of being in a cafe in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on my very first international trip alone. I had studied Russian for a few semesters in university, but when it came to actually speaking it, my brain would not function.


I remember finishing my order and then looking at the barista with a confused, deer-like stare. She was speaking to me but I had no clue what she was trying to communicate. I stood there, feeling like an absolute baby unable to comprehend the world around me. After a minute of confusion, she pulled out Google Translate on her phone and showed me the words "sit down" because I was holding up the line.


a woman on an empty beach on a gray morning looks out into the distance
A cloudy sunrise on the beach at Carmel-By-The-Sea

When you go to places with a foreign tongue, moments like this will happen multiple times a day. At first, it was hard not to get down on myself for my sub-par Russian skills, but then I realized that this was part of the process. A painful process -that is.


There were nights where I was crying in bed because I was so fed up with being misunderstood all the time. To have conversations suddenly stop when you realize that you no longer have the vocabulary to keep it going, to sit in the back of a taxi unable to make small talk. The phrases that I mastered on this trip were "sorry, I don't understand" and "sorry, I don't speak Russian".


But after a while, that frustration turns into progress. I gained the confidence to go to the restaurants I had been avoiding out of fear. I started striking up conversations with taxi drivers, knowing full well that it would be a very limited conversation. I even took advantage of hair and nail salons (which resulted in me leaving with a haircut much shorter than expected but at least it was only $9).


reflection of a city skyline in a window
The rooftops of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

What I found is that most people enjoyed learning about foreigners and had kind hearts. There are some who will take advantage of you, but for the most part they just want to learn. I had two strangers come up to me asking for my WhatsApp because they were so eager to build their English skills.

It might be difficult to have meaningful, deep conversations, but it's the little instants that make it worth it. Even the tiniest moments make the struggle worth it -tiny moments like "yay I just finally ordered a cup of coffee without stumbling over my words!" For every moment of frustration, there was a moment of pride.


3. How to speak up for yourself


When you solo travel, no one will be there to guide you every step of the way. And the harsh reality is, people will try to take advantage of you.


what solo travel teaches you: a woman takes a selfie with the Burj Khalifa
Me and my bestie, the Burj Khalifa

I spent more money in one trip to old Dubai's Souqs than I did on my hotel. This wasn't because I simply adored the goods of the market, but it was because I didn't know how to say no or how to negotiate with locals. Growing up where I did, I never had to really haggle for anything, but when going to a place where haggling is the lifestyle, you either have to learn how to do it or basically rob yourself.


The first taxi ride I took in Bishkek cost me around 6,000 KGS (the equivalent of around $50 USD). I had a gut feeling that it was too expensive, but I paid it anyways without compromise because I was afraid of fighting back. On my later taxi rides, I learned that the price for the distance should only be around 180 KGS.


What I've learned is that if you feel something in your gut, then you should abide by it. It is also solely up to you to research before hand. Research the acceptable fares for a taxi so you know well in advance, research how to bargain with someone, how to ask for help, the areas you should avoid for safety reasons, etc...

4. How to truly appreciate different cultures


Traveling with others can be fun, but what I've learned is that nothing beats being able to be in sole control of your own schedule. In Dubai, I happened upon the most fulfilling views of my trip while just letting myself aimlessly wander through the streets. I saw some of the most compelling architecture I've ever seen and watched a fiery sunset, all because I was able to put away my itinerary and just listen to my heart, which is something difficult to do when having to compromise with others. Being alone makes you mindful of the sights, the people, the smells, the sounds of the world around you.


My favorite thing to do is sit by myself in a new place and just journal everything -any new sights or thoughts that just pop into my head. You're able to just sit in a cafe by yourself for hours simply people watching. You can literally just stare at a flower for longer than socially acceptable and not have to worry about inconveniencing anyone else. You can simply strike up conversations with strangers because you felt like it.


That's one of the most beautiful things about solo travel, you can do things just because you feel like it. It's a freeing feeling just to chase pure pleasure and curiosity and to be able to go after your every whim.



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