Solo Travel | Living Life By Your Rules | What I’ve Learned
Dive deep into the depths of solo travel and resurface changed from the inside out.
Life will never be the same.
Meandering past the Jameson Distillery in Dublin, on a casual walk to the historic Kilmainham Gaol (prison), I soaked in the beautiful morning light. Circa 2012- I was on a solo-backpacking adventure across Europe, an epic trip that would eventually become the main body of my most recent published book Big Time Journey of a Small Town Girl.
The air was brisk, but somehow refreshing, smelling of oak barrels, I strolled along the cobblestone streets, following the River Liffey off west in what I thought was the right direction.
This wasn’t the first nor the last time I let my own internal compass guide me both literally and figuratively. While only days before I let my return ticket back to the states lapse. As my seat sat empty bound for JFK’s International Airport, I felt free to live.
On this day, in particular, I indulged in a long coffee and breakfast at Isaac’s Hostel before heading out by foot to make the 50-minute trek to Kilmainham Gaol, one of the largest unoccupied prisons in Europe, encapsulating some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s turbulent history from the 1780s to the 1920s. While nerding out on sordid tales from Ireland’s fascinating past might not be everyone’s cup of tea, who was I to answer to? When the tour ended, I went for that cozy cuppa at the nearby Lime Tree Cafe.
If you were given 24-hours in Dublin, what would you do? I had 3 weeks in Ireland and I crisscrossed the country, Galway to Sligo, Kilkenny to Belfast in Northern Ireland. After life gave me a crushing about-face, throwing myself into the rhythms of uncensored travel was just the remedy I knew would make me right.
I was a seasoned solo traveler that favored spontaneity and adventure. Being tied down to a job or place for too long made me antsy and irritable. I guess the popular cliché is true, once you have been bitten by the travel bug, you’ll never be the same. Well, I think this goes without saying that if you have ever traveled solo you are a slave to the next experience, finding any excuse to go again.
Drop a pin on the map, it doesn’t matter. Once you go at it alone, forced to navigate your own devices, you feel this euphoric feeling that’s like a drug you can’t abstain from. While addictions are never good. Travel is the rare exception, and here’s why–
Solo Travel | Why I Go Alone
- Liberation from the responsibilities and rigors of everyday life | I have never felt more free to live by my own whims. Want to sleep in, stay out late, climb a mountain or explore a cave? Whatever your fancy, you just have to do it. There’s no need for permission or pushing it off to another day when you dictate your own plans.
- Experiences are gold | Whether sitting down to dinner with locals that I only met through a fellow passenger on a train to Prague or exploring Berchtesgaden with a mate I roomed with at a hostel in Salzburg, you never know what amazing times lay ahead. Never be afraid to try something new. Without new experiences, we are blindly walking through life without the opportunity to grow.
- Quality trumps quantity | Dream big! Venture to Mont Sant-Michel, climb Croagh Patrick, explore the vineyards of the Wachau on a bike. Why live a frugal life? Research and find those experiences that are worth of a story and fill in the blanks with the quantity if you like.
- Small efforts go a long way, especially in the language department | Ciao, Dzien Dobry, Grazie, Danke…the essentials like please, thank you and good day can make a huge difference in other’s perception of how serious you are in getting what you want. It is a form of respect and investment in the conversation. I feel like it is taking a step forward and the other person meets you halfway. I have achieved a lot by making a little effort.
- Self-love |I matter. You matter. We are all valuable. Taking time to travel, to grow, to learn about your inner workings is an act of self-love that will not only build understanding, confidence, and self-esteem, but it will make you more perceptive to the community and world around you and your place in it.
- You stop caring what others think | In line with self-love, I feel that once I accepted myself fully, quirks and all, what others thought and continue to think didn’t seem to really matter. Also, after having lived abroad for five years, you become one of many, surrounded by a melting pot of cultures, languages, and people. You come to embrace the diversity and realize your unique qualities add to the quilt of life and should not be masked.
- Triumphs and Failures | I have missed trains, gone in the wrong direction, barely made international flights…and have had bed bugs two too many times. I have also landed a job in Belgium, volunteered at an English Youth Camp in Genk and studied culinary arts in Italy. You’ll have good and bad experiences; it’s inevitable, whether you’re at home or abroad. I have learned to take everything lightly and look for the opportunity in it all. What did I learn, and how will it impact my days to come?
- Your Intuition is Your Guide | If it feels good to you go with it. There is no better time to tap into that internal compass to guide you to happiness and adventure.
- Home is where you make it | I have met some of the most amazing people on my travels and many of them have turned into close friends. It is this community of individuals that have influenced my connection to place. Brussels, as wild as it sounds, is more of a home to me than where I grew up. It is the community of people and the connection to place they ushered in that has my heart.
- Live like a local | I love getting off the beaten path, out of the hoards of tourists, where only the locals go. That is where the spirit of place comes alive. The culture, the personality of a people. It is humbling and enlightening. It creates empathy and openness to live like a local. It may sound romantic, but you determine your relationship, the connection you bolster. Looking for the glittering lights only scrapes the surface of all there is to discover.
- What’s Important and What’s Not | I backpack, well, sort of. I confess, I have one rucksack and normally a suitcase. My trips are on average one month long. What makes the cut and fits, is all I need. You realize quite early on less is more. Moving abroad to Brussels, I downsized my 900 square foot apartment to a mere 115 square feet and I LOVED it! It is not only material things this concept can apply to, but you can make those determinations about what no longer serves you when the time is right.
- Who is a priority | For the first three months in Europe, backpacking from Ireland to Hungary, Switzerland to Croatia, I really didn’t find the need to reach out to anyone, I was self-sufficient, living life day by day. That’s not to say that family and friends back at home don’t matter, but sometimes we, ourselves, and our wellness take precedence.
- Stay in the moment, technology can wait | Unplug for a while, or snap the picture and put the device down. Presence is not only important on the road but in our everyday. We get so distracted by living our lives out on the internet that we don’t fully live out our physical ambitions.
- Be Raw and Real | You get to decide who shows up. Put your best, unfiltered self forward. I also attribute my rich connections to those I met on my travels to the fact I was unapologetically true to myself. I wasn’t wearing a hat to fit a particular role I played. I was honest, outspoken at times and full of life. I’ve always been an optimist and look for the good in all. When I let this show, I was met with the same sentiment.
- Don’t delay your happiness | Waiting on others to join will only cause delays. Living in Phoenix, I loved to go to the theatre, orchestral performances, museums, and local art walks. I indulge in the same wherever I go because it brings me utter joy. I have been called weird or told its not normal behavior to do these things alone, but I don’t apologize, nor do I change my ways. If I gave in to the naysayers and did what was “expected” or waited on a partner-in-crime it would only be at my detriment.
- There is so much we don’t know | Thinking that we are the master and that all the knowledge we will ever need is within us only limits our ability to grow and see the world around us. Fostering cultural empathy recognizes the differences that separate us and works to foster greater understanding. The same is true about the natural world. From mountain to sea, across the globe, there is so much we have yet to learn, see and experience.
- Kindness is all around | While I won’t be naive and say that evil doesn’t exist, it does. BUT I come back to intuition and letting your internal sense guide you. Most strangers you meet on your travels are willing to extend their open hand, offer advice, and walk you in the right direction. Sometimes, it is getting over the fear of asking for help that we need to address.
- Improvision is a must | Delayed trains, plains, loss reservations, you name it, anything is possible. I have learned to think on my feet. I guess this might be a by-product of the hospitality industry, but having the ability to maneuver misfortune with grace and ease will alleviate unnecessary stress. There is always another solution, you just have to find it.
- Don’t take life so seriously | As with life, you will ride a wave of emotions. There is no doubt you will feel lonely at times unable to connect with anyone but others where you feel like you could live the nomadic life forever. Setbacks, roadblocks, uncomfortable conversations, they will all pass. Why invest your emotions in taking them personally and getting upset? It’s temporary, as is life. Enjoy it while you can!
- Always look for the next adventure | Enough said.
Solo travel forces you to become that which you are meant to be. Whether you depart with this in mind or not, there is so much you will realize has changed when you return. Fuel your lust to go. Buy the ticket. Don’t let life and the chance to grow escape you. It will be one of the best investments in your life. Trust me!