3 Things I Learned about Myself from Solo Travel7 min read

by Darcie
girl in bali on scooter

Google “why you should travel alone in your 20s,” and tons of articles come up.

Search “travel” on Instagram, and you can easily find hundreds of accounts of beautiful people roaming the world.

Compared to my parents’ generation, travel is so accessible these days. I’ve been to 40 countries and have experienced many cultures different from my own. Travel makes the world seem smaller, opens my mind to new experiences, and bridges connections with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met.

But that doesn’t mean travel is always easy, and articles that encourage travel for personal growth only scratch the surface when it comes to painting the picture of what solo travel really looks like.

I traveled solo in 2015 and found it to be very difficult in many ways. Despite that, it was one of the best trips of my life because of the personal growth I found in those challenges.

Here’s a look inside my solo travel and a dose of realism about the challenges I faced.

I value meaningful connection, not just any connection.

It’s pretty easy to make friends when you travel alone, especially if you stay in a hostel or place with a shared space. I experienced this firsthand.

The first day I arrived in Bali for my very first solo trip, Mark, the owner of the bungalow I was staying at, introduced me to a girl named Julia. Mark asked Julia to take me to a nearby temple for sacred cleansing. Julia agreed, and we set out for a 45 minute drive from Ubud to Tirta Empul.

We stopped for lunch along the way, and I learned that Julia had been born on the island of Java but spent most of her life in Australia. And like me, she’d just gotten out of a relationship.

Just like that, we were friends.

During my three months in Bali, I formed many other connections. But as time went on, I grew tired of telling the same stories: what brought me to Bali, what I did for a living, where I was from, et cetera. It was exhausting and made me long for my people back home.

This solo travel experience affirmed that

I value meaningful connections, not superficial ones.

Meaningful connections can be found in new and long-standing relationships, but for me it generally takes time to develop a deep connection with someone else.

Solo travel highlighted just how much energy relationships require if I wanted to move past the basics of where I was born and what had brought me to Bali. If I were an extrovert, I might not have been bothered by this, but as an ambivert, the constant mingling wore me down and I couldn’t wait to be back with friends and family who already knew my life story.

I value time alone, but I get lonely.

Alone time has never been something I feared or made me feel uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never felt lonely.

At home, I typically call my mom or reach out to a friend when I feel lonely. But this was much harder to do when I was traveling solo. The time difference presented practical issues, and the physical distance ruled out a hug or meet-up for lunch or happy hour.

The first time I was faced with feelings of loneliness was my very first day in Bali. I wanted to let my parents know that I’d arrived safely, but the internet was down due to a storm. The heavy rain deterred me from heading to the outdoor cafe to see if I could meet some people. Instead, I stayed in my room and felt overwhelmed by loneliness.

The very next day, though, I met Julia. And in the days that followed, I met other people and made some pretty good friends. Still, I felt lonely a lot on the trip. Travelers came and went fairly often, and it was hard to make long-term friends.

Solo travel challenged me to confront my capacity for being alone for extended periods of time.

It also forced me to find ways to cope with feelings of loneliness that sometimes felt too powerful to handle.

I wasn’t always great at coping. Sometimes I just sat with the feelings and had a bad day. Other times I went to sleep early. I had good days too when I would reach out to a friend to get lunch or made a point to schedule a call with my parents or a friend back home.

Travel forced me to do something when I felt lonely, and sometimes that something was just accepting that loneliness is part of life and it would pass in time.  

I am brave, but not fearless.

I’ve always loved riding on motorbikes, but I’ve never wanted to drive one.

For the first two months in Bali, I avoided driving my own scooter, and either walked or relied on friends to take me places. But during the last month, when my closest friends had moved on to other destinations or returned home, I couldn’t avoid renting my own scooter any longer. I was flat-out terrified.

One day, I had to drive home from the airport after dropping off a friend. The airport was not close to Ubud, probably an hour or two away. Right away after leaving the airport, I had to cross over a massive bridge. I had a phone for directions, but I couldn’t get the volume loud enough to hear anything.

I can still vividly remember the tension in my shoulders and cramps in my hands from how tightly I was gripping the handles. The entire time I was mentally pleading with myself, “Please don’t crash, please don’t crash, please don’t crash.”

Halfway across the bridge, there was a fork in the road and I had to choose a direction. In a split second, I made a decision, but it was the wrong one and I ended up in Nusa Dua, a town that wasn’t anywhere close to Ubud.

To get back on track, I had to go back on the bridge, pay a toll (one I’d just paid), and go in the opposite direction at the fork.

When I exited the bridge, the battle was over. Unfortunately, the war still waged, and I realized that I was low on gas. Of course I had no idea where to find a gas station.

I started pleading again, this time to God for help.

He showed up and provided a gas station. But in order to get to it, I had to navigate through a sea of scooters to the other side of the road.

I wanted to pull over and cry. But it was almost dark, so that wasn’t an option. I had to suck it up and weave through the traffic. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my stomach was in knots. I almost crashed into other scooters several times and got so many looks like I was crazy.

Somehow, I made it without damage to my scooter or anyone else’s.

Back on the road, I knew I need to confirm that I was going in the right direction.  

“Ubud?” I asked the local on the scooter next to me at a stop light. He pointed straight ahead.

It was another 15 or 20 minutes of agony before I started recognizing streets.

When I finally pulled into my place, I was nearly in tears, but I was also so proud of myself.

Through this experience, I learned that I can challenge myself to do something way outside my comfort zone. It will be incredibly uncomfortable and I might think I won’t survive, but I learned that I don’t have to avoid my fears. I can face them and come out on top.

Travel can be hard but also very rewarding.

Growth happens outside your comfort zone.

Travel is one of the best ways to get outside your comfort zone. If you want the challenge, go for it. But know that it’ll be tough. You’ll get lost and have to figure it out on your own. You’ll miss family and friends and your life back home. These things will make you want to cry or scream or get on the next flight out of there.

Tough it out, though, because you will get through it. You’ll learn that fear doesn’t have to control your actions and that you have inner strength that shows up when you need it most.  

What have you learned from solo travel? What was the biggest challenge, and how did you get through it? Leave your thoughts below.

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