I’ve been traveling solo for more than 25 years, and it’s given me some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But was I afraid to travel alone at first? Absolutely!
Many people start solo travel right out of high school or college. But I was actually a bit of a later bloomer and didn’t take my first solo trip until I moved to Colorado to go to graduate school. Suddenly, I had access to some of the most amazing scenery in the world. So, I spent ten years doing road trips all around the Southwest and Rocky Mountains to practice my photography.
Eventually, I decided to put my solo travel bravery to the ultimate test: I took my dream trip to New Zealand and the South Pacific. Although I had gotten pretty comfortable doing road trips by myself to places like Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming, this was the first time I was venturing so far away. To the other side of the planet.
Fighting the Fear
Saying that I had a lot of fear about this month-long trip is a huge understatement. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I would lie awake at night thinking of all the things that could go wrong. How would I deal with being alone for so long? What if I couldn’t handle driving on the left side of the road? What if all the backpacker lodges I stayed at were filled with 20-somethings who stared at me like their mom had just entered the room?
The struggle was real. A week before I left, I had a dream that I fell off a steep cliff into the ocean in the Cook Islands. My brain was translating all my fears into a single traumatic event: You’re going to the other side of the world by yourself? Well, that’s scary—you’re probably going to fall off a cliff!
But here’s the funny thing. Once I was actually there and traveling around and experiencing things on my own, I was too busy to be afraid. In fact, all my fears actually started to seem kind of, well, ridiculous. I have a distinct memory of driving my rental car in New Zealand (on the left side) and thinking, “What the hell was I scared of?” I literally had heart palpitations as I merged into traffic and negotiated my first roundabout driving on the left side. But it only took me one day to feel 100% comfortable with it.
Traveling solo to the other side of the world gave my travel confidence a huge boost. In fact, I got to the point where I couldn’t imagine traveling any other way. At the risk of sounding antisocial (which I’m definitely not), why would you want to be on someone else’s schedule when you can do whatever you want, when you want?
Since that trip, I’ve traveled solo to Alaska, Kauai, Maui, the Big Island, and all around the western US. I even did a return trip to New Zealand three years after the first one. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met women who ask me: “How do you have the courage to venture off alone?”
I had all the doubts and fears that many of you probably have. But guess what? None of the things I feared came to pass. In fact, it was a life-changing adventure. I met lots of interesting and friendly people, and I learned that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was. I even had dinner with a group of those 20-somethings one evening, and none of them called me mom.
It’s completely normal to be afraid of doing something that’s out of your comfort zone. But most of the time, we build things up in our minds to be way worse than they really are. Here are some of the most common questions I get asked about solo travel:
Isn’t solo travel boring?
It always makes me chuckle when people ask me if traveling alone is boring. Are you kidding me? To answer that question, I’ll just summarize a few of my experiences as a solo traveler. I got “stuck” in the middle of a South Pacific lagoon in the Cook Islands when the tour boat motor died. I was chased by a fur seal while hiking to a sea cave on the South Island of New Zealand. And I rappelled down a 110-foot sandstone cliff in Moab, Utah.
If you think any of that sounds boring, then you’ve obviously lived a more exciting life than I have. And even if you’re not quite that adventurous, I still promise—you won’t get bored. One of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had was sitting on the beach in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) at night. As I looked up at the clear, star-filled sky, I realized that I was on this tiny little speck of land in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Boring? Definitely not.
Don’t you hate eating alone?
I personally have never had any issues eating out alone. The only time I can remember feeling a bit weird was having dinner at a restaurant on Kaua’i that catered mostly to honeymooners. Yeah, awkward. I do realize, however, that some people just really don’t like the idea of sitting at a table by themselves. But here’s the thing: eating alone is almost always pretty uneventful and stress-free. Despite what you think, nobody is staring at you or wondering why you’re by yourself.
I’ve actually met some nice people while dining alone. Like the time in New Zealand when a couple at the next table invited me to have a glass of wine with them and gave me lots of good ideas about places to see. Even if you prefer to keep to yourself in restaurants, mealtimes are the perfect opportunity to sit and browse through guidebooks, maps, or info on your phone. Or, try sitting at the bar or counter, where you’re less likely to feel like you’re “under scrutiny.”
Do you ever feel unsafe?
I certainly could feel unsafe if I allowed myself to get into questionable situations, which I don’t. The bottom line: use common sense. Don’t walk around alone after dark. Research the places you’re going, including both the location and the lodging. And most importantly, trust your gut. If I get a bad vibe or a weird feeling about a person or place, I leave. I don’t go on remote hikes by myself where I’m unlikely to see other people. I do tons of research when planning, including reading guidebooks and blogs and talking to other people who have been there.
It’s never too late to start your solo travel
All this is to say, if you’ve always thought about taking a trip alone, don’t hesitate. And don’t let your fears get in the way. Solo travel doesn’t have to be extreme. It can be whatever you make it—a travel style that suits you and that you feel comfortable with. The truth is, I haven’t bungy-jumped in New Zealand, or backpacked around Europe, or traveled as a nomad for year. But I’ve been to some pretty amazing places that I likely would have never seen if I had waited for someone to go with me. And if I can do it, so can you!
What was your first solo trip? How did you overcome your fears?
Images and text ©Laurie J. Schmidt, All Rights Reserved