It is an investment yourself.
When traveling alone in Spain this past summer, I found myself on the back of a new friend’s motorcycle, zooming down the coast of Cataluña. We traced the edges of emerald mountains, zooming past laughing children and white and blue houses, as we chased the technicolored setting sun. As I examined the incomprehensible beauty around me, I was finally able to feel my own humanness— my own mortality — for the first time. But rather than feel overwhelmed by this sensation, I felt exhilarated; aware of my ephemerality and incredibly thankful for this time.
Although I had traveled alone many times, I had not felt this immense sense of relief in my own impermanence before. This kind of reflection is one that I doubt I would have been able to make had I not been solo traveling. Being alone in foreign countries, disconnected from my day-to-day life, has not only empowered me as a woman, but also given me the space and time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be, independent of friends, family, and work.
I knew that I was not a prisoner within my own life, but I would sometimes find myself feeling trapped along an imaginary path of what I deemed necessary and important to a successful life.
But after traveling alone for the first time, I truly understood that I had the ultimate privilege: freedom. Standing at the top of Machu Picchu after a week-long trek in solitude, I was finally hit with an overwhelming feeling that I was free to do and be anything that I wanted in my life.
I’ve noticed that when I travel alone, my brain seems to function in a completely different way than when I’m back at home. New landscapes and environments become hyper-saturated and imprinted within my memory like a 3D map, forcing me to stay present constantly. As a solo female traveler, it is vital for me to stay mindful of my surroundings at all times. However, I never feel burdened by this need for ceaseless awareness– in fact, I feel thankful for it — it keeps me present. In this way, solo traveling has acted as my own form of meditation.
But of course, one of the greatest parts of traveling alone is meeting new people. I have been so inspired and amazed by the people I’ve met throughout my travels. Despite the horror stories we hear on the news every day, I’ve found that most people around the world are truly good and many are unbelievably compassionate. Whether in Peru, Myanmar, or Spain, people across the globe have taught me their language, showed me their cities, and welcomed me into their homes without expecting anything in return.
The other day, I was telling a friend of a mine a story from my travels. He looked at me with huge eyes and laughed, “Oh Gillian, only you could do that! You’re so brave.” But the truth is, I’m actually not that brave… Crazy, maybe, but not brave. The most courageous part about traveling alone for the first time is working up the guts to buy a ticket to a foreign place where you know no one. After landing, bravery seems to a play a very little role in traveling. The more research you do on a destination beforehand, the better prepared you’ll be to handle whatever comes your way. And even if you dive right in without investigating, moving beyond your comfort zone and into unknown territory will build your sense of confidence to take on new experiences with open arms.
When looking back at our past, we often have the strongest memories of milestones or important events. But it’s the moments where we are in solitude — the times when we have the chance to reflect honestly and independently — that shape us into who we are. There is no better or more meaningful time to reflect than when traveling alone.
Each time that I travel, I become more and more confident and comfortable with myself. Learning how to be alone has been an intrinsic part of my life, and I will take these lessons wherever I go. While I believe that I have become more brave while traveling, I did not need bravery to begin my journey.
Traveling alone goes so far beyond seeing a different culture; you will inevitably see a different side of yourself that would have never been revealed to you otherwise. It is an investment yourself: an opportunity to learn what books cannot teach you, what pictures cannot show you, and what friends and family cannot give you– and that is far too valuable to pass up.