What Solo Traveling Taught Me About Myself

It’s okay to be lonely.

Solo traveling — it’s a daunting thought. Reactions to stories of solo traveling can go one of two ways: jealousy followed by the urge to jet set off alone, or utter confusion as to why a person would want to travel without a companion. There are many reasons why people travel, but all globe-trotting has one thing in common: it gives travelers the opportunity to expose themselves to new cultures, perspectives, and lifestyles than their own.

Last year, I lived in Spain for a few months. It was a humbling, wonderful experience where I learned a lot about myself and how to handle expectations versus realities abroad. I have traveled solo before but had never lived in one place for such an extended period of time.

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Wandering through empty streets in Spain. Photo: Zoe Zaleski

Solo traveling is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to learn about yourself. Being in a completely new environment alone does a few things to incite change: you are much more open to new experiences, your best qualities are brought out, you can track your own personal growth in a reflective and constructive way, and you are able to experience different perspectives and cultures in ways that just don’t happen when you’re with other people.

Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love traveling with a travel buddy. There are certain things that make traveling so much better when you are doing it with a friend: someone to give a second opinion, someone to combat loneliness with, someone to reflect with on what you are experiencing, and, of course, the added safety of having someone else there. But taking yourself somewhere new all on your own, immersing yourself into the culture in that area, being open to any and all experiences, and pushing yourself to be your most amicable, social self – these are best achieved while traveling solo.

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Looking out at sea while solo traveling. Photo: Zoe Zaleski

Each time I travel solo I learn something new about myself. The most valuable thing I have learned from traveling on my own is how to be okay with being alone.

I solo traveled to Greece when I was eighteen years old. I had just graduated high school, and as a graduation present to myself, I bought a flight to Greece and flew into Athens without a place to stay for that night, much less any kind of plan whatsoever. Somehow, I found myself on a boat, and eight hours after that, I arrived on the island of Paros.

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Discovering new beaches and adventures while solo traveling. Photo: Zoe Zaleski

During my travels in Greece, I pushed myself to spark up as many conversations as I could and met locals and other travelers alike. The trip was a whirlwind of new faces, stories, adventures, and laughs. I was never truly alone — each boat ride, bus, restaurant, and hostel, I met new people and found comfort outside of my comfort zone. One thing unique to solo traveling is that you are much more social than you would be were you with a friend. Being alone resulted in me really getting to know new people, developing relationships with them, and as a result learning more about the culture of the area I was in.

While it is filled with new and exciting opportunities, solo traveling can at times be lonely. There is not always someone there to talk with about what you saw that day, what you’re thinking, or to share a laugh with. Sometimes there is a language barrier, or you miss a connecting train, and being alone seems to make things worse. But it is in these moments, when everything seems to be going wrong, that I have learned the most about myself and been aware of real personal growth in a way that I have not experienced before or since.

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Stumbling upon beautiful Spanish views. Photo: Zoe Zaleski

Living in Spain taught me the importance of being alone, and that not only is it okay, but it can be wonderful. I became so much more independent through traveling solo. When I travel with friends or family, sometimes I sacrifice doing certain things I want to do in order to stay with the group and do what everyone else wants to do. However, traveling solo means that you are traveling at your own pace, seeing the sights you want to see, and the freedom and accomplishment that go along with it are unparalleled. In these ways, it has taught me to embrace and overcome the discomfort and challenges that arise while adventuring around the globe.

Through my solo travels, I have become a more outgoing, social, independent woman, and feel more in charge of my life. The best way to figure out who you are is to push yourself and see how you grow from the ways you react to what life throws at you, and what better way to push yourself than to jet set off on your own?

Zoe lived in Spain for 4 months and traveled through Greece for 2 weeks.

Zoe Zaleski

Zoe has been an avid traveler her whole life. She grew up in California, has lived in Spain, and is currently living in South Africa. Zoe has traveled to over twenty countries, and does not plan on stopping any time soon. She loves being outdoors, and her passions include photography, diving, backpacking, and rock climbing.

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