If I were to sum up three years of predominately solo travel into one theme, it would be “cultivating freedom by moving through fear.” I have never felt freer in my life, which was a result of self-confidence gained through jumping off a cliff and continually saying “F-it, i’m going.”
If there’s one thing I would advise you to do as a curious female is to get lost. Literally, go and get lost. When I’m asked what I’ve learned through traveling, it’s really difficult to verbalize, and I actually tear up when I think of the cumulative amount of memories that live on in my heart that I’ve made through traveling alone.
Why is solo travel so valuable, especially for females?
You take back your power and learn to trust yourself. It’s a muscle you build and listen to as you rely on your intuition more than ever before. Let me tell you a little about my journey through solo travel, what I learned and how I materialized it. I’ll start from the very beginning.
The very beginning: aka the first day of the rest of my life
After a year of planning and dreaming up my trip, the day finally came for me to step on the plane and go. I was terrified and filled with mixed feelings. It was hard, and there were plenty of tears. My parents were scared as shit, their only child saying “I’m heading abroad and idk when I’ll be back” and a very long, sad goodbye to my then partner at TF green airport in good old Rhode Island led to the beginning of the next three years of my life.
I made it on the plane which felt like a victory in itself. I had never done this before alone, and relied on the sheer voice of others saying “just do it!” and my own intuition cheerleading me on that I could just barely hear muffled under terror. I was set to land in Dublin in 6 hours, take a bus 4 hours to Galway, stay in a hostel for a night and then drive around the coast of Ireland with two girls I had met in a facebook group online called Girls Love Travel. I had no idea what was lay ahead nor could I have ever planned it, as life had its own plan for me that I could never imagine.
I had scored an $89 flight to Ireland via Norwegian Air which I highly recommend. I’ve flown with them every time to Europe and while the planes are basic, they’re actually super nice for the low price you pay.
I tried to sleep but was too anxious. I’m not a great sleeper anyway, and I pretty much said adios to the idea of getting any rest. What saved me was my Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones which I’ve since lost twice since starting my travels. These were seriously lifesavers on long-haul flights, noisy hostels, and transit. They literally block out all of the noise and have the best sound for little earbuds. I also used the carrying case they came with to keep my SIM cards and travel knick-knacks.
I landed in Dublin. Huge Exhale.
Immigration was a breeze. Nice to meet you, Ireland. Thanks for letting me in. My first course of action was to buy a SIM card from a convenience stand at the airport. I bought a bottle of water and asked the cherry Irish woman which SIM card I should purchase. “The €15 top-up should have more than enough data for a month, lovey.” I exhaled as a moseyed over to the bus stand. Gosh, what an amazing accent, I thought. Lovey? I’ll take it. This was a pleasant first encounter.
As I sat on the bus headed to Galway, I relied on a few familiar comforts such as my travel playlist I compiled of my favorite songs, and my journal from home. The little bits of familiarity makes all the difference in new surrounds. I looked out the window at the seemingly endless green landscape, admired the sheep and anticipated my adventure ahead. Excitement and fear blended into one complicated emotion.
We made it to Galway where I entered a modest bus terminal. I grabbed my Calpak wheeled luggage from the bus and asked the first person with a uniform on where TF the center of town was and how to get there. He gave me instructions, and I did my best to follow them. However it was downpouring, and I quickly regretted my choice to bring a wheeled suitcase to Europe, land of the cobblestone streets.
I take a few wrong turns. I notice how many hostels and B&B’s there are geared towards solo travelers. You don’t see that kind of thing in the states, I thought.
Finally, I made it to my hostel, checked in, and carried up my massive suitcase to my room, and sat down. There was essentially no room to move around and hardly a window, but I was the only one in the room with 4 beds. I was alone for the first time in 14 hours, in another country and was due to meet up with my soon to be new travel companions the next day.
I climbed up the ladder to my little bunk bed, took out my sweatshirt to use as a pillow as their flat soggy pancake version didn’t cut it, and started crying. I felt so out of my element and missed my partner, my bed, my cat, my friends. I cried for probably an hour, called home, and closed my eyes to try and get some rest. At least I have some space to myself, I thought.
About an hour later, the door opened and in came a trendy woman roughly my age speaking on the phone in Italian.
She was pretty and friendly, and we started chatting. This wasn’t her first rodeo with traveling. In fact, she did it all the time for work. She told me she worked in fashion in London and was passing through for only a day, but that Ireland was one of her favorite places. I asked her if she wanted to get fish and chips, and she said yes.
We walked around the city center and moseyed into an old Irish Pub with live music, The Kings Head. It was there I had the best fish of my life — and I don’t really eat seafood but WAS DEFINITELY riding the fish train for the next 2 weeks. We had some Irish cider, and went upstairs to get a birds-eye view of the men in kilts playing their bagpipes and singing old Irish folktales passed down through oral tradition.
Things were looking up. The fear slowly melted away.
We danced a bit and made some new friends with other travelers. Everyone seemed to also be passing through, open to making new connections. I was optimistic and beaming, and ready for my adventure.
The next week was spent driving around Ireland with two new friends from the states, learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road. Luckily my new friend Bethanie did all the driving. We visited the Cliffs of Moher, the Castles of Killarney, the city of Cork, the sleepy coastal town of Cobh, and finally ending our road trip in Dublin.
We were all traveling solo, on our first trip, and going our separate ways in 5 days. All very different people on very different journeys, united by our common love of travel and freedom. Three strangers turned friends, one car, driving around the rolling hills of Ireland having an amazing time.
This was only the beginning of my solo adventure.
I left my friends in Dublin and prepared to spend the last week in Ireland alone. Yes, the fear crept back in but I kept pushing through, this time trusting that it would all be ok. I opened myself up to connection and made new friends at the hostel and through a free walking tour. The next week was spent enjoying my own company and doing whatever I felt like doing, which as a highly independent person is the best thing ever.
It can all change in an instant. You have to go in with an open heart and mind, and be ready to feel scared, but also know that you’re never really alone and open yourself up to serendipity and connection. I also believe traveling with a minimal agenda opens you up to flow and gives you the opportunity to say yes to things that you would otherwise miss due to a rigid itinerary.
Oh, and the girl I met in the Irish hostel? I stayed at her home in London a year later when I took my next solo adventure.