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5 Lessons I Learned when I Started Traveling Solo

Learning the art of solo travel isn’t always fun…

Traveling can broaden the mind – so the saying goes – and your waistline, if you’re not careful. For me, traveling with my partner or friends is soul-satisfying (think sipping margaritas on the beach or endless afternoons at the spa). But traveling solo forces a state of awareness that often leads to life lessons you can’t find on the beach or the spa.

take a walk on the solo side Traveling alone can be empowering but let’s be honest, it can also be depressing. Just when you want to share a magical moment with someone, your aloneness can weigh you down. And often the beauty of traveling alone doesn’t come to light until after you’re back home unpacking all the lessons you learned.

Since I began traveling solo (more than a decade ago), I’ve made some terrific mistakes – some that were just plain dumb and a bunch that were so naive, it’s painful to admit. But each one has lead me to where I am today: a confident, trusting and mostly happy-go-lucky solo traveler.

If you’ve never traveled solo, let me share some of my solo travel lessons with you.

1. Learning the art of patience

wine can be enjoyed aloneIf your mind is open, solo travel can be a sweet chain of transient friendships that string together between the multitude of planes and hotels and conferences. But it can also be an endless list of people who test your patience by taking up more space than they need, pushing ahead in lines or simply flaunting a nauseating sense of entitlement. Sometimes, the only thing to do is smile over the head of the larger-than-life-selfish-me-me-me at the person on the other side. Finding friendship in the crazy moments of travel is the best payback of traveling alone.

Big lesson – Think like a boy scout and learn to put others first. You’ll reap the rewards in more ways than one.

2. Learning to appreciate captive time

you can make friends anywhere ...When I carried a BlackBerry (remember those days?) I was always the last one to power down and the first to switch it on again – usually before we landed. When I wasn’t careful, the pinging of my phone earned me icy glares from fellow travelers and flight attendants. Slowly, over time, I learned to appreciate the disconnected side of me, the one who could read, daydream and, yes it’s true, sometimes even chat with my seatmate. Now that I can connect to wifi onboard whenever I want, I see it as a choice rather than a must-do. And sometimes I choose not to connect. Just because.

Big lesson – Alone time, whether it’s on the plane, in a restaurant, on a hike, is good for the soul.

3. Learning to communicate – better

Whether it’s a language, cultural or economic barrier, body language always says so much more than my words ever will.

making friends everywhere!After a grueling and long business trip, my flight home erupted into a comedy of errors on the runway and ended in a cancelled flight. The first few passengers stormed off the plane and proceeded to yell and bargain and yell some more at the gate attendants. By the time I reached the desk, I was spent – and resigned to my fate. I smiled back the tears and asked about the timing of the first flight home the next day and where I could spend the night. The gate attendant joked with me – trying to make me feel better – which lead me to more bantering between the two of us. Within the hour, I was on standby and shortly after, on my way home. I might have lucked out with that flight regardless of my attitude but staying calm, starting our conversation with a smile and understanding that everything that was happening was no one’s fault made everything that happened after that point a whole lot less stressful.

Big lesson – Being the first to smile is the best way to begin any conversation, especially the tough ones.

4. Learning the value of getting lost

When I traveled to San Francisco, I left believing that getting the right directions took at least 3 tries – the first 2 people were always liars, or so it seemed. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time getting lost – and being stressed about being late. But I also found little hidden treasures and sights that made the trip so much more than it would have been had I stayed on the planned route.

Now when I travel by myself, I always factor in time for getting lost (even with my GPS, I have a knack for getting lost). Relying on the kindness of strangers affords the opportunity to meet new people and explore different areas of a city I’ve never visited before. Pretty sweet, right?

Big lesson – Get lost on purpose once in a while. You might find a piece of yourself you didn’t know you’d lost.

5. Learning that I’m stronger than I thought I was

a stronger Julia ...I have a bad habit of getting myself in sticky situations and while I’ve been very lucky so far, each experience has exposed a new strength I didn’t know I possessed. When I traveled to Mexico for a women’s conference, my flight day ended in my hailing a cab at 1 am on Isla Mujeres, an island in Mexico. My sense of fear and self were on high alert that night and there were moments I wasn’t sure if I’d die by mugging or heart attack from my own stress and fear. But I survived. All. By. Myself.

When I woke at dawn (just 4 hours after arriving) I got myself to the beach, to the eastern most tip of Mexico and saluted the sun. I’m not going to lie – it felt pretty damn awesome.

Big lesson – Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s where the magic starts.

Do you love to travel as much as we do? We’d love to hear your solo travel stories. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and let’s talk!

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