I spent less than three months in my home town last year, visiting five new countries on my own on a whim. I hashtag #solotravel on most of my Instagram pics and it’s got people wanting to know what is so fantastic about travelling alone.
The reason I love it more than any other activity on the planet is because it allows me to experience the world, to see the inner workings of many different cultures and places, and to absorb a little of what calls to me. But most importantly, being alone with my thoughts in a foreign place helps me sort out my feelings.
I think of myself as an empath which means I often get lost in the emotions and feelings of others. But when I’m driving down a new highway on the other side of the road or bathing in the sun on a tiny island of the coast of Perth, I can truly feel my heart’s desires, (I mean, who can’t?). My life puts itself into perspective and the emotions and feelings that don’t actually belong to me begin to fade away. This is usually when I get my greatest inspirations. Creativity begins to flow through me in a way it never does back home.
Through my travels I’ve learned to put my own problems into perspective. I’ve gained new insight. I’ve forgiven tons of family members and friends while travelling because it helps me to see problems and challenging situations in a whole new light. I’ve also come to see the importance of disconnecting from people who are what I call “bad company”—those who drain our energy or who are always discouraging us in hurtful ways. But most importantly, travelling alone helps me heal in ways that staying home or vacationing with a friend could never do.
Shortly after a very painful breakup that left me questioning my boundaries and needs, I began a yoga teacher training program to learn to follow my intuition. I wanted to still my mind and work with the magic of the universe to figure out who I am and what I need. A year into the program I realized something was missing. Though I picked up many life-changing gems during my time in the ashram, it wasn’t until I took a break to travel to Australia that the missing piece found me and life began to make sense.
Funny enough, my yoga teacher had advised against the trip because it fell under the category of what she called “purposeless travel.” To her, travelling aimlessly with no higher goals or scheduled work was bad news. Although her wisdom and advice was intended to help me succeed, I decided I didn’t begin the yoga program to follow someone else’s gut feeling.
My biggest moments of paradigm shifting have occurred during “purposeless travel,” and it wasn’t until I undertook many solo travels with no reason, that I fully learned to listen to, and trust, my own intuition. I could probably write an ethnography on my adventures of traveling alone, (and maybe a romance novel or two), but for the sake of this post I’ll keep it simple. After spending years traveling alone, I’ve learned five vital things:
1. We are our own gurus, and our wisdom is free.
Like my experience with the yoga teacher, we’re always being told by others how to live our lives. Whether it’s through self-help books or Youtube videos, our parents, teachers, or other authority figures, the media, or our peers, someone always has an opinion on what’s best for us. And worse, we are always looking to others to see if what we’re doing is okay.
The truth is that no one knows what’s best for us except us! Sure, we may make some mistakes while we figure it all out, but those mistakes create experiences—the journey—from which we learn. Through our own hands-on experience we learn to integrate into our lives what actually works, and eliminate what doesn’t. No amount of therapy, reading, or following a guru will submerge us into your own true selves as much, or as fast, as a solo trip can.
2. Our intuition is trustworthy. Even when the whole world disagrees with it.
When we travel alone we are forced to rely on our inner wisdom. It’s how we determine if a stranger is safe, or if we should be walking home alone at night in that new city when our phones aren’t charged and asking a stranger isn’t an option.
I’ve always relied on my intuition, even when others have disagreed, and 10 times out of 10 I’ve been happy that I did. Travelling alone means we spend a lot of time with ourselves introspecting. This connects us to that gut feeling and gives us the freedom to test it out without worrying about the opinions or skepticism of others. It’s the perfect opportunity to become intimately connected to our inner wisdom.
3. Doing what makes us happy can make others unhappy. But we’ll never be happy unless we do it anyway.
The moment I decided to put work on hold to travel (and eventually move) across the planet I was faced with two reactions: people either loved the idea or they hated it. The ones who hated it astonished me. “What if you lose all your clients?” “You’ll never settle down and get married if you’re always galavanting around.” “I never saw the big adventure with all this travel stuff. What’s wrong with the city you grew up in?” “What if you hate it?” “What if you spend all that money and come home broke for nothing? Then what?”
I came to realize that the disapproval others were expressing was actually a projection of their own fears. These were people who, for better or for worse, had stopped themselves from stepping outside their comfort zone for the very reasons they were now projecting onto me. Sometimes we can become a symbol of what their own freedom could have looked like if they too took the risk and followed their desires into the unknown. The haters in our lives aren’t necessarily intending to be malicious or unsupportive, but our friends and loved ones often let their own fears cloud their judgement of our actions.
It’s easy to be afraid of making mistakes, but not everything we do will go as planned, and mistakes are part of the journey. We’ll make heaps of them while pursuing our own ideas and dreams, and each one will teach us something vital. So it’s best not to let the fears of others shape our decisions. Instead, we can take their opinions with a grain of salt and filter through that which is loving concern or good advice, and that which is just down right fear-based.
4. Selfies are essential.
If you’re anything like me, you feel a little embarrassed to take your phone or camera out and snap a pic of yourself in public. That awkward moment when we pose on the train, passengers staring at us while we hold our deuces up, just to show friends back home that we’ve arrived in Vienna can be mortifying.
I used to tell myself that the memory itself was good enough, that I didn’t need a photo to prove I’d been somewhere. But when we avoid uncomfortable situations what we are really doing is shying away from an opportunity to step outside of our comfort zones and grow. After uploading thousands of photos onto my laptop and realizing I had but just five of myself because I was too afraid to make a selfie scene in public, I knew I needed to make a change. You see, insecurities prevent us from doing things that expand our journey. It’s not just about the awkward selfies or the fear of attention. It’s about embracing the moment; stepping outside our comfort zone; taking charge and getting what we want out of life. That’s why selfies during solo travel are essential.
5. Authenticity is the most important trait on the planet and we won’t be rich, successful, or happy without it.
Before I started travelling solo, I had been people pleasing for years. I had no idea, of course, or I wouldn’t have spent my 20s bending over backward for approval. I know tons of people in the same boat. It seems to be the age of self-realization, and everyone is one form of therapy or another to learn how to please themselves instead of their partners or parents. But nothing has been quite as effective in helping me learn the importance of authenticity as traveling solo.
When we’re completely alone in a new place we learn things about ourselves. There are no old friends or family members around to remind us of who we are and where we came from. There’s no one around to trigger our old patterns. We get time off of our habits, which is essential to integrating new ones.
When we are authentic, we limit the amount of energy we spend on things that aren’t true to us, and we filter our energy toward things that make us shine. We develop authentic friendships, hobbies, and businesses.
Authenticity requires a certain sense of responsibility. We are no longer blaming others for our energy drains or busy days. We’re committed to ourselves and we take responsibility for ourselves. That’s when we begin to flourish and draw toward us things that help us succeed. That’s also when we truly gain the respect and approval we so desperately wanted while people-pleasing. Funny how that works, hey?
I learned these things and so much more while galavanting around on my travels alone. I visited best friends, made new ones, and created memories (and selfies!) that will last a lifetime. The tools we gain while travelling alone help us stay true to ourselves and blossom into unabashedly authentic versions of ourselves.
Why not give solo travel a try sometime?
Author: Marisa Falconi
Editor: Katarina Tavčar; Caitlin Oriel
Photo: Author’s own