Ever dreamed of boarding an airplane, not entirely knowing where you’re going with nothing more than a backpack and a serious case of wanderlust? For me on my first lengthy trip as a solo backpacker I couldn’t have been more excited to get going and find out what this big world’s all about.
The things I learned in my year abroad are priceless, I could never recommend enough how liberating and educational traveling the world solo can be, it’s something that can’t really be understood until you do it. Before I left on my travels I had read up on other people’s blogs, done a fair amount of research and thought I had a decent idea of what it would entail. I could not have been more wrong. About generally everything, for my purpose of travel, what the other side of the world was like, and countless other lessons that are some of the most life enriching things that i’ve ever learned in my existence.
In this post I will attempt to highlight some of the things I have learned from being a traveling solo backpacker, and I hope it will help inspire you to do a little bit of your own because it’s about the most enlightening thing I could ever imagine!
I feel VERY strongly about the things you’re about to read and get passionate whenever I talk about them (I like to think this is a good thing but I can get carried away), I hope that’s reflected here and I can guarantee at the least that it won’t be some bland write up, and finally no hard feelings if you disagree with some of what I say here, enjoy!
1. You learn about true happiness
This is subjective for everyone, as everyone’s happiness is taylor-made their own way, so what makes me happy will be different from someone else. With that being said in my travels I learned not only about my own happiness; what makes me truly happy, what makes me tick, but also what makes other people genuinely happy. Some of the happiest people on this planet that I’ve met have so very little. Possessions do NOT equal happiness, though a lot of today’s society likes to make it seem like it is. Especially in the US, we are ridiculously commercialized, and I’m not trying to go all hippy on you all here but it’s so damn true. As someone who has been able to leave my home for a long time and come back, and to be on the outside looking in, I was able to gain a new perspective on it. In traveling solo I found that things and possessions are not one bit what make me happy, and this absolutely varies for everyone we’re all different but I’ve noticed a lot of patterns in this. What makes me happy? What’s important to me? What do I want more of in this life and what do I want less of? The list goes on on and on.
The experiences, things that make me come alive, things that put a big grin on my face, adventures with myself or others just to name a few and of course the amazing people of my life. You learn that it’s your loved ones, friends and family that matter, without other people what would we be and what would we have??
Collecting moments and experiences has become a large part of who I am because of these solo travels, I don’t wish to collect fancy watches and cars, I can admit that i’ll look back years from now and be glad I got that new shiny piece of technology, but I’ll always remember the time I met that random guy in that hostel and motorbiked to the top of a mountain for a sunrise in a country that’s all new to me. Something else that you’ll hear me say time and time again in my blog posts, because i’ve come to several revalations on my travels and I found this to be about as true as it gets; It’s the people, it’s the experiences, and it’s all the little things (catching onto a pattern here)!
The people can make or break your travels, as well as your life in general! You become a collection of the people that you associate yourself with the most, and that holds true on solo travels even, you’ll attract like minded people by being yourself! Friendships new and old are a beautiful thing, and I hope to see all the people I was fortunate enough to travel with in the future (to my European friends reading this I’ll be going all over Europe this summer just a heads up incase I haven’t mentioned it to you yet!)
2. You learn that you can be whoever YOU want
When traveling with others its easy to fall into the other person’s plans and goals for trips, getting caught up in someone else’s travel list can happen to the best of us.
But when it’s you and only you out there solo in a foreign country, you learn that you can do whatever it is that YOU want to do. Want to go wake up and surf the waves at sunrise? Go ahead! Want to chill out and do literally nothing that day but chill on the beach with a bucket of beers? Hey you do you Boo-Boo!
Solo travel gives you freedom like none other, and the freedom to discover what your own preferences are. You can become whoever you want on the road, nobody out there knows you, they only know who you are RIGHT NOW and not who you were in the past. Maybe you really don’t like to be travel alone for very long and either way that’s perfectly okay, but traveling solo gives you the ability to choose exactly who you want to befriend and talk to, you hold all the cards. I know for myself that I’m generally an extroverted and outgoing person and I love making new friends any chance I get, but there are times I would just shut it down for a day or two and just enjoy my own company, and there’s nobody telling you that you can’t do that, once again it’s that liberating freedom.
3. You learn to test your limits and your comfort zones
Traveling solo teaches you self confidence like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and this is an invaluable trait to acquire no matter who you are.
A year before I started my global travels if I had told myself I would be flying into Nepal totally alone with no real idea of what goes on in that country with the soul intention of getting to Everest Base Camp but genuinely not really knowing how you were going to do it, I’d call you crazy. But I did, and it went way better than I could have ever imagined, I got to the base of Mt Everest without any real prior knowledge, I met some awesome one of a kind people along the way, and made memories that’ll last me a lifetime, all of this because I trusted in myself, so yay for that!
With every day that passed while out traveling solo I felt more and more confident in my own abilities to do whatever I set my mind to, I’m still not where I want to be with my adventures among other things but I know I’m making progress and getting there and a lot of that is thanks to my solo travels and everything that I learned about myself. If there’s a take home of this for you guys, it’s that traveling solo will teach you everything you need to know about yourself.
4. You learn to make every day count
When it’s just you out there you learn that nobody is going to hold your hand and do it for you, the choice is always yours. I’m an absolute broken record with this one but it needs to be repeated, that you learn true self reliance with solo travel. When you can do whatever it is your heart desires then it’s up to you to go out there and actually do it, that’s up to nobody else but yourself.
Each and every day out traveling to me is a gift, how fortunate I am to be doing this and seeing things and doing things that others wouldn’t even dream of so I think a big part of this is gratitude and putting this all into perspective. Once I felt truly grateful to be out there wandering the world and doing as I pleased, I noticed that I was taking advantage of my days, going full carpe diem on this thing, learning that you gotta carpe the shit out of that diem no matter how cliche it is.
5. You learn that the world is not what you read about in newspapers or what you see on the news
You learn that people from all over the world are genuinely after the same things in life and that we’re all not so different after all and that, that my friends, is a beautiful thing. That people are generally good no matter the geography and will lend a helping hand when needed, and that you should in turn lend out a helping hand more yourself for others.
A lot of the times the media blows things up, they thrive on showing the trauma and the drama, and each countries news outlets showcase their own individual propaganda agendas. My own country is notoriously bad with this, though people don’t usually realize it, our news and media place the blinders on us and showcase the world in skewed ways this is no bueno.
I felt safer wandering the streets of third world countries in Asia solo than I have in some cities in the US (the availability of guns miiiiiight have something to do with this and I’m sure a fair amount of my American readers will disagree with me on this), and traveling solo is a lot safer than a lot of people realize (but you still absolutely have to be smart about it and not put yourself into bad situations).
I’ve met countless solo backpackers both male and female, strong women who could kick my ass on hikes and had a hell of a lot more common sense for safety than myself (I can be a little careless in my travels honestly and put myself into sketchy situations, whoops). Is the true reality that it’s safer in several situations as a solo male backpacker?? Sure, but that shouldn’t deter any women, this just means that as a solo female backpacker you have to be a little more aware of your surroundings than the men do, it pains me to say these things but that’s the society that we live in despite the fact that the vast majority of people are not out to harm you in this world despite what you read in your newspapers and watch on the news.
6. You learn that even though you travel alone you are never lonely
I’m asked this question sooooo many times, “so if you’re traveling solo aren’t you lonely?!” The answer to this would be a resounding no, doesn’t matter which country I traveled to, I found that when you’re in the backpacking community; staying in hostels, visiting popular places, etc. it’s way more challenging to get some alone time than it is to make new friends. Making new friends while solo traveling just comes as a second nature, it’s too easy! Especially when it comes to meeting other solo backpackers, you instantly have a lot in common; you’re out to see the world, have amazing experiences, make new friends, and the list goes on and on, you find a TON of common ground with a lot of people.
Will you like everyone you meet on the road and will they like you? Sometimes you won’t like each other and that’s okay, not everyone’s the same by any means and that’s the beauty of it, you’re free to choose who you befriend and who you don’t. If you don’t want to be friends with that douchy guy in the hostel room who won’t stop talking about how many shots of whiskey he can do, then don’t do it, easy as that, (mic drop).
As you become more comfortable with solo traveling and being fully self reliant, meeting new people in so many scenarios, getting used to the hostel life and all that you will more than likely gain some real momentum with constantly making new friends it will just become a daily occurence. What I found is that friendships and relationships on the road are ridiculously accelerated, by this I mean that what you would normally talk about and do with your good friends back home you can be doing with someone you just met like 20 minutes ago in your hostel and you won’t think twice about it. Instant best friends for days, weeks, months, years, and so on and so forth and believe me this is truly an amazing thing to experience atleast once in your life.
7. You learn to be more open minded
Traveling as a solo backpacker helps you to get out of your comfort zones. This is an important skill to learn, to get away from the mundane every day routines and learn new perspectives, ways of looking at life, and it will lead you to alter the way you live your life if experienced positively.
Before I took off on the road, I was already a bit of a yes man you could say, I took pride in experiencing new things as often as I could and basically just saying yes to every thing that I could, but with my travels I learned to expand upon this substantially, I learned how to take more advantage of everyday with heightened perspectives and learned much more on how everyday is not to be taken fore granted.
Here’s a very important security check for yourself, do you keep your mind open or closed? Think about the random things you said yes to recently and the things you declined, saying yes to those things could have opened up a whole realm of possibilities for you to experience (or maybe you would’ve been drinking 4 Lokos in a McDonalds parking lot so you dodged a bullet there, but you catch my drift anyway I hope!)
8. You learn to get by with less
What better way to learn to live with less than to travel to foreign countries with nothing more than a backpack full of clothes and items and having the all too real problem that every single ounce of weight on your back makes said backpack more and more uncomfortable?!
Another often overlooked notion with this would be that a vast majority of flight companies (cough AirAsia cough) allow you to carry your large backpack onto the plane and stow it up in the carry on cabin if it’s atleast less than 9kg (20ish pounds).
I managed to keep my backpack under 9kg for the entirety of my travels and thus saved on every single flight I took by not having to pay a single dollar for checking in baggage. All that you have to do is act confident at the check in counter when they ask if it’s less than 7kg, I always start with some small talk with the person at the counter to get on their good side so they don’t make me check my bag’s weight, and it worked every.single.time. that’s about 12-15 flights where this worked, so I’d like to think that I have a decent sample size!
On top of all this if you travel to poor countries, you learn their daily lives and how they get by with so little material possessions yet a lot of the time they’re the happiest people you’ll meet. That’s something that must be experienced in order to learn, I can’t say that you’ll truly know what i’m talking about until you’re in these positions and see what I’m talking about.
With these experiences I learned something that I find to be VERY important: It’s not the possessions, the money, or what you have in this life, it’s the people, the places, the experiences, your loved ones, your friends, and all the memories you create. When you look back 20 years from now will you say; “damn i’m glad I got that new smartphone or that new Rolex”, I’d have to guess no, you’ll say something more along the lines of something about the people in your life and the experiences/memories that you made.
Travel is not for everyone I know this, but it has something to offer for so many people and to learn lessons like this is priceless, travel can offer the opportunity to have some amazing experiences that you will want to look back on and smile.
Hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did typing it, as you can see I feel strongly about a lot of this, and despite how cheesy parts of it are I hope that you get something good out of this, or a little more inspiration to get out there and hit the road yourself! If you like this article or any of my others please share and or subscribe (there’s a few places on my page you can click on to do this), much appreciated and thank YOU for reading!!