Before leaving for Spain I didn’t know quite what to expect. What would a big solo trip like this actually be like? Would it be an absolute disaster and turn me off of the idea of traveling forever? Would it be a life-changing experience that I could one day turn into a best-selling memoir?
I assumed, and I was right, that my actual experience would lie somewhere in the middle. It didn’t turn me off traveling (exactly the opposite), and I don’t think I came back a completely new person. Still, I did learn some important lessons while traveling by myself, so I thought I’d share them today.
The five lessons I learned while traveling solo for the first time
1. I am more resourceful than I thought
Like I’ve said before, I’m an anxious person. One of the reasons that I put off going on a solo trip for so long was because I was scared. Scared of being by myself in an unfamiliar place and not knowing what to do, scared that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself.
By going on this trip I was taking a leap of faith. Faith in myself, and in my ability to handle anything that might happen to me along the way.
And it paid off. I’m not saying everything was easy or there were no mishaps. (Like how I wondered around Madrid on the first day for over an hour trying to find my hostel with my heavy backpack strapped to my back, convinced I was just going to have to curl up and die on the side of the road somewhere) But I managed to find a resourcefulness in myself that I didn’t realize I actually had before.
There were plenty of things that came up that I had to figure out – how to use the metro, how to get from the bus station to my hostel, how to properly order a meal that wasn’t made up of strange mystery fish – that, before I left, I would have been terrified of encountering.
And, yes, sometimes that resourcefulness looked like me going to the nearest touristy-looking place, hoping to find someone who spoke English and could give me decent directions. Baby steps!
2. My anxiety doesn’t have to stop me from traveling
While I would like to say that my anxiety decided to stay back in the US, unfortunately it made itself comfortable in my luggage and crept out more often than I would have liked. There were plenty of times when I felt anxious and upset and overwhelmed. There were times when I briefly (though not seriously) considered just catching the next flight home.
But instead of giving in to that anxiety and cutting my trip short or hiding out in the hostel all day, I pushed myself to keep going out and seeing new things. I had to take it a little slower at times because physically and mentally, anxiety is exhausting, but I still pushed on.
I now know that, even if I am feeling anxious, that doesn’t have to ruin a trip or prevent me from going on one in the first place. It just means that I have to find ways to take care of myself while I’m traveling and continue on, because eventually the anxiety will pass and I will be grateful that I stuck it out.
3. Public transportation isn’t the scariest thing ever
Confession time: I almost never use public transportation in the US. There are a couple reasons for this. First, where I live their isn’t a particularly good bus system (I used it more in college when I was living in a bus-friendly city, but not by much). And secondly, it kind of terrifies me.
Whenever I think of using the bus I always decide against it because I’m afraid I’ll take the wrong one and get lost. Or I’ll get off at the wrong stop. Or I’ll get mugged. Or, THE WORST, I might have to TALK to a STRANGER.
I mean, who can be expected to do something like that?
But in Spain, I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t have a car and it’s not like you can walk across the entire country, or even the entire city, depending on where you’re going. So I had to face my fear of public transportation if I was ever going to get around.
Well surprise, surprise, I didn’t die. Or take the wrong bus. Or get mugged. (I did get off at the wrong stop a couple times though, but it wasn’t the end of the world) I barely even had to talk to any strangers!
I went from being afraid of public transport at the beginning of my trip to feeling comfortable with Madrid’s metro by the end. Does that mean that I was never nervous? Um of course not, I’m always nervous. Whenever I took the bus I would feel anxious until I knew that I had gotten off and found my way to wherever I as going. But I still did it and that’s what counts, right?
4. It’s okay to be alone
I went to Spain alone, so that means I did just about everything by myself. Eating, traveling from place to place, going to events, sightseeing: it was just me, myself, and I 24/7
At home, I never go out to eat by myself, and if I’m going to some kind of event I like to go with another person. To me, it always seemed “weird” to do these sorts of things by myself. But for some reason I barely gave it a second thought in Spain.
I am an introvert by nature, so I like being alone, but I was worried that it might be strange or depressing traveling by myself for so long. But I found that I enjoyed the experience of solo travel. While there were definitely times when it would have been nice to have someone else with me, I appreciated the time I got to spend by myself and the chances to meet new people. Socializing with strangers in general was hard for me, and I’m sure if I had brought a friend with me I would have used that as a crutch to avoid talking to new people as much as possible.
5. I’m more confident now
Does this count as a lesson? We’re gonna go with yes. While in Spain I not only learned that I can be resourceful on my own, but I have a new confidence in myself that I didn’t have before.
I’m definitely the kind of person that leans towards self-doubt and indecision. Traveling alone taught me that I could rely on myself and have confidence in my decisions. I learned that I can make choices without consulting my mom, my two best friends, my dog, and Google first, and things will still be okay.
Since getting back from Spain, I have found a new confidence in myself and my ability to achieve certain goals that I was previously feeling might be out of reach. I’m not saying that I am now cured of all self-confidence issues and will never feel insecure again, but I have definitely felt a shift in my thinking and the way I view myself and my ability to reach goals and get things done
Overall, my trip to Spain gave me the time and space to really learn to be alone and rely on myself. I can’t wait to go out and do more traveling and see what other lessons, experiences, and memories await me.
Do you have any memorable lessons learned while traveling? What were they?