Thinking about setting out on your own? First time? Not sure what to expect? Determined as hell to get out there and do it? Welcome to the family of adventurers that dares to explore the unknown, challenges their bodies and minds, and knows there’s something within each one of us and this world that simply cannot go undiscovered. Traveling alone (especially your first time) is petrifying, exhilarating, energizing and draining. Prepare yourself for waves of emotion, some of which you may have never experienced and others that may seem foreign (pun intended) at first. After visiting Iguazu Falls the first time, I felt an overwhelming thrill that I later related to successfully riding a bike for the first time without training wheels—pure excitement combined with a strange, invigorating, slightly terrified energy. Undoubtedly, your past experiences will shape how you perceive, identify and externalize your emotions, making every expedition unique to you; however, here is some general insight that you can expect when going out on your own for the first time.
1. You will think A LOT
“Think” hardly touches the surface of what will be running through your mind during certain parts of your adventure. More likely than not, you’ll question life to some extent: Why didn’t I pack less? Why is it so hot? What am I going to eat for supper? Where am I? No, really–I think I’m lost. What am I doing with my life? What is my purpose? The thoughts magnify exponentially. Suddenly, you’ll feel very small noticing how big the world is (cue the emotional roller coaster). You’re bound to feel lonely, sad, and misunderstood at some point, but just as those feelings come, they’ll be replaced with gratitude, excitement, happiness and positive energies.
2. You will notice the little things
Walking down a city street, squishing your toes in the sand, inhaling a deep breath of fresh air: they’re all common occurrences during our beach vacations or traditional travels. Whether it’s with a significant other, your family or a group of friends, you likely miss out on these minute, yet mighty moments. You’re having a conversation; you’re thinking about what to say or do next; realistically, your company will inevitably distract you from being 100% present.
By yourself, you are more attuned to your thoughts and focus on your senses: touch, smell, hearing, sight and taste. Traveling alone in this instance can be comparable to yoga–expect much less stationary. It’s in these moments of acute awareness that you’ll see the artistic graffiti on the run-down street, feel the power of the ocean behind the tiny waves that collapse around your ankles and notice the crisp air flowing into your lungs.
3. Clichés will be redefined
I touched on this one in my study abroad reflection blog, “Life Begins At The End Of Your Time Zone.” It goes hand-in-hand with noticing the little things, and in return, sheds new light on the big things. “There’s no time like the present,” “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” those are a few that have been redefined for me. They’re powerful truths revealed. It’s easy to liberally throw out these phrases in our day-to-day lives, but until you’ve undergone a profound experience, you’ve likely not relished every ounce of wisdom the clichés offer.
4. You will find more of your kind
As long as you’re not a turtle in your shell for the entirety of your trip (a few days is acceptable, expected even), you will encounter people just like you! Personally, I find hostels to be the best place for this. People are traveling the world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There is another traveler out there exploring for the exact same reasons as you. Whether it’s purely for enjoyment and fun, adventure and trailblazing the unknown, or personal exploration and challenge, you’re not alone. When you feel lonely or lost (you will, it’s inevitable), these travelers will be there to fill in those voids–you might even make new lifelong friends.
5. Coming home won’t be easy
You might be thrilled to be on your flight home, see familiar faces, speak in your first language, hug and kiss loved ones. Returning to your ways will be easy, but you’ll notice something has changed. It might not be right away and it might not be obvious, but you won’t be able to deny a strange feeling that courses through your mind. I wouldn’t say it’s culture shock, but personal shock. You’ve experienced things that no one else in your life has, and as much as you try to retell your adventures, no one gets it. No one has seen what you’ve seen. No one has thought what you’ve thought. No one has felt what you’ve felt.
I’ve found it tempting to seclude myself and isolate my thoughts and feelings, even suppress them. I have newfound dreams, aspirations and motivations because of my first trip traveling solo and no one truly understands. Day after day, I’m finding new ways to embrace these uncharted thoughts and feelings, and propagate energy from them, knowing that they, different from nearly everything else in my life, are entirely my own.
Adventure on, solo travelers. Taking steps into the unknown only helps us to map it out.