Wisdom//

8 Lessons I Learned From Traveling Solo

I took the leap a few years ago and went backpacking in South America. Here's how it impacted my personal development.

Happydancing/ Shutterstock
Happydancing/ Shutterstock

Do you often feel stuck? Do you find yourself questioning the 9-5 routine you are in, and the deeper meaning behind it? When was the last time you unplugged and truly treated yourself? When was the last time you felt completely free? When did you have the whole day to focus on your needs, thoughts and desires?

Sometimes it all feels too overwhelming, right? There has to be something more, you say to yourself. There has to be a way to feel alive again. The good news is that there is, and everyone can experience it. All it takes is a little bit of courage.

I took the leap a few years ago, and went backpacking in South America for nine months. I learnt so much from that experience, and this is exactly what I would like to share with you. Hopefully this will inspire you to do the same, and finally embark on that journey you have always been dreaming about. Long-term travel is so much more than an adventure… it’s an opportunity to grow personally and apply these learnings to all areas of daily life.

Traveling solo teaches you:

1. How to be brave

Besides the adrenaline pumping activities you are bound to engage with, traveling solo requires a significant degree of bravery and courage. You are out there alone, and you have to get through things. Climbing back into bed and sleeping the problem away is not an option. When you overcome a challenge, you know you did it alone. This realization is extremely empowering.

2. How to embrace uncertainty and go with the flow

Things will go wrong. The bus might break down, you may lose your passport, or you may get food poisoning that one time you splurged and ate at a fancy restaurant. But you are still exploring an amazing destination, and there’s no time to be miserable. You accept things, look for solutions, and try to make the most out of it. What if we could apply this approach to our everyday lives? How much more relaxed and happy would we be?

3. Self-awareness and reflection

You finally have the time and quietness to go inward. Emotions that you have been suppressing will inevitably come up. These feelings and our consequent behaviors can bring to our attention to everything that has been holding us back. We have been trying to keep these emotions at bay for a while, and it’s not going to be easy. But it’s incredibly worth it. Stay quiet, dive deeper, and you will hear your inner voice.

4. What authenticity feels like

You are just a backpacker going north or south. No one knows your past. No one knows what car you own, how “picture perfect” your relationship looks on Instagram, or how prestigious your job is. There is this anonymity, and at the same time, this unparalleled feeling of equality. It’s freedom in all its essence, and you have the room to be exactly who you are: no expectations, and no pressure.

5. What really matters in life

Our values and perspectives change while traveling. Money and status seem to loose their hold. Love, connection, and gratitude take center stage. We start evaluating our decisions and life path back home. Are our decisions made according to free will, or under the conditioning of society? Traveling, I believe, makes us redefine success as intrinsic will.

6. How to be present

Answering that email within 20 seconds does not matter. Making sure all notifications have been read does not matter. Our surroundings are so beautiful that we have no need to distract ourselves… from ourselves. Everything is new and we are absorbing it all: scenery, smells, architecture, languages, and experiences. Take a step back. What would happen if we applied this back home? How much richer would our lives be?

7. The value of connection

You are alone. You are looking for a friendly gaze, a fun conversation, or even to make friends with a local. When you get what you are seeking, you immediately feel elevated, like something has changed inside of you. It’s not just you trying to overcome the loneliness, it’s the fact that we are hardwired for connection. These micro-moments of connection actually boost happiness and well-being. When traveling, these effects are more apparent than ever. This is why we are here… to love and connect.

8. The skill of communication

Remember a great conversation you had with a local who didn’t even speak your language well? What made it great? And how did you communicate so flawlessly, without even needing the words? You were present, curious, and you made an effort. How would our everyday encounters change if we approached them all this way? I challenge you: Turn off your phone today and give someone your full presence — it’s the best gift you can give.

What have you learnt from traveling solo? Please share in the comment section below!

Sources:
Leaving It All Behind to Travel: Venturing Uncertainty as a Means to Personal Growth and Authenticity, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Sara Hirschorn and Kate Hefferon

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