Solo Travel is a Muscle

Traveling solo was always stressful, but in a good way. It feels how I think that mysterious drug all kids take in movies would feel—a hypersensitivity to every little thing you’re experiencing; intense joy, wonderment, spontaneity courses through your body all day long. You’re in awe of being in this strange place, yet because you’re acutely aware of how vulnerable you are, that something could go wrong at any moment, your adrenaline is also heightened. At least, that’s how I feel.

Landing at your destination and stepping outside of the airport for the first time is an indescribable rush. It’s when you switch over from traveling passively to traveling actively. No longer are you relying on the pilot, the airport staff, or a taxi driver; this part is all on you and what your trip ends up being is also your responsibility.

One thing I remembered in this state was that when wandering around by myself, the thought constantly in the back of my mind was: Am I prepared enough today? 

jumping erg chigaga morocco sahara

The organized chaos of traveling solo

So many things these days are dependent on a smartphone that we almost forget how much preparation is necessary when you’re without one. Take, for example, my recent data shortage (how am I possibly hitting that 3GB cap every month so far??). If I want to make the last .5GB stretch for the rest of the month, I cut out using the GPS, which is hard in Austin as a newcomer! I always end up having to look up directions standing outside the door of my apartment, where I could still access wifi, and then take a screenshot. But this is nothing compared to the level of preparedness I had to be while traveling.

I did this every time I stepped out the door. Everywhere I wanted to go for a whole day, I would plan a trajectory or keep notes on free wifi hotspots along the way in case I got lost or changed my mind. That’s what a solo traveler on a budget has to do. Typically, I had to block of 1 to 2 hours each night at the hostel or host apartment, after having returned from the day’s adventures, to plan out what I wanted to see, in what order, and how to get to each of the sights.

There were things that never occurred to me to do until I traveled. For example, I found myself in downtown Istanbul with no idea what the nearest metro stop to Sultanahmet was or how to get to the metro. Or, for the times I couchsurfed, I had to coordinate with my host on times that I would be able to return. Or that time I didn’t know where the nearest Tourist Information Office was so that I could pick up city maps. Yet another time during my Germany trip, I realized I had no idea what any of their common grocery stores were called and what they would look like—were they those kinds of stores just on the street? In a mall? I didn’t know! (Luckily, in this instance, Melanie gave me a helping hand.) During my day trips en route to larger cities, I had to figure out where to stash my backpack because there was no way I was carrying that the whole day.

All of these were just a fraction of the possibilities I had to consider when on the road. Oh, and sunset times. Don’t ever forget sunset times because it’s ridiculously early in Europe in the winter.

Despite all of these little nuances that I always had to think about, none of that mattered because I was on a high while traveling. I was impenetrable. If I could travel to all these places alone without getting too lost, make friends no matter where I was, I could basically do anything! I could conquer the world. 

view from arthur's seat edinburgh scotland

Being back home is… different

Since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed that I’ve forgotten what that traveling high feels like. Each time when I think of taking a quick little jaunt somewhere on the weekends, I feel the same way I felt before I left for my first solo trip to Avignon: nervous, uncertain, completely vulnerable. What happened to the fearless adventurer that blew through Morocco, Istanbul, and Dublin on St. Paddy’s by herself? It seems that I have somehow relearned the pre-trip fears so that now, the thought of traveling alone once again makes me nervous. And that makes me scared. What if I can never push past this fear again?

This fear is probably a bit amplified for me because stay-at-home, non-traveling me is so very different than traveling me. At home, I thrive in the company of my friends, happy to just sit silently in a coffeeshop or someone’s living room while doing my own thing. Everything is better with some friends! is my mantra. However, when traveling, I know not to depend on someone else’s presence on the trip; I know how to entertain myself. But I also knew that solo traveling doesn’t mean friendless travel or even lonely travel—in fact, the number of times I felt truly alone on the 2-month trip was greatly outnumbered by the times when I felt flooded with social activity to where I didn’t even care if I didn’t click with anyone in the London hostels because it’d been too long since I was able to just sit by myself and blog.

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Solo Travel is a Muscle

And it’s a muscle I have to use. I remember before taking off for my winter break trip around Germany, I was a bundle of nerves oscillating between excitement and terror. Yet again, before the start of my post-study abroad trip, I found myself staring down the 2 months I’d have to myself and worrying that I wouldn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I worried that it would be a disaster. Most of all, I worried that the world really is a scarier place than I thought it was. But, after a few cities under my belt, I found myself wholly embracing the solo travel lifestyle once more, trailblazing forward with no time for crippling fear.

I like to think that solo travel is just a muscle that I haven’t had the chance of using in a while. Like everything we do in life, there’s always some level of fear attached to it. Getting a job, for example, comes with the fear of not fitting into your office’s culture, not being able to stay within your budget, not enjoying the work that you do, etc. However, we confront these fears daily, which is why pushing past these fears is easier than jumping spontaneously on a plane. These are fears that we’ve pushed against time and time again; and like they always say, practice makes perfect. Solo travel, on the other hand, is something that doesn’t happen often and if it does, there’s a quick acclimation phase before you snowball forward. The time period in which you are actually terrified is very little, which is why it’s a muscle easily weakened.

Even though I know that I’m feeling this way because I haven’t traveled in a while, it’s weird to think how this “solo travel fear” can be so easily picked up again. And it’s completely relevant to broadening your mind. It’s so easy to become set in your ways that you perceive discomfort with the slightest change in your schedule. It’s like those articles on how to develop a new habit; the mind is exactly the same way. I’m scared that if I get into the habit of confining myself to certain spaces, behaviors, and comfort zones, eventually I’ll reach the point where travel is too far outside my comfort zone to ever attain again.

What are your thoughts? Is this something you’ve experienced before? 

Welcome to this week’s Travel Tuesday linkup with A Compass Rose!

This week, I’m happy to feature Yalanda and her post “Taipei Three Day Itinerary“! It makes me miss Taiwan so much! Go check it out!

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  • http://www.adifferentpieceofsky.com Sara

    Oh geez, I’m only a few days away from travelling solo for two weeks through Italy and the way you describe your pre-trip feelings is exactly what I’m going through right now, haha. Aside from moving to Germany by myself, I’ve only done a few shorter solo trips so far but I love it. It’s definitely a rush, and I could see how being home and in a different environment would make you a little uncomfortable about solo travel again.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Ahhh!! I’m so excited for you! It’s going to be amazing and you’re going to feel the rush all over again. Thanks :) I never expected that this was going to be one of my fears! But I always want to be able to try to push my comfort zones—being stuck in one is the worst!

  • http://www.slightlyastray.com/ Anna | slightly astray

    I really admire you guys who have solo traveled, because even though I’m not an inexperienced traveler anymore, I think I would totally suck at solo travel. I’m so bad at planning and am so disorganized and I just know I wouldn’t get my shit together. Like I wouldn’t get that visa I need, or have enough cash, or something. I see what you mean about being scared to go travel again, but I think since you’ve done it once and had a great time and survived, you’ll be just fine!!

    And girl, get the app maps.me. It’s literally my life saver!!! It goes by GPS so you don’t need an internet connection to work it. And you can pin specific buildings. And it shows all the subway lines and everything!! We SWEAR by it. With that, you’ll never be lost!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha, it’s very different!! I know with friends, even if we get lost, it’s something we overcome together and we may still have fun. For solo travelers, it’s just getting lost, haha. Thanks, Anna :)

      Does that app work even when you don’t have data?? Or a phone plan abroad?! Oh man. This is going to be AWESOME when I head off next!

      • http://www.slightlyastray.com/ Anna | slightly astray

        Yes! You don’t need a data plan or internet to use it! But you do have to download the country’s map beforehand when you do have internet and then pin some stuff (like hotel, attractions you want to see, etc.). The app has a search function too for all the streets and famous attractions and even popular restaurants!

        • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

          THIS IS AMAZING!!! I dabbled in apps that claimed they could do that… but none of them ever worked! What would I have done without you? ;)

  • http://prettythingandco.com/ Madaline

    I love traveling solo! I get to be alone to walk as slowly as I want and stare at things without explaining.I totally agree about the airport! I always get this huge rush when I’m alone – you only have yourself to count on to have a good trip!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yay for solo travelers! I agree—you get to do things when you’re ready to do them and if that means sometimes just sitting in a park for a few hours, so be it!

  • http://www.clemandmarcella.wordpress.com/ Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld

    LOVE this post, Michelle! I enjoyed travelling ‘solo’ although I never actually felt like I was alone as I always met so many people that I then travelled with. However, I didn’t plan anything. Well, I had a few places that I had in mind that I *might* want to visit but I really enjoyed just have a return flight and not knowing what I was doing for five months. I loved the thought of waking up each day and not knowing what would happen. Three years after travelling for five months, I set off on a three week trip and had the fear of travelling solo again but then as soon as I started the travel I remembered that it’s actually amazing! :) Have a great day!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Exactly! And small groups tend to flock together—no one wants to be the person who met no one while traveling abroad! I haven’t really had that feeling yet… but I want to! Just dedicating that amount of time to exploring a place. Man.

      I’m glad to know that it’s only temporary!! One of my newest realized fears is that I forget how to push my comfort zone.

  • http://www.twofeet-oneworld.com/ Jessi @2feet1world

    Great post! I haven’t solo travelled much, although I do a lot of the organising when I go with friends. So that side of it isn’t so different, but the independence and difficulty factors might be a little more. Fascinating to read your thoughts on picking it up again :)

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I love the organizing part! But hate when it takes to long to do. Each has its own difficulties, I’m sure, haha. We just have experience in different areas! Thanks, Jessi :)

  • http://www.crumbsinthebed.com/ Kerri

    You go girl! You show that solo travel who’s boss!

    I’ll just stick with travelling with Kris, because I just really enjoy his company. I like sharing the responsibility and the adventure with him. No one else haha, just him. I think we’re so at peace with each other, that it’s like being on your own sometimes :)

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yeah yeah!

      Man, that’s where it’s at! Haha, that sounds like you found a winner. I’ve yet to meet someone romantically that I’d imagine being that at ease with even in travel situations. Sounds pretty cool :)

  • http://estrellaexplores.com/ Estrella

    Love this well written post. I’ve only done solo a solo trip once (9 days in Thailand) and it was an experience I’ll never forget. I made plans to meet up with friends on some parts of the trip, but most of the time I was alone. As you said, your senses are heightened because you know you can can’t expect any one else to do the planning, mapping, etc. Since then, I’ve only done solo day trips, but I’d love to experience the rush and excitement of traveling solo again in the future.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Estrella! I feel like once you get a taste of that rush, it’s hard to stop! Hoping yours comes pretty soon :)

  • http://theladyerrant.com/ Kelly

    I’ve been thinking about this too. . .I feel like my mind is shrinking now that I’m back home. And not only back home, but basically in my hometown. With some guy that I’ll be stuck with forever! So solo travel is becoming more unlikely. I really need to start thinking of exploring my city like I’m somewhere new. When I lived in China, most of my phone’s apps only worked in Chinese, so I’d screenshot a little map section on my iPod or memorize a basic layout. I walked across a small city like that, exploring, and I felt so cool. Haha. I just need to do that with a new neighborhood around here sometime, but I don’t want to because I’d feel like an idiot if I got lost since I don’t have a smartphone and don’t want to be that local asking for directions.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I feel like that too! About my mind, I mean :p Hahaha everything is forever!! But that’s a new type of travel, and rewarding in its own way. I haven’t been in a place where they didn’t use a roman alphabet… but I would feel 10 times more lost if it was in another alphabet!!

      LOL lay out some breadcrumbs or something. You can always pretend you’re not a local!

  • http://simplicityrelished.com/ Daisy @ Simplicity Relished

    Traveling alone is a huge challenge for me and I don’t think I’ve ever done it actually. Now that I’m married we try to sync up our travel schedules just so we can see places together, so I probably won’t have the opportunity to be independent abroad. I love your thoughts though, and think that there are TONS of advantages to traveling solo. Go you!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yeah, I’m sure once you get into a partnership like that, it would be more rewarding to share the travel experiences. Thanks, Daisy!

  • http://www.simplysaratravel.com/ Sara

    I so admire solo travelers! I’ve never done a solo trip – the closest I’ve come is visiting a friend and doing my own thing by day, or tagging along on a business trip with my hubby and again exploring by myself during the day. I do love the freedom in that – that I can do whatever I want, and if something catches my eye, I have all the time in the world to go take another look. Since moving to France, I’ve had more alone time than ever, and I’ve gotten to the point where I cherish these quiet moments to myself. Sometimes I question if I’m becoming an introvert! All that to say, I would love to give true solo travel a try one day, though it would be hard as I do love to travel with my hubby!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I recently just went to SF and did the whole touring by day, hang out with friend by night. This does change the solo travel feel, because I knew I had a local on my side who would help me out. Haha, yeah, I feel like the chances of traveling alone—and even the desire to—changes when you have a partner!

  • Andrea

    I absolutely loved my solo travels. It was great to be able to go at my pace, see the sites I always dreamed of, and reflect on the experience. I totally agree that the longer you go without doing it, the harder it is to get back out there and go for it. Definitely worth it for the “high” though!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Yay, another solo traveler! There are so many benefits to it—everyone should try it at least once :) I’m glad to know it’s not just me!

  • http://www.tothedayslikethis.com/ Sammy @ Days Like This

    I am starting 2 months of my (mostly) solo travels in a couple of weeks. I am really excited for it! I have done a bit of solo traveling before and I enjoy it. It really pushes me outside of my comfort zone!

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      I’m so excited for you! Can’t wait to read all about your travels. You’ll undoubtedly have so much to talk about! :)

  • http://www.californienne.com/ Marianne

    I actually wrote a post very similar to this one recently! Solo travel is awesome and I feel like it’s a muscle that so few people know how to flex! Here in France I don’t have a data plan so anytime I go somewhere I either have to download a map while I have wifi or hope for the best! haha

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Ahh, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to catch up on all blog posts lately! Will dash over to catch up :) Haha, that’s basically what I did… although Anna told me of this app where you can still use it as a GPS when you pre-load a country’s maps while in wi-fi!

  • Arman @ thebigmansworld

    Such a timely post- I am scared yet excited about the move over to America…and my poor smart phone haha

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha it’s going to be amazing, Arman!!! When’s the big day?? And where is it going to be?? NYC, I’m guessing.

  • http://www.fullofbeansandsausages.com/ Holly Hollyson

    That is how I feel about solo travel too! You have such a beautiful way of putting feelings into words.

  • http://beertimewithwagner.com/ Jordan Beck Wagner

    I love solo travel and totally agree about the “rush” of getting off a plane, train, etc. in a new place! I love the freedom of solo travel and getting to do what I want to do! :)

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Seriously! It’s addicting haha :) I see you’re getting your traveling done. Making me jealous!