So you’re going through a midlife transition, but let’s be honest, it feels more like a midlife crisis. You’re dissatisfied, frustrated with how your life is going and you feel hopelessly stuck. Now more than ever, you’re aware of your mortality but you don’t know what to do.
You’re not alone.
I’ve been there. Consumed by all those feelings especially after I hit my forties. I was listless and restless and found myself questioning everything. I knew something had to change, I just didn’t know what. Finally, fed up with feeling that way I decided to try to figure it out.
That journey of discovery would be both a figurative and literal one because it all started with a trip. My first solo trip in over two decades lit a spark and what followed were some of the most satisfying years of my life.
You see, I discovered a few things about myself on that trip and many others since. I began to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, the kind of life I wanted and the things I didn’t. I went through some downs but way more ups and was stronger and better for the experiences. I had to learn to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Those solo trips transformed my perception of myself and my place in the world.
Are you muddling through feelings of confusion right now? Are you feeling low, devoid of confidence and not sure what steps to take? Perhaps it’s time to try something different. Solo travel opened my eyes and changed my life and here are seven reasons why I believe it could do the same for you.
1. You’ll feel empowered knowing that you CAN go it alone
If you’ve never travelled alone before it may feel daunting. You worry about everything that could go wrong. ‘What if this happens or that? What if you get lonely? What will people think?’ My response is: ‘Is that a good enough reason not to go? Are you really willing to miss out because of it?’ because once you find the will to push past your fear and take action you’ll be amazed by the burst of confidence you get. You realise that you’re in charge, you can choose to go it alone and that confidence will pervade other areas of your life too.
Remember the days when you tried to plan a trip with your significant other or maybe it was with family and friends? You couldn’t agree on where to go, how long for, the best time to go and coordinating your schedules and organising an itinerary that suited everyone was a headache. Or maybe for them travelling just wasn’t a priority so you sat around waiting for them to find the time, money or motivation to go.
In the past that meant the trip didn’t happen, but now you know that having to do it alone is not an obstacle. There’s a world out there and you want to experience as much of it as you can, while you can.
2. You’ll get to do what you want, when you want, for however long you want
If you’ve ever travelled with others you know that it can be a frustrating experience especially when you don’t share the same interests. Maybe you like visiting historical buildings or lingering at museums. How many times have you rushed because of your companions’ ‘We have to go’ or been the target of long-suffering looks that telegraph the question ‘Do you still want to look around?’ The converse is also true, how many hours have you spent doing stuff that you couldn’t care less about?
Some say it’s a compromise and they’re absolutely right, it’s all about compromise when you travel with others. But when you travel alone, you don’t need to compromise. You can browse those tiny out-of-the-way shops at your leisure . Linger over your mid-morning coffee or just do nothing if you want to. You dictate your schedule because guess what, you have all the time in the world. It’s a great feeling to put yourself first and it can become an addictive one.
3. You’ll get to spend quality time on your own
It can be exhausting having to deal with the constant chatter and mental cacophony of the many interactions in your life. At work, out and about and in your personal life, the noise can become deafening and draining. Being alone is an opportunity to recharge, refresh and reset your mind. In that quiet space you often catch thoughts that were lost in the noise of your life, ideas and memories spring to life.
You may discover that you can ponder ideas that you’ve found it impossible to focus on or sometimes it’s simply doing nothing at all and immersing yourself in the present. I remember walking among the Glencoe mountains in Scotland and having a sense that time stood still. There I was, no worries, responsibilities or stresses, just one with it all – the most incredible experience.
There’s another benefit that introspection brings. You get to learn more about yourself. What do you like? What do you want to do? There is no one to censor your thoughts or desires.
A friend said to me that he never does anything alone, he never likes being alone. My response was: ‘What are you afraid of? You can’t run from yourself forever.’ Don’t be afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Spend some time with yourself, you may discover that there’s an interesting person in there just waiting for some attention. You may find out that you enjoy your own company.
4. You’ll get to be brave and self-reliant
We know that fear emerges with uncertainty and we humans get stuck on wanting to know what will happen next. In a new environment you will feel vulnerable and surrounded by the not so familiar you will feel uncomfortable. The unexpected will inevitably happen. The upside is you have to let go of the need to control everything and just go with the flow, trust that a solution exists and that you will find it.
I remember travelling to Seville, Spain a few years ago and I just happened to arrive when the taxi drivers were all on strike. My best laid plans were in tatters. The bus stop I found from the airport went in the wrong direction so what could I do? Should I try to figure out what connections I would need to make from that bus or should I do the ‘adventurous’ thing and get out a map, locate myself on it and start walking?
Now this is a big deal for me, I am what one would call navigationally challenged. I always get lost and that day was no exception, but that’s the beauty of being on your own. When you have no choice but to rely on yourself you will rise to the challenge. So I set out lugging my case behind and after a few wrong turns, a few dónde estás to helpful strangers I found my way to my destination. Sure a twenty minute journey took forty-five but I made it.
Remember you cannot be brave in the absence of fear and a solo trip will present these opportunities. Whether by choice or circumstance you learn how to figure things out and you also learn that you are capable of figuring things out. You learn to trust yourself.
Which brings me to the next point.
5. You’ll discover you don’t have to be alone
You may believe that travelling alone means you’ll feel lonely but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You may find that you are more likely to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger when you’re on your own. Sometimes it’s out of necessity like that time I was trying to find my way to my hotel and realised that I was probably going round in circles. I stopped a kind lady who was patient enough to explain in very slow Spanish the many twists and turns I needed to take.
But sometimes it can be through shared amazement and joy, like the American woman I met on my last trip to Greece. There we were both solo travellers drinking in the history and splendour of so many ancient sites. For that brief period we were kindred spirits as we talked, laughed and took photos.
I’ve had many shared moments with strangers while travelling alone. The Japanese student, I met while touring the Scottish borders; the young family from Australia I met at Teatro Romano in Malaga; the retired couple from New Zealand I met on a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. The list goes on.
I think when you travel with companions they can act as a barrier to you interacting outside your circle, you perhaps miss out on the opportunity to experience new connections, however brief.
6. You’ll get to step out of your routine
You tend to have a defined identity in your everyday life, who and what you represent to others and yourself. You have patterns that you follow and travelling with those you know, who have very clear ideas and expectations of who you are and the role you play in their lives, can keep you constrained.
In a new environment you are set free. You get to be whoever you want to be if that is your desire. Imagine discarding old customs, habits and reinventing yourself even temporarily. You’re in Rome, well act like the Romans if you want.
It can be thrilling to be that new person, to put on the cloak of your alter ego when you travel, to be whoever you want to be on those trips. To try things you wouldn’t think about in your everyday life. After all you are among strangers, the people you meet have no notion of who you are in your other life, only what you present to them in that moment. Have fun.
7. You’ll get countless opportunities to experience and express gratitude
When your breath is taken away by an awe-inspiring place, or something strikes a chord deep inside, you can close your eyes, savour the moment and give thanks that you were able to experience it. If someone takes the time to answer a question or show a friendly face you don’t take it for granted. As you get to learn about other cultures, languages, customs and share who you are with others from so many rich walks of life you can’t help but be thankful.
Are you ready to venture out on your own?
”The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau
All it takes is a decision so make it today. You don’t have to miss out any longer, the opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world await. Worried about looking pathetic and lonely because you’re on your own? See it as brave and adventurous instead. Embrace the bubble of nervous anticipation in your stomach and go for it. So you’re alone. So what? Don’t let that hold you back.
Now over to you.
Are you suffering through a midlife slump and need a jumpstart?
Could solo travel provide the spark?
Let me know in the comments.