How Solo Travel Changed My Life (And How It Can Change Yours Too)
This article was written by Jessica Festa and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.
I never thought I would travel solo. It kind of just…happened. Growing up, my vacations consisted of Caribbean cruises and road trips spent searching for thrilling roller coasters and America’s best beaches. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Sydney at the age of 20 that I got the itch to begin expanding my travel horizons. Inspired by Australia’s rich Thai cuisine culture, I decided I wanted to go to Thailand to try the real thing.
I started saving immediately upon my return home to New York, planning to head to Southeast Asia the next summer. Right after Christmas I began asking friends and family if they would be interested in visiting Thailand with me that summer. Doing homestays, hiking through rice terraces, taking cooking classes, perusing night markets, and spending some time volunteering—who could resist such an adventure? Apparently, everyone I knew.
When the time came to book my ticket, I was faced with a big decision: Travel solo or stay home and give up on an experience I had been looking forward to for months. I worried I would feel awkward or that I would be lonely. I worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone because of language barriers. I worried about finding accommodation and ordering food and getting ripped off. But most of all, I worried I would miss out on an enriching opportunity. A round-trip ticket to Bangkok, please. How many passengers? One!
As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. Solo travel has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined or anticipated, and if you take the leap, it’ll change yours too. Here’s how:
Your Self-Esteem Will Skyrocket
Since my first solo travel experience in Thailand I’ve had many others: A summer through Europe, three months through South America, an adventurous journey exploring French Polynesia, some alone time in Morocco, and numerous solo trips around the United States. You see, every time I travel solo it’s like a self-esteem boost as I’m reminded of all that I am capable of.
Traveling with others, you tend to rely on different people for different things. Maybe Joe handles the map because he’s good at navigation while Jenn smooths out any ordeals because she’s an excellent problem solver. When you’re traveling solo, you’re responsible for it all: Reading the map, navigating local transportation, communicating through language barriers to order food or a bus ticket, problem solving when you miss your train or your motorbike runs out of gas, getting un-lost in unfamiliar cities, and any travel mishap in between.
And guess what? You’ll do it! You may not think you can handle all the tasks that come with solo travel, but you’ll surprise yourself. Because when you’re looking out for yourself and a challenge comes your way you’ll accomplish anything and everything.
You Will Learn to Shine
Before I began traveling solo I was much more reliant on other people. I was shy and would hide within the circle of my friends. After traveling solo as a female, however, I realized I could be a social superstar if I tried. I think I truly reached my full socializing potential when partaking in some solo female travel through Europe. The culture is extremely social in itself, with people mingling and sharing wine in public squares and the ability to make friends on every corner. Suddenly, people were coming up and starting conversations with me in money exchanges, train stations, parks, buses, piazzas, and hostels.
As I assimilated more into the European culture and the friendliness of the backpacker circuit, I began initiating conversations myself. I would bring a bottle of wine to a park, offering to share with picnickers in exchange for some cheese and bread, or I would invite people from a walking tour out for drinks at night. I made a lot of great friends, many whom I still keep in touch with. Even more, I realized how easy it was to make friends once you came out of your shell, a skill that has helped me in work, friendship, and relationships.
You Will Develop Independence
While I’m thankful to have always had such helpful parents, being young and inexperienced in the world left me dependent on other people; however, one solo travel trip to Asia left me transformed. When you’re traveling solo, independence isn’t something you need to try to attain; it’s just something that happens naturally. There is nobody there to rely on for money, to watch your luggage when you go to the bathroom or show you the way when you get lost. It’s all up to you. And the more you figure these things out, the more independent you become. I can remember a time when my luggage was lost on a flight from Munich to Nice. It took me a week to get it back, and the airline made me travel 12 hours to pick it up, which made me almost miss my train, which made me almost get to my hostel too late to check-in. Yes it was a hassle, but I figured it out and solved the problem—all on my own.
Open-Mindedness Will Become Second Nature
The best thing about traveling solo is that it forces you to interact with locals and not just talk to your travel buddies from home. When you visit a foreign place you must adapt to the local culture, figuring out how to order food, dress appropriately, and ride the local transport system. If you don’t know how to use a squat toilet in Thailand they’re not going to roll out the red carpet for you and bring you a flusher. You figure these things out as you go, and as you encounter new situations and cultural facets you’re able to engage, process, and react to them without influence from others.
For example, when backpacking through South America I spent much time riding the bus. This is a cultural experience in itself, as you sit with locals for 20 hours at a time, meet local artisans, hear traditional musicians, sample typical foods and see what the farmers are selling. If I were traveling with a friend I may have had to deal with judgmental comments or persuasive opinions, or I might have been too consumed talking with my companion to actually notice the everyday nuances of culture going on around me. Solo female travel has allowed me to take culture in and interact with it without distractions, transforming me into a more worldly and open-minded individual.
You Will Experience Pure Freedom
Probably the greatest gift solo female travel has given my life is the experience of ultimate freedom. When you travel solo you decide where you’ll go, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. There’s nobody trying to change your plans and there’s no need to compromise. You’re in complete control of your travel experience, and it feels good. As I’ve gotten used to traveling alone, I enjoy traveling without making plans. When I arrive to a place I discover it organically, asking for recommendations from locals and using CouchSurfing to meet new people. I change my plans daily based on how I’m feeling and who I meet. Life’s one big adventure full of experiences to be had, and there is nobody there to tell me I can’t.
You’ll Remember That It Isn’t Permanent
I think what helped assuage my fears from the get-go was the realization that I really was in control of the trip planning, down to the fact that I could hop on a plane home if I really felt uncomfortable. Many people seem to forget that just because you make a decision to travel somewhere solo doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Once you arrive at your destination give yourself a few days to get used to being on your own and orienting yourself. If you genuinely feel terrified or miserable after giving it a fair chance, change your location or go home. When you’re traveling solo, it’s all up to you.
My Most Important Lesson
The most important thing solo female travel has taught me is that anything is possible. It’s opened the world for me and made it a smaller and larger place all at the same time. While it’s easier than ever to cross seas and explore new continents, there are so many experiences to be had and so many interesting people to meet. I’ve gone from blindly believing stereotypes and what I hear on the news to experiencing places and cultures firsthand, creating my own truths. And while I know there are bad people and dangerous places in the world, solo female travel has turned me into an optimist that believes there are many more safe places and people with kind hearts. Solo travel has taught me how much more worthwhile life can be when you live it to the fullest without regrets.
Would you ever travel solo? If you already have, has the experience taught you any valuable lessons? Please share in the comments below.
More from Jessie on a Journey:
3 Flash Sales You Won't Want To Miss!
We've just discovered three flash sales happening this week that you won't want to miss. Here's what you need to know. For ski lovers who are planning ahead Vail Resorts and RockResorts in Colorado, Lake Tahoe, Grand Teton National Park, Utah, and Jamaica are having a 96-hour flash sale starting Tuesday, Aug. 18th until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21st where you can save up to 50 percent on stays at luxury-style campgrounds, boutique hotels, and resorts. Sample prices include rates at The Lodge at Vail from $129 per night, rates at The Pines Lodge at Beaver Creek from $117 per night, and even a 60 percent discount at Half Moon, A RockResort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with rates from $229 per night. If you currently have the Epic Pass, you're eligible for even more discounts—purchase the 2015-2016 season Epic Pass by Sept. 7th for $769 per person for access to unlimited skiing and snowboarding at 10 U.S. ski areas and select ski resorts in Australia and Switzerland. For a last-minute beach getaway Looking for the perfect autumn beach vacation? Grand Lucayan on Grand Bahama Island is having a 72-hour flash sale where you can save up to 50 percent on stays of at least two nights between Sept. 2nd and Nov. 15th as long as you book by Thursday, Aug. 20th. Rates start from $90 per night (with a two-night minimum-stay required) and you'll get a $125 resort credit to be used for dining, spa services, tennis, and golf (cart fees excluded). The best part: children ages 12 and under stay for free. For a quick trip to Milan Suddenly in the mood for Italian food or interested in checking out Expo Milano before it ends on Oct. 31st? Take advantage of this amazing flash sale from Emirates where you can score 2-for-1 airplane tickets to Milan when you book by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20th. Two people can fly round-trip from JFK to Milan $999 in economy class or splurge for two business class tickets for from $3,800 for both of you. Tickets must be used between Oct. 1, 2015 and Mar. 23, 2016. Plus, Milan was named one of Budget Travel's best places to visit in 2015, so get to it!
City Passes in Italy: Worth It or Not?
Tracking down amazing Real Deals is a big part of my job here at Budget Travel, and involves breaking down the details to make sure travelers are really getting the most for their money. I decided to apply the same logic when planning out my family’s first vacation to Italy—especially when we kept running into deals that sounded too good to be true. Take the city cards and passes for Florence, Venice, and Rome. The basic idea behind them: pay a lump sum and get access to museums, historic sites, and galleries—and sometimes city buses or metro—for a discounted price rather than buying all those tickets separately. Discounts and the ability to skip enormous lines? Sounds good to me. But are they really a good deal? I looked into it and here is what I found: Firenze Card (The Florence Card) Price: $80 per person. Where you can buy it: Through the website or at any of these participating attractions. How it works: The Florence Card covers admission at 67 of the city's museums, galleries, historical villas, and gardens as well as a three–day transit pass. It remains active for 72 hours, and the clock starts when you visit your first sight. One caveat: You can only visit each place once. So savor your time with David. The breakdown: Florence's two most popular museums, the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery, cost $25 and $9 respectively to visit. A three–day transit ticket costs $18 per person, so entrance fees to the two must–see museums plus the transit pass already brings you to $56. For just $28 more, you get free access to 65 more sights. The verdict: Deal! VeneziaUnica City Pass (The Venice Card) Price: $44 per person over age 30; $33 for those ages 6 to 29. Where you can buy it: Create your own card online with options that will make the most of your trip, whether you're planning to use public transit or just walk and see the various museums of Vence. You can also find the City Pass at any of these Hello Venezia ticket offices, at tourism agencies in the Mestre and Santa Lucia train stations, or at Marco Polo Airport. How it works: You’ll get admission to the Doge’s Palace, Jewish Museum, 16 Chorus Churches, and the city’s 10 Civic Museums, plus discounts on parking outside the historic center, tours, concerts, and at shops. Plus you can take your time—the card stays active for seven days. The breakdown: A regular ticket to the Doge’s Palace costs $27 and includes admission to the other 10 Civic Museums if you purchase the Museum Pass instead. A Chorus Pass will give you entry to 16 churches for another $13. Admission to the Jewish Museum is a mere $4 more, bringing your total to $44 without the Venice Card. For the same price, you'll have access to more museums and have seven days to use it. The verdict: Deal—if you're planning to museum-hop and see everything the Venice Pass has to offer. Roma Pass (The Rome Card) Price: $40 per person. Where you can buy it: Through the website or at any participating attraction. How it works: The Roma Pass covers entrance fees to your choice of two participating museums or archaeological sites, discounted admission to more listed sites, and free use of city transit. Most of the city's attractions are covered, but note that the Vatican Museums are not part of the deal. The breakdown: One regular ticket to the Coliseum works for two days and includes admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill for $26, while a three–day transit pass will set you back $18. For $4 less, you might as well take advantage of the discounts and access to another free museum. And you won't have to wait in line at the Coliseum and other typically overcrowded attractions. Which is priceless. The verdict: Deal! *Prices shown here are in USD, are based on one adult, and include taxes and fees when purchased online. Euro–dollar conversions are shown on xe.com from August 17, 2015, and may vary over time.
Save On Flights To Sydney Now Thru Aug. 25th
Great news for anyone planning (or dreaming of) a trip to Australia: Qantas is having a big sale on flights to Sydney now thru Aug. 25th. Here's what you need to know. Round-trip flights from L.A. to Sydney start at $1,349 per person when you fly between Nov. 1-30, 2015; Feb 1-Mar. 30, 2016; and May 1-Jun. 21, 2016. Round-trip flights from San Francisco, New York City (JFK), and Dallas/Fort Worth start at $1,549 per person. Travel dates for San Francisco must be between Feb. 1st and Mar. 30th or May 1st to Jun. 21, 2016. To take advantage of the sale price from New York City, travel between Nov. 9-29, 2015; Feb. 1-Mar. 30, or May 1-Jun. 21, 2016. Coming from the Dallas/Fort Worth area? Travel between Feb. 3rd and Mar. 30th or May 1st to Jun. 20, 2016. And now for the fine print: You must book by Aug. 25th to cash in on the sale. There is a 10-day minimum stay requirement, meaning you need to stay in Australia for at least 10 days after your transpacific flight departs. Please note that fares are based on flights that depart from Sunday through Wednesday, but travel from Thursday to Saturday is also available for an additional fee. Please visit Qantas.com for more info and to book your flight.
6 Reasons To Visit Namibia
This article was written by the Jill Nawrocki on behalf of Viator.com. With only about two million people scattered across the expanses of its breathtaking savannahs, haunting deserts, and fertile deltas, Namibia is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. Yet somehow this southern African nation that’s approximately the size of California still offers some of the greatest ecological and cultural diversity in the world. With a modern capital city, comforting colonial-inspired coastline, and network of well-paved roads, accessing all that this beautiful country has to offer is incredibly easy—even for first timers. As a result, this coastal gem has quickly taken its place among the top spots to visit in Africa and become the perfect entry point into exploring this incredible continent. Here are some of our favorite reasons to visit Namibia. The Language Barrier is Small While about half of Namibia’s two million people speak Oshiwambo—one of the country’s 11 major languages—at home, English is actually the national language. When the country gained its independence back in 1990, the government hoped shifting to a more-widely spoken tongue would result in faster economic advancement. Whether this has been the case is still up for debate, but travelers to Namibia will find that even in some of its most remote regions at least a little English is often spoken. In larger cities like Windhoek and Swakopmund where German and Dutch influence was once great, visitors can easily get around speaking one of these languages instead. And while the presence of European languages makes navigating the villages a bit more manageable, the country has done well to preserve its own indigenous tongues. Travelers can still hear the clicking language across Damaraland and the far south, made famous by the Nama, Damara, and San people. The History is Fascinating Like South Africa, Namibia’s history is rich with stories of oppression and tales of triumph. From its early colonial days, when the Dutch and Germans ruled this nation formerly known as German South-West Africa and later, as only South-West Africa, its people have been tucked under a harsh and difficult rule. Whole tribes of people were collected and confined to specific regions of the country under German rule and historians have speculated that the model used by the Nazis in the Holocaust was tried and perfected on the people of Namibia during the Herero and Namaqua genocide. Later, when Namibia became a part of South Africa, the country fell under apartheid rule. As a result, white Namibians and German and Dutch residents were placed in wealthier “townships” and black Namibians were forced to live in areas known as “locations.” Although this system of oppression no longer exists today, travelers to Namibia can still seem remnants of the nation’s difficult past. Monuments to German soldiers and bloody battles exist in many of the country’s larger cities, particularly in Namibia’s southern regions, and German and Dutch colonial architecture is the norm in places like Windhoek, Luderitz, and Swakopmund. The Landscape is Beautiful Namibia is home to some of the world’s most diverse landscapes. From the sweltering sands of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts to the unforgiving Skeleton Coast, fertile Okavango Delta and the rocky depths of Fish River Canyon, this is a country that has it all. The best part: its network of well-paved roads with practically zero traffic makes moving one extreme to another a breeze. Explore the vast savannahs of the south in Karas or Hardap. Or travel to the north, where lush green mango trees and tall grasses line the Okavango River. To the east, in Omaheke, travelers can cruise through the desert under the light of the blazing sun or head to Kunene where mountain passes lead to the land of the Himba people in the unique town of Opuwo. Adventure Comes in Many Forms All this diversity in landscape means there’s plenty for the outdoor adventurer seeking a new kind of thrill in Namibia. Avid hikers can pack up a bag and descend into the depths of Fish River Canyon, one of the nation’s most difficult multi-day hikes that dips across rivers and rocky passes with no escape from the blinding Namibian sun. Extreme sports enthusiasts can skydive from tiny private planes over the desert sands outside of Swakopmund or ride the sandy waves while boarding down the world-famous dunes near the coast of the Atlantic. Travelers can take an evening game drive through the vast Etosha in hopes of spotting a lion pride in search of a kill, or head to one of the country’s well-kept lodges for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hunting springbok in the bush. And while hiring a car, hopping a tour or traveling with a guide are easy ways to see this great nation, one of the most adventurous ways to get around is thumbing a ride from the side of the road, where friendly locals are often eager to offer a lift to visitors exploring the countryside. The Animal Life Is Diverse Namibia’s wildlife is as rich and diverse and its geography and its people. That’s because when the nation gained its independence back in 1990, it made conservation one of its top priorities. Etosha National Park, located in the northwestern part of the country, is one of Namibia’s most popular wildlife destinations. Its 22,000 square kilometers of protected land are home to hundreds of elephants, rhinos, giraffe, lions, kudu, and zebra that gather during rainy season at the park’s famous watering holes. Visitors can stay at one of the park’s incredible lodges, where western comforts meet life in the bush, or spend an afternoon driving through the grasslands of this reserve. But Etosha isn’t the only place where the health and safety of Namibia’s wild animals reigns supreme. At the Cheetah Conservation Fund located just outside Otjiwarango, a team of expert staff led by American Laurie Marker, keep close watch over some of the country’s most beautiful felines. The center, which is a hub for research, education, conservation and habitat restoration, is also home to a number of cheetahs. Namibia is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in the world. Located in Cape Cross, along the country’s Atlantic coast, the Cape Fur Seals have become one of the nation’s most popular—and unexpected—wildlife attractions. Travelers can tour by boat or kayak up close to these playful sea creatures while on a visit to Swakopmund. The People Are Welcoming Despite its history of apartheid and oppression, Namibia is full of diverse people who are warm and welcoming to foreign travelers. Whether it’s hitching a ride with a local from the side of the road, hunting alongside an expert game guide, or visiting a traditional Himba village in the northern region of Kunene, travelers will find Namibia to be a country with a big heart, a warm embrace, and a whole lot of hospitality.