At some point in life you may feel you have lost control of yourself. Your busy schedule may leave you with no flexibility except a routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat; a sense of obligation to those around you may cause you to give in to what others want; living your life with someone else, whether it be a romantic partner or roommate, may give you the impression that there always needs to be compromise. In a way, you have lost your sense of control. You could very well still be in control of everything you do, but it may not feel like it.
I was 21 when I took my first solo trip. It was the summer after my third year of college, and like a number of Drexel students, I was suffering through classes wondering why I didn’t go to a normal school. At the time I was taking a very interesting English class, where we focused on talking about life and emotions and decisions a lot more than actual literature.
One topic we discussed was the life path that is somewhat pre-ordained for us–all the things you should do, like go to college, get a good job, have a family, etc. Not the most happiest of topics as you’re spending your last summers before adulthood taking college classes. I freaked out that I was working too hard taking classes full time and working part-time jobs, but I wasn’t seeing any of the benefits. So I decided I needed a vacation and some me time.
I called my Uncle Nick who lives in California, and asked if I could stay with him a few days. I reached out to a couple friends that were living in that area at the time to see if we could meet up for some day trips, but other than that I was on my own.
Sure, you can argue that I wasn’t on my own if I was a guest in someone’s house. But can’t you share a space with someone and still feel alone? Haven’t we all been there? I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate. While my uncle and I were on different schedules, I was still grateful for the chance to watch late night TV and drink some excellent red wine together.
What I find to be the most important part of traveling alone, is that you are the only one who can make the decisions. There is no one to consult, there is no one offering alternative ideas, there is no one with a stronger opinion, there is only you. You have to make decisions. You have to decide what you want. And then you have to do it, or not and you can decide something else.
Solo travel gives you a chance to feel in control of something, and that thing is yourself. By making decisions and thinking only for yourself, you slowly let parts of yourself emerge that you might have hidden away. You begin to reflect more on yourself and pay closer attention to the voice inside of you. Use this time to make decisions for yourself and then ask yourself, why you did or didn’t do things. Reflect on your actions and thought process to learn something new about yourself.
You also get to confront some of your fears. As for me, there’s some hidden acute social anxiety (which does not bode well when you move to new country either). If you know me well, you probably are doubting heavily right now. But it’s true when it comes to certain situations. Such as deciding to walk into a beach bar by yourself on your first solo trip ever. I think it maybe took me a solid 15 minutes to go from the car to a seat at the bar–but I did it! And I enjoyed it. I didn’t mind sitting by myself, I made pleasant conversation with the bartender (from Delaware) and another person at the bar, as we watched a college football game.
When I think back to that California trip, I remember mostly driving on the highway in a rented SUV, windows slightly cracked, listening to the same three albums I downloaded for all five days. If I wanted to turn off the highway, take the scenic route, or stop for a snack, I could and I did. The act of taking a trip alone is huge, but it’s making the small decisions during the trip that show you how this can translate into your everyday life.
Spending time on your own doesn’t have to be a fancy trip to California (although I would not classify that trip as fancy except for the #swankyaf happy hour I went to with my lovely friend working in the entertainment industry). It could be going out to a restaurant for a meal, driving down to the beach, or even spending the afternoon walking around the city. These may seem like small things, but honestly, have you ever even considered going to a restaurant alone? I used to do that all the time. Why? Because I LOVE food and nothing can stop me from enjoying a good meal. Do I get bored, you ask? No. I bring a book, my phone, maybe do some writing, or just think. Thinking is the key here.
Being social creatures, we tend to get caught up in those around us. Not always a bad thing. We become close with our bestest of friends, our roommates, family, significant others, even workmates. These may be the best relationships of our lives, these may be some of the best people who are bettering us in ways we don’t even realize–but there is always the need to reflect and spend time with yourself as a form of selfcare.
How do I personally decide when it’s time for a trip? I don’t always. Sometimes it’s a matter of opportunity and desire. My first solo trip I really wanted to be the one calling the shots and do something entirely for myself. When I studied abroad, I often opted out of group things because I wasn’t interested and my goals didn’t align with what others wanted to do (also with a big group there was a lot of time wasted trying to make decisions).
A few months ago I did find myself thinking back to the times I was able to “pick up and go.” I could still do this, it just means someone else is probably tagging along, and that is perfectly okay with me. As much as I enjoy solo trips, it doesn’t always compare to traveling with others. I would never leave my boyfriend at home while I go off somewhere by myself. But I do have an upcoming trip that is a matter of opportunity. He’s doing a boys’ weekend, so I’m doing my own thing for a few days and headed to a nearby city (one that most people are telling me is not worth my time, but this trip is about me).
When you’re the one making decisions for yourself, even the small ones, it can be revealing when reflecting on why you made those decisions. It’s a way of checking in with yourself and also a good reminder that you can be happy on your own.