Traveling alone allows (actually, forces) you to find what makes your heart sing. There’s no one else around to suggest an itinerary for the day, or to default to when you’re too tired to make a decision.
As an indecisive people-pleaser, my reaction to a suggestion is often a thoughtless “sure! sounds good!” before I’ve even had time to sort out whether I do, in fact, want to do/eat/see whatever has been suggested. Traveling solo has given me more decisions to make – even if it’s just breakfast, lunch and dinner – and no routine fall into or more confident person to make decisions. It’s all me!
And knowing what I love, and what I loathe, helps to make those decisions about where to spend my time easier.
Finding what you love by traveling alone
The more I travel, the more I realize that people have very strong opinions on what activities are a must do in certain places, whether they’re my well-meaning aunts or just someone in a Facebook group for travelers. Sorting out all that noise to find my own happiness is key. So how do I do it? And how can you do it too?
Reflect on your loves
Take some time to think about what you’ve done recently that makes your heart sing. Was it wandering in a local museum all afternoon? Going to hear live music – whether it’s Metallica or Mozart? Looking at birds? Eating some exotic cuisine? Swimming in the ocean? Hiking (ugh but to each their own I guess)?
Long bus rides are an excellent place for this reflection, I find.
Once you’ve sorted a bit through your must-haves, see if you can find any common threads. Is it all varieties of art? A whole bunch of sports activities? Entirely things things you do outdoors (or indoors if you’re me)?
You’ve just opened up whole new worlds to explore while you’re traveling alone, and given yourself an excellent reason to go do something new. And if you’re a bit nervous about going it alone completely, see if you can find a day tour or even a group tour with those activities in mind.
I met an Australian guy who was traveling alone, but had found a group trip in Greece focused around athletic activities so he could hang out with a bunch of fellow Crossfitters and do what sounded like quite a lot of pushups. It sounds like my living nightmare but was perfect for him. What could be your equivalent of that trip?
Cut it out
If you’re in a new place and overwhelmed with where to start exploring, just cut out one little “must-do” and go from there.
I personally am uninterested in military history despite being subjected to a childhood of classic war movies and civil war battle site visits (or maybe it’s because of that), so I immediately rule those out. I’m sure Les Invalides in Paris is great! I’m also sure I’ll never go with so many other museums there I actually want to visit. Cool – that’s one less decision to make as I head off to see the Impressionist exhibit at the Marmottan-Monet instead.
When you’re traveling alone, you get to decide what you don’t want to see even if every guidebook you read and Instagrammer you follow tells you not to miss it. I skipped what sounded like an epic skyrail through the rainforest in Cairns, Australia, because I have vertigo and would have spent the whole time with my eyes closed clinging onto a rail for dear life. (I know this because it’s how I spent the whole cable-car ride in Hallstatt and almost threw up. That was not finding my bliss.) It was a wise choice and I regret nothing, and no one else missed out because of my messed-up inner ear.
Set a goal
For the truly lost or very achievement-oriented of you, this also works a treat. Like art? Decide you’re going to see every work Vermeer ever painted (this is really a thing and it’s cool). Sports fan? Go see American football outside of America. Decide to see more than half the states or all the continents by your next milestone birthday. Try to eat every kind of cheese in the world. Dream big and go crazy and eat all the cheese.
Obsession gets a bad rap, but it can be a powerful way to tap into your interests.
Need more inspiration? Reading is my favorite way to explore new worlds and places, and gives me endless ideas of things I want to do. Especially if they’re out of the norm (that’s how I got into opera, by reading and loving Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night).
The world is your solo travel oyster
Explore. Grow. Learn. Try some new things (learn Greek! Hang out in a cemetery!), but just make sure you’re doing it because it’s something you find intriguing, and not just following some crowd. When you’re traveling alone, the only crowd is you, yourself, and also you, and you’re generally all in agreement.
Just don’t tell me to go on a goddamn hike.