Flying Solo: What I’ve Learned About Myself From Traveling Alone

As an introvert, I enjoy spending time alone. Yet when it comes to traveling, I typically prefer to have a buddy with me to navigate new adventures. Recently, I’ve been living and working in Argentina for a study abroad program in an area that is accessible to enumerable beautiful destinations — and nobody to explore them with me. As a result, I’ve had to bite the bullet and go at it solo.

But despite not having a trusty companion by my side, I’m never really alone as conversations are to be had everywhere. From hostels, to hiking trails, to bus terminals, I’ve encountered a deep sense of empowerment from being able to meet new and fascinating people, but still do my own thing at the end of the day. These experiences have ultimately opened me up to new people, new cultures, new places, and to a different side of myself and have taught me what I’m truly capable of.

Growing in independence

*Cue Destiny’s Child* Ignoring the anxieties of my mother, I realized that while I am a small, white female from the United States who certainly sticks out in many places in South America, I couldn’t let my gender hinder my desire to explore. While there have been times when I’ve felt more anxious about being a solo female traveler in a machismo culture, for the most part, these have been empowering experiences. Getting myself around on foreign buses, navigating complicated cities without cell phone data, and being confident enough to talk to locals about what to do and how to get there have all been empowering ways to build up my self-confidence that yes, I can do this!  

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Putting myself out there and making new friends

New social situations are not my jam, but when on the road, if I want a buddy to join me for a hike or a beer, it’s been necessary to chat up friendly fellow hostel dwellers, talk to people on the trail, or connect with locals. Everyone who’s alone is likely trying to meet other solo travelers, and the best way to find out is to swallow your social anxiety and reach out. What’s the worst that can happen?

On a recent trip, I was staying in a hostel for a few days and thus, wanted to make some friends. Upon arrival, a fellow solo female traveler asked me a question, which turned into a conversation, and 10 minutes later, we made plans to go hiking the next day. It really can be that easy!

Feeling liberated when setting my own schedule

Being able to wake up when you want, go to the restaurants you want, choose the destinations that you want is not only refreshing but also liberating. Taking a trip where you’re completely in the driver’s seat (literally or figuratively) allows you to name and act upon the ideas that you alone have, and find ways to bring them into being. When traveling with others, those ideas can often get squelched by louder voices. I found the courage to follow my own instincts and was free to make my own decisions and be at peace with them.

On a recent trip, I decided to take an impromptu side trip to a small mountain town for a few days just to hang out in a hostel, eat good food, and do some solid hiking. If I was traveling with others, this spontaneous idea could have been shot down, and I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of being able to fully follow my own interests and ideas.

While my solo travels certainly aren’t over, this time has taught me that exploring on my own, whether accompanied by others or not, is totally worth it, and most of all, that I’m capable of more than I ever imagined.

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Alex Gaynor

Alex Gaynor is a sometimes writer/former campus minister/future traveler who is clearly trying to figure out her life at the moment while finishing up a year working in Philadelphia. She graduated with a degree in Philosophy and International Studies and is passionate about travel, social justice, and community. She also cares deeply about hydration and you can always find her armed with at least one oversized Hydroflask in tow.