The first city I ever visited alone was Portland, Oregon (thank you, Portlandia). I remember my friends having no desire to visit, so I said, “screw it! I’ll go alone.” For weeks, I was raving about how excited I was for my trip and how I wasn’t nervous at all about solo travel (I honestly didn’t think I was nervous). I wanted to get the full Portland experience, so I also decided to try Airbnb for the first time. I thought living in a Portland neighborhood as opposed to a hotel would give me more of the vibe I was looking for. First time living in a strangers’ home on my first solo vacation – smart, Lipsa.
Fast forward to the day of my departure and I was terrified of solo travel. My bags were packed, I did tons of Oregon research, I was checked into my flight and was physically ready to go–mentally, not so much. A wave of anxiety came over me the morning of my flight and I was contemplating just ditching the trip altogether.
I spent all this time weighing out the pros and cons of going or potentially missing out:
Portland is probably lame anyway. I won’t miss much.
Am I insane?
What if I never get the chance to do this again?
*Researches Airbnb horror stories*
After countless texts from friends encouraging me to put my big girl pants on – “you spent all this money – just go!” I found myself departing on this six-hour flight to the other side of the country. It turns out that this Airbnb experience was the best one I could have asked for; I got very lucky with such a wonderful, knowledgeable family. I was living and breathing the Portland culture – racing through downtown, eating at every food truck imaginable (they are #1 in the country for those), and finding little odd commodities. I felt safe. Strangers willingly stopped to have conversations and help/offer suggestions. It didn’t take long for me to realize that traveling solo may be the best way to go.
I took a massive leap after my Oregon trip and decided to take on Iceland…solo. Talk about ambition. I went to a new country and didn’t understand a word anyone said to me. For the first time, I felt ignorant. I couldn’t reach out to any of my friends; I was fully on my own. It was when I was walking up to and around Seljalandsfoss that I felt confident in my decision to travel alone. It was the most eye-opening, uplifting feeling in the world to experience something so tremendous up close without any worries from anyone else. I spent the first few hours panicking until I met two females from Scotland who helped set me up and off on the right foot. I had to force myself to trust that these two ladies had good intentions and weren’t setting me up for failure. I’m sorry – I live near New York where I have watched many people give wrong directions to tourists for fun; my mind is a little screwed.
Travel alone and do it often. Take weekend trips to start small. Traveling with someone takes that relationship to a new level of intimacy. What if they don’t have the same interests as you? I understand my time in a new place is limited and because of that, I love to hit the ground running – I genuinely do not want to miss a thing. The beauty of solo traveling is the ability to immerse yourself in authentic, organic cultural experiences. Ultimately, your relationship with yourself is the most important one you will ever have. Get to know yourself. See how far your mind and body are willing to go. With no one to watch your back, you’re relying on your instincts to guide the way. I live in the tri-state and am surrounded by very unfriendly people (sometimes). Traveling introduced me to some incredible, vivacious people. Usually, I’m very shy but traveling alone forces you to talk to people – it restored my hope in the world by giving me a new perspective.
If you’ve been putting off a trip because you’re waiting for someone to go – please don’t. Don’t let others hold you back. Do things on your time. If you’re worried about how silly you may look being alone, don’t – no one cares. I sat alone at Game 6 of the NLCS in 2016 to watch the Dodgers play the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and I’m forever grateful that I got to witness the Cubs go to the World Series. Chicago was electric that night and to be in the midst of it all was unforgettable. I promise you, you will make plenty of friends along the way. Life is full of distractions and at times a struggle; it’s difficult to live in the moment through the madness. We need time to ourselves to take it all in.
Oregon feels more like home each time I land. I’d also like to say that since my first experience, I’ve stayed with the same Airbnb family every time. I promise that traveling alone will be the best, most exhilarating thing you do for your mind.
Have you ever tried solo travel? What was your experience like?
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Photo: Lipsa Shah