“I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.”?—?Cheryl Strayed
Most people’s 20s are full of trial and error and uncertainty. The struggle to finish school, build a career, and figure out what you want from life is often coupled with unsatisfying relationships, crappy jobs, and existential panic. When the pressure of it all feels suffocating, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is get out of town?—?or the country. No one ever thinks they have resources to travel, but honestly, your 20s are the perfect time get out there and see the world. Leave the security blanket of friends and family at home and take the plunge to explore a new place alone. You’ll learn things about yourself and the world that you never could have expected.
1. You have the time
“I’m so busy with school and work and dating,” you tell yourself. But if you take a step back and reflect on all the weekends you spend binge watching Netflix and getting drunk with your friends, you’ll realize you actually do have time to get away. Even if you have to use your resources to take time off, it’s worth it. Before you have a family to take care of, before your career becomes more demanding, take the time and invest in yourself. Even better, traveling alone means you don’t have to plan your trip around anyone else’s schedule.
2. You don’t need a lot of money
When I was 20, I backpacked across Europe for two months on the budget of a Jamba Juice employee. I stayed in hostels for 10 Euros a night, ate street food for every meal, and bought postcards as souvenirs. What I’m saying is, it’s doable. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet’s “On A Shoestring” series cater to young people traveling on a budget. What’s more, if you’re flying solo, you never have to spend money on crap you don’t want to do. Save where you can so you can spend on what matters most to you.
3. You can see what you want to see
Traveling solo means having the freedom to make your own plans. Spend two days in Barcelona and three in Madrid?—?or the other way around. Not feeling Madrid? You can skip town and check out a small village off the beaten path. It’s your time, spend it how you want. No more bickering with family, friends, or significant others about whether you’ll spend the day at a museum or hiking in the foothills. Enjoy the freedom to decide for yourself and change the plan at any moment.
4. You’ll get to know yourself in ways you hadn’t expected
You probably already know if you’re a morning person or night owl, an introvert or extrovert. But putting yourself in a brand new environment could challenge your preconceived notions of yourself. Maybe you’re better at meeting strangers than you thought, or maybe you surprise yourself by standing up to the vendor who’s trying to overcharge you. Traveling alone means getting familiar with your own patterns and discovering how you’ll react to unexpected circumstances.
5. You’ll connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet
“Meet interesting people” is on most people’s list of reasons to travel, but it’s so much easier to do when flying solo. Think of all the times you’ve gone to a party hoping to meet someone new only to end up spending the whole night talking to your friends in the corner. Traveling with family and friends may give you automatic dinner company every night, but it can also close you off to the cool strangers you could meet at a communal table or next to you on the train.
6. You can make your own memories
Take photos, keep a journal, collect scraps of local news or press wildflowers?—?with no travel buddy to reminisce with later, you’ll find your own way to keep track of the sights, people, and experiences you come across in your solo travel. The journals I kept while backpacking and living abroad are still some of my most prized possessions. And now I can relive those moments with just the flip of a page.
7. You can reinvent yourself
No one in Peru knows you as the barista or the shy girl. No one in Cambodia knows that you’ve just dropped out of school or had your heart broken. They see you as a new person, just as you are. Take the opportunity to define yourself, free of context and prejudgement, and be the person you’ve always wanted to be.
8. You’ll have time to really reflect
Sure, you’ll make friends at your hostel or on that historical walking tour you never would have taken with your friends back home, but traveling alone does leave you with a good bit of, well, alone time. Use that ten-hour bus ride between destinations to gaze out the window and really reflect on yourself, your relationships, and what you want out of life. You might work out some unresolved feelings or realize your next step.
9. You’ll feel what it’s like to be an outsider (and love it)
Go to a place where you don’t speak the language, where the sights, sounds, and flavors are totally foreign to you. Experience what it’s like to be an outsider, an alien on earth. It can be fun, scary, and exhausting. Stay for a while, lean into that feeling. You’ll notice little details with a fresh perspective and gain empathy for people who have to start over in a new place.
10. You’ll feel what it’s like to be accepted by strangers
Maybe even better than experiencing the world with an outsider’s perspective is connecting with people in an unexpected place. Nothing is more satisfying than bridging superficial differences like language, culture, and religion and discovering the deeper bonds we all share. You’d be amazed at the things you have in common with people who grew up halfway around the world from you. It might just restore your faith in humanity.
11. You’ll open yourself up to new experiences and opportunities
Traveling solo gives you the freedom to follow the things that interest you and explore a path of your choosing. You never know where that path may lead. You could fall in love, make career connections?—?or stumble into a parade, a protest, or a crowd of cheering sports fans.
12. You’ll become super self-reliant
Navigating the streets of a foreign city and communicating across a language barrier without any help will definitely make you a more independent person. You’ll have to figure out where to sleep and what to eat and how to avoid sticky situations all on your own. Because solo travelers are sometimes targeted, you’ll have to learn to be aware of your surroundings and thus, more fullly present. If you manage to make it out alive, you should be pretty proud of your adulting skills.
13. You’ll have one of the most rewarding experiences of your life
There’s nothing more rewarding than challenging your abilities and expectations and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. By immersing yourself in a different place all on your own, you’ll learn about new cultures, food, politics, languages, religion, and wildlife. Best of all, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the world beyond your little bubble.