Recently I had the incredible chance to travel to Croatia when I was invited for a 5 day cruise aboard a lovely private charter. When I started making plans – buying plane tickets, buying accommodation and the like – it dawned on me.
This would be my first solo international trip.
In the past I have traveled a lot, and all over the world. But it has always been with my spouse and son, or in a work group, when my agenda is definitely not left to me.
I realized that this would be a new experience, and while I was looking forward to it, I was also a little apprehensive. I wanted 2 days in Split before joining the group on the yacht, plus an extra night in Rome. Would I be nervous? Lonely? Scared of water? Everything?
Spoiler: all of it.
Here are seven things I learned along the way.
1. It is important (at least for me) to have a plan
I’m a definite type A. I like things buttoned up and rarely leave them to chance. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy free time; I certainly did on this trip. But the big ones – what I wanted to see in Split and Rome, where I wanted to live in each city, right down to the list of foods I wanted to try – all of this was planned well in advance.
I think there is some comfort in having an itinerary that helped me relax. There would probably be enough unknowns on this trip; I wanted to make sure I had nailed the large items well before I was on wheels. I know some people love to make their plans while traveling; I’m not one of them, and that’s totally fine.
2. Me-Time is not selfish; It is essential!
As a wife and mother, so much of what I do each day revolves around keeping my little family’s planet on its axis and spinning smoothly. Running the house, double checking that my son is eating something other than potato chips every day, making sure the pets are healthy, fed and exercised…
You get the picture.
Knowing that so many things can and do depend on my presence or proximity, I can feel guilty or even a little selfish to take time for myself. In this case, I took my time halfway around the world, and it was amazing. When I got home, I felt completely present and excited to see my boys again. This trip helped me realize how important it actually is to make time for yourself. Giving myself permission to go and have fun, on my own, was a gift of the highest order.
3. It’s okay to be emotional
By nature, I am not an overly emotional person. I rarely cry, and consider myself a pretty tough cookie. That’s why I was so surprised when I burst into tears a couple of times during the trip.
Then I realized that solo travel is by its very nature overwhelming. You see new things, experience a different culture and immerse yourself in a place that may be a little outside your comfort zone. Add a dash of jet lag and a dash of loneliness, and you have the potential for emotional overload.
When I calmed down, I realized that this reaction is completely normal. It has in no way ruined my travel experience. Rather, it made it all richer. It’s okay to have big feelings that travel the world on their own! I gave them the space they needed, breathed through it and let them pass, then came back to see the next incredible thing on my list.
4. It’s also okay to miss your loved ones
The first few days of my journey I enjoyed my newfound freedom. Time for a pastry after that museum stop? Absolutely! Do you want to visit this lovely shop? That would be a yes. I didn’t have to ask permission to do anything, nor did I have to consider anyone else’s schedule.
But then there were times when something I saw was so amazing, so beautiful that I really wanted my husband there to share it with me. A meal that was so delicious I wanted to give him a bite. Our junior tire man was about the same age as my son, which gave me pain. Heck, I even started seeing stray cats that looked like my two at home.
It is natural to miss loved ones when you are out on an adventure. But the good news is that you get to go home and share everything with them! Traveling alone made me realize how much I love and appreciate my loved ones. All the more so if I leave them for a little while now and then.
5. I can make friends anywhere
I always suspected that this next lesson would be true, and I was relieved to find that I can actually make friends anywhere. Even on your own and far from home!
During my time in Split, I immediately connected with my wonderful tour guide. I struck up a conversation with the young barista who prepared my double espresso and almond croissant at the cafe every morning. I said hello to the people I passed while running in Marjan, Split’s lovely park. And once I got on the yacht, I quickly settled in with the other guests, some of whom have already become fast friends that I’ve kept in touch with – thank you, social media!
While it was nice and rejuvenating to have a few days alone, I know I love being around others too. It was a great reminder: A silent recharge is great, but I also get a boost from making new friends, which I can do anywhere! It is the balance between the two that is important to recognize and honor.
6. Traveling alone is a huge confidence booster
This next lesson cannot be understated. Traveling on my own was a huge confidence booster! I made all my own decisions, made all my own arrangements and did not consult with anyone else to do so. I also had to solve small problems that came up on the fly, figure out language barriers and navigate a new city, all on my own. I thought I could do it, but it’s always great to prove to yourself that you can.
Here’s what I also realized: Many people skip solo travel altogether because they’re not sure they can do it, or at least have a good time. I’m here telling you: you can, and you will!
7. Some people might think you’re crazy; Ignore them!
As mentioned earlier, I am married. I am not a single solo traveler. For some family and friends, it raised questions. Someone wanted to know why I would even entertain going anywhere without my husband. Others wondered how I could leave my son. My mom was really freaked out and even called my husband to check on me when connection issues prevented me from texting her daily.
Here’s the thing: Traveling alone doesn’t mean anything is wrong. For me, it was a testament to inner confidence, a wonderful, trusting and healthy relationship with my spouse and a supportive family. I know I came back having learned a little more about myself, which is a good thing for me and everyone I’m close to.
So what if not everyone understands? You do. You will not regret.
Final Thoughts: If you are considering an international solo trip, my advice is to go for it! Take your preferences into account and plan them. Consider your challenges and plan for them. Last but not least, you know yourself better than anyone else. Have the time of your life just with you.