6 Life Lessons I Learned Travelling Solo For The First Time
“Traveling solo is a rite of passage everyone should do at least once. It teaches you so much about the world around you, and about yourself.”
As a lifestyle writer, I’ve written some variation of this spiel dozens of times. But it only occurred to me recently that at age 26, I had actually never travelled alone myself. Sure, I had done overnight or weekend trips, but I had never embarked on one of those life-changing, character-defining solo voyages people always rave about.
Despite being a huge traveller, I’ve always had someone to come with me — whether it’s my family, friends or partner. So, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This June, when heading to London and Paris to meet friends and family, I decided to go travelling solo for the first time in Lisbon, Portugal.
While I didn’t come back with dreads and tribal tattoos telling friends, “I’ve found myself, man,” my first solo trip did lead to a great deal of self-growth. Here are 6 life lessons I learned while travelling solo for the first time.
#1 You Can’t Always Rely On Technology
My phone network offers $5 per day international roaming, so I often use map apps to navigate new cities. While this is undeniably handy, it backfired on me a couple of times on this trip.
Lisbon is a walking city, made up of thousands of little cobblestone streets. My GPS wasn’t always great at interpreting the complex landscape, leading me in the wrong direction many times. Which, hey, is all part of the adventure! The problem was, trying to use the app drained my battery, so by the time I reached my destination my phone was often flat. This meant that I couldn’t navigate my way back and because I hadn’t written down the address of the hostel (I only knew the name), it meant getting home was a mission.
The takeaway? Learn to read a map and always keep a hard copy of your address on you – whether it’s a home stay or a hotel.
#2 No (wo)Man Is An Island
I’ve always prided myself on being an independent person. I lived solo for many years and am very happy working from home by myself. I had told myself that travelling solo would be a walk in the park and that I wouldn’t get lonely.
Wrong. By day four, I started to wish I had someone with me to share the memories, or even just my running commentary on the things I was seeing. I also wished I had someone to experience Lisbon’s incredible nightlife with, as I wasn’t game to go to a bar alone. While I stayed in a hostel, I had a private room and didn’t really mingle with the other guests.
Loneliness was one of the biggest lessons I learnt travelling solo for the first time. Next time, I plan to make more of an effort to meet new people.
#3 If You Want To Be In Photos, You’ll Need To Get Creative
One thing you take for granted when you travel in a pair or group is always having someone to take a photo of you. Now, some people may not care about being in their travel snaps. But as a blogger, I kind of needed to be. I had to get creative.
I took a small, portable tripod with me and in a couple of places, set my camera on a self-timer. I’m sure I looked like a complete idiot running back and forward, but it was worth it for the ‘gram! In other instances, I had to suck up my pride and ask a couple of other people to take the photos of me (with varied success.
#4 You Don’t Always Need To Be Doing Something
I’m one of those people who can never just sit still and do nothing. Like most millennials, I’m always scrolling through my phone whenever I have an idle moment.
When my phone died while I was travelling solo (aka, all the time) it left me with nothing to do but sit there when I was at a cafe or on public transport. For once, I was left alone with my own thoughts and (shock, horror!), it actually wasn’t so bad.
#5 You Need To Pay Attention
I chose Lisbon when I was travelling solo for the first time not only because it’s beautiful, but because it’s known for being safe. That said, pickpocketing is rife in European cities and I did have to be more alert.
While in Sydney I’ll happily leave my bag next to me on the ground or walk around with my phone wallet in my hands, a kind Portuguese man on the bus reminded me that it just wouldn’t fly in Lisbon. Thankfully, I didn’t have any mishaps, but it was a good reminder that I need to pay more attention and be more vigilant, no matter where in the world I am.
#6 You Have To Figure Things Out Yourself
While I’m a self-starter in my work life, I tend to get easily frustrated when it comes to assembling technical things. Usually, I give up pretty quickly and ask someone else to do it for me.
When travelling solo, I just didn’t have that option. I found that when forced to figure out how to put together my boyfriend’s tripod or my universal travel adaptor (yes, it was difficult!) I somehow found the patience and fine motor skills to pull it off.
So you’re probably keen to head off on your own now, travelling solo for the first time. Check out these tips for the things every solo traveller experiences.