Earlier this year, I took my first international trip alone. All by myself. I felt excited, proud, and independent. I was off to Sri Lanka for a whole month to volunteer. It was my first time further east than Rome, the farthest I’ve ever traveled. I had read dozens of articles about solo female travel, the dos and don’ts, and how it can change your life forever.
Except then I realized I wasn’t really alone. I departed St. John’s by myself and flew to London where I met another Canadian girl who was on the same placement as me. We stuck together for the whole journey and really clicked. Once we arrived at our homestay together, we met other girls that we both clicked with too. We spent the whole trip together, every day, side by side. I am so happy to have made great friends who I am still in touch with today, about 6 months since we said goodbye in the airport and dispersed to all different parts of the world.
When I got home, I realized my solo trip abroad wasn’t really a solo trip at all. I was surrounded by beautiful, supportive, and friendly women who were all doing the same thing as me— traveling ‘solo’ for the first time. It was amazing, really. We made lifelong memories together: hiking Sigiriya Lion Rock, exploring temples, watching elephants roam in Udawalawe National Park, and taking in the vibrant nightlife of Ella. I will cherish these memories forever. But back home, there was nobody to share these memories with. Nobody to appreciate the inside jokes or the sheer beauty of my Sri Lankan experiences. I could tell them about it, but they would never really know how I felt or what it meant to me. You might think that sounded shallow. But think about the last time you talked to a friend or loved one about an amazing time that you spent together and the joyous feeling that comes from sharing that together. I am missing that feeling. You might even think “but you can share those memories with the people you were there with.” I can, but authentic, genuine feelings cannot be adequately transmitted through text or a blurry video chat. And no matter how high my intentions and strong my yearning to reconnect with the girls in person one day, life happens and that can be tough to coordinate.
Despite the wonderful friendships that I have told you about, there was always the awareness in the back of my mind that I am ultimately alone in this far away country. I know there is strength to be found in the ability to get out of a bind all on your own, but there is also strength to be found in relationships that have enough trust to go around the world together and stand by each other when you find yourself in a bind.
There are wonderful benefits to traveling alone. And different people have different experiences based on your personality, what you’ve been through, and where you are in life. Traveling solo taught me that I am at a place in my life where I want to explore the globe with my best friends, my partner, and my family. There are several people in mind who fit in all three of those categories and I am so grateful for that.
I still feel like I reaped the rewards, intrinsic and extrinsic, that come from solo travel. I learned a lot about myself, my abilities, and my interests; I accomplished the lifelong goals of traveling solo and volunteering abroad, I can tick those off the bucket list now; I participated in an experience that has made me more creative, compassionate, and employable; and I became more self-aware for a number of reasons. But traveling solo did NOT change my life. That said, I am by no means condemning it either. I am trying to say that you should not build your expectations based on online articles that say you will feel a certain way. These articles should say you may feel a certain way. There is nothing wrong with not experiencing something the same way others do. Everyone is different. Solo travel can be a valuable and life-changing experience for so many reasons— it just wasn’t for me…this time.
P.S: As I write this, linds is in Australia on a solo backpacking trip through several countries. When she gets back, she may have the polar opposite opinion about solo travel! I can’t wait to hear about how she found it.