How Traveling Alone Can Change Your Life

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Out of all the things I’ve ever done, traveling alone is by far one of the best. In many ways, we’re taught — women especially — that traveling alone is something to fear and avoid at all costs. My first significant solo trip was when I was 19, to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. I was studying abroad in Spain, told my parents that I was going with a friend so that they wouldn’t freak out (which was not true), and taught myself how to solo travel in a single weekend in another country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. As scared as I was, this weekend really did change my life.

Why exactly did I think this was a good idea? It’s tough to say exactly. But, the previous summer, I spent five weeks in Florence, Italy. One woman who was part of our travel group was in her early 30s and was living such an adventurous life. She had traveled the world, and I was totally envious of how she glided through life in such a carefree fashion. She would book trips and head out the next day. I was still pretty scared of going places, as many 19-year-olds would be. But, more than that, there was a part of me that knew it would be good for me. If I ever got the chance to solo travel, I wanted to take it. I didn’t want to be afraid.

So, I left for Lisbon one weekend. That’s not to say I was fearless heading into it — I was pretty anxious about the entire experience. I remember feeling close to high alert the whole time. I would double and triple check bus schedules, airport gate numbers, bus routes, and addresses. This was in 2008, and smartphones weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. I clutched my paperback guidebook tight. It was literally my lifeline to the outside world.

As with all trips, there were ups and downs. Did I ever feel lonely? Sure. But those feelings didn’t last long when compared to the feeling of the excitement of being in a totally new location. Here were the low points of the trip: I traveled to Sintra, a tiny town about 25 miles from Lisbon. Sintra is known for its colorful, exquisite castles. I stopped at the very first castle that was practically in ruins. It was also totally windy, and I was wearing a dress. In case you didn’t already know, wearing a dress on a windy day is the absolute worst. You’ll spend the entire time holding your dress down so it doesn’t fly right up instead of enjoying the scenery. I wanted to make my way to the other castles, but there was a fire that forced everyone out of town. One night during my traveling alone spree, I also ate this vegetarian pizza that was topped with corn, of all things. I still think about how atrocious this was. I also ordered porto, or port wine, in the middle of the afternoon (the store clerk poured it, but not before giving me a pretty quizzical look). My guidebook told me it was the signature drink in the country. If you’ve never had it, porto is thick, dark, and almost syrupy alcohol. It’s best consumed after a long day and not during the middle of the afternoon. But, I ordered it so I finished it. The ceiling in the hostel I was staying at was crumbling, and I’d wake up every morning with a fine, fresh layer of white dust on me.

As with all trips, there will be highs and lows. But, that’s part of any journey worth taking. Embrace your fear and go. 

However, the highs during my solo travel were dizzyingly high. I would have a slice of decadent cake paired with fantastic espresso for breakfast every morning at different cafés. Portuguese people are known for being very nice, and I found this to be true. Someone tried to ask me a question in Portuguese, and I responded, “No hablo Portuguese.” The person sweetly smiled back and told me, “That’s okay.” I ate the most delicious sandwich in the middle of the day. That’s one of the nice things about Europe — you’ll eat a sandwich or a salad that you’ll still think about years later because it was so impossibly fresh and good.

I took one of the city’s signature yellow cable cars in true tourist fashion. I visited an ornate church and spent time exploring historic and charming Alfama, known for its signature orange roofs and cobblestone streets. I found the impressive seaside Belem Tower. At one time, this white structure was a fort but it now serves as a lighthouse. I was impressed with my ability to find it and was able to admire one of the city’s striking monuments. But, my favorite part of the city was exploring Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s main square. It’s right by the water and features a gorgeous, towering marble arch surrounded by buildings with yellow walls. You just don’t have places like that in the United States, and there is no amount of time that is large enough  to spend wandering in and out of the area shops. But mostly I think I fell for Lisbon and have such fond memories of the city because I fell for me on that trip. I learned both how to rely on myself and how to be adventurous without a partner as I experienced solo travel. The best trips always teach us more about ourselves. I would have missed out on the opportunity to learn so much about myself if I had never worked up the courage to travel alone.

Since then, I’ve traveled alone on long weekends in Asheville, North Carolina, and even spent an entire month on the road driving cross country from Virginia to Arizona. But, it all comes back to that first solo trip I spent in Lisbon. It gave me the courage and conviction I needed to venture on.

If you’re considering traveling alone, you should. As with all trips, there will be highs and lows. But, that’s part of any journey worth taking. Embrace your fear and go. You won’t regret it. I promise. 

Tags: Self Care, Travel, Courage, Self Confidence, Adventure

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Teresa Traverse

Teresa K. Traverse is a writer and editor who has been published in Brides and Bust. Visit teresaktraverse.com for more. See Full Bio

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