I’ll never forget my first ever solo trip. It was 2009, and I was 19 years old embarking on an exchange semester abroad in Wales. Having grown up in small town Mississippi, I was so ready to spread my wings and seek out new adventures.
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I was tired of feeling like an outsider and like I didn’t belong. I was looking for a place that felt like home. I don’t really know where my wanderlust came from, because I didn’t know anyone personally who had left the country. I just knew I had to get out of the South and see what else was out there.
Before I left, I was very shy and not at all confident. I was afraid to speak up for fear I might say the wrong thing or appear uncool. I put everyone I met on a pedestal and worked very hard to impress people so that they’d like and approve of me.
Despite all of my people pleasing, I never really felt like I belonged and it hurt. It hurt a lot. I remember many times thinking, “what is wrong with me?” “why can’t I just be like everyone else?”
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When I first arrived in Swansea, Wales, I could hardly believe what I’d done. I didn’t know a single soul, and not a single soul knew me. This terrified me, until I realized that I could totally reinvent myself and no one would even know it. It was the perfect opportunity to become the person I’d always wanted to be.
Over a period of 6 months, I became like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. I went from super shy to super outgoing. I’d talk to just about anybody, and I enjoyed it too! I made friends everywhere I went. I even decided to go on a solo adventure to Greece, France, and Italy!
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I couchsurfed, made friends with other travelers along the way, and explored beautiful cities I’d dreamt of visiting my entire life.
I felt a whole new world open up, not just in the literal sense but also inside myself. I found home, and it wasn’t a place. As cheesy as it sounds, I came home to myself. I realized that I was a pretty amazing person, and that all the struggles and isolation I had felt growing up were not a reflection of my worth but of my own self-doubts and insecurities.
That first trip abroad stirred something inside me. When I came back to the United States, I was a different woman but I also felt pretty depressed having to go back to “normal life” and leave my adventures behind. The travel bug had hit me hard, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d get out there again.
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It took me until the end of 2015 to go on a new adventure. I had tried to be okay with wanting what everyone else wanted (a stable job, a new car, a house, etc.), but deep down I knew I craved something different.
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I finally hit a breaking point and quit my 9-5 job, sold all of my belongings, and started my own business. I became a digital nomad, living all over the world out of a single suitcase.
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The past 4 years have taught me more about myself and about what I want out of life than the 26 years prior combined. There is something about being out in the world on your own that gives you clarity like no other experience can.
Here I want to share some of the key lessons I’ve learned from solo travel that have helped me love myself and create a more fulfilling life.
I hope they inspire you to go on your own adventure!
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8 life lessons I learned from solo travel and leaving my hometown:
Lesson #1: There is no such thing as normal.
One of the things I had to learn to stop being so hard on myself is that normal doesn’t exist. I had tried so hard my whole life to fit in and be like everyone else. I just wanted to be normal! Traveling helped me see that it was all an illusion.
The more I met people from different cultures and connected with fellow travelers who were dealing with some of the same issues as me, I realized that we are all imperfect humans. We all have doubts, fears, and uncertainty around if we’re doing life the “right” way.
The people who seem “normal” and like they have it all figured out are sometimes the loneliest because they are simply “faking it until they make it.” They aren’t being who they really are, because they are just trying to fit in and not stand out too much.
That’s probably why I felt so alone growing up. I didn’t know how to fake it. I only knew how to be me!
Lesson #2: You’re never alone in what you’re feeling or experiencing.
Even when it feels like no one else could possibly understand what you’re going through, I promise you there is someone out there living their version of the exact same thing. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a lot of comfort.
Being a human is hard, and sometimes the only comfort we have is knowing that somehow we are all in this thing called life together. Truly what’s personal is universal.
Once I fully understood this truth, I stopped beating myself up for going through hard times. I realized that I’m enough, I’m worthy, and I’m perfectly imperfect. We ALL are!
It also helped me to be a lot more compassionate towards other people, because no matter how perfect their lives seem from the outside and from the highlight reel of social media we never really know what’s going on for them on the inside.
Lesson #3: Your people are out there.
Traveling taught me that you can build your own family of like-minded people. Before I left Mississippi, I never felt like I fit in because I hadn’t met my people yet. My people are open-minded, big dreamers, curious about the world, sensitive, silly, big-hearted, and love to experience new things.
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They aren’t caught up in what everyone else is doing. They just want to do what brings them fulfillment and makes them happy.
Maybe your people are different, and that’s kind of the point! No matter how weird or quirky you think you are, your people are out there too. When you get out of your comfort zone and leave your everyday surroundings you meet all kinds of people. This helps you figure out who you mesh with and what qualities to look for in the people you choose to surround yourself with.
Lesson #4: You are stronger than you think.
Anyone who travels for awhile can tell you that it’s not all rainbows and roses. Sometimes it’s losing your hostel booking last minute and not having anywhere to stay. Sometimes it’s getting delayed by 24 hours in China where none of your usual apps and forms of communication work.
Simple things you could do back home in a few minutes become big mountains to climb when in another culture. When traveling solo, you are the only one who can solve these problems. As you deal with these inevitable challenges you become stronger and more resilient.
You get through things you never would have thought possible, simply because you don’t have another option!
Lesson #5: Wherever you go, there you are.
It took me awhile to realize that I couldn’t escape my problems or fears by leaving and going to another country. Your stuff tends to follow you wherever you go, because it’s not the place that needs changing. It’s the stuff!
By stuff I mean the things that are no longer fulfilling you, the words being left unsaid, the decisions being avoided, the fears being swept under the rug. Traveling on its own won’t change your life. The only person that can do that is you.
Lesson #6: Follow the signs and have faith.
Traveling on my own strengthened my intuition, because sometimes that was all I had to rely on. I had to learn to surrender and try to let go of needing to control everything, because so much was totally out of my control.
Cultural differences and misunderstandings teach you patience but also how to have faith that somehow it will all work out.
When I look back at how everything has happened over the last 4 years I see nothing but divine timing. I could not have connected the dots as it was happening, but now it all makes perfect sense.
Lesson #7: Pay attention to your patterns.
When you’re constantly starting over in a new place and with new people, it’s hard not to notice your repeating patterns. You can no longer blame things on other people, because you are the common denominator!
My travel experiences held up a mirror to all of my subconscious fears and insecurities. I could not escape them even if I tried. If I wanted to stop repeating old patterns, I had to learn to face my shadows and not hide from them. I had to be willing to change my life from the inside out.
Lesson #8: No person or place can make you happy.
At first, travel was a means of escape from all of the things I didn’t want to deal with anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because being in new surroundings helped me grow a lot. However, as time wore on and my passport got more and more full I began to see the dark side of my nomadic lifestyle.
Subconsciously I was searching for the perfect place where I’d be happier than ever and all of my problems would disappear. Of course, a place like this doesn’t exist. If it did, we’d all be trying to move there!
No person or place is the answer to your life’s happiness. Nothing outside of you can bring you absolute fulfillment. Only you can do that. I had to stop looking for the magic pill and recognize that I’d have to make real changes if I wanted to see real results. Happiness was not a plane or train ride away. It had to come from inside me.
Truly, I could go on forever and ever about how solo travel has transformed my life. Out of everything I’ve done, nothing has taught me more about myself and the life I want to create.
If you’re at a turning point in your life and you have the freedom to take a solo trip, take it! It will give you so much clarity and perspective on what needs to change so you can live the most fulfilling life possible, and don’t we all want that?
About the Guest Contributor
Britny is a self-love author and blogger at LifeAsBritny.com. She’s just a girl on a mission to love herself more and live her best life while helping other women do the same thing! Britny has published 3 books on Amazon and has been featured on HuffPost, YFS Magazine, and Life Coach Radio Network. She currently lives in Split, Croatia with her fiancé where she loves to swim in the seaside and pet all the stray cats.
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