I’ve done a fair amount of reflecting on my travels and hope to share some of the travel key lessons I’ve learned from long-term solo backpacking.
Part 1: Fears
Get over yourself
Out here is basically the wild west. Anything goes. You create your experience and so do others for themselves.
You need to decrease the inner over-analyzer, the one who worries about what others think of you, about trying to be what others “expect” of you. This is the time when you’re allowed to try out being a different version of yourself, find the one that you truly want to be, and experiment with it!
Also remember that it’s not all about you is key. The world doesn’t revolve around you (this should be no surprise). Just because you may come from a more well-off position than locals doesn’t mean you should throw money around and bask in your “higher status” (rant about some expats TBP). If you’re in a hostel and get a top bunk when you specifically reserved a bottom one, deal with it. Let go of your privilege, the treatment you’re used to receiving or even getting more of in that country, and be humble. We’re all people, we all deserve respect and basic rights, and the little things don’t matter.
Look at the bigger picture. What can you do to add to the positive in the world?
Be vulnerable and open to others and you’ll create great connections
I just arrived at my hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the first stop in my undetermined-length trip, and was waiting to check in. There was another guy speaking with the receptionist who turned around, smiled, and continued talking. Just as he was about to leave, I plucked up all my courage and, with a racing heart and sweaty hands, said “Hi! I’m Sara, it’s my first day of traveling. I, uh, am thinking about traveling for about a year.” And that’s how I met my first friend. Stefan, a German, had already been traveling for about a year. Later he invited me to travel with him to Myanmar for a silent 10-day meditation retreat, starting a month-long travel together. 2 years later, we’re still friends who check in with each other occasionally and catch up with what we’re doing with our lives.
None of this would have happened had I not plucked up the courage to introduce myself.
While traveling, we’re not being judged (well, not as much as we think, and especially less so by travelers).
So do you best to stop overthinking, worrying about others’ opinions of you, etc. This is your journey, you can control which experiences you have, and it’s up to you to achieve what you want from this trip. Decrease your filter, let go of your fears, and be as true to yourself as possible. Be honest, open, and friendly, and you’ll receive all of that in return too.
Everything is figure-out-able
One of the biggest fears people have about going abroad are the challenges ahead. “What if this happens?” “what do I do when that happens?” I was totally guilty of this when starting out, as well as during the occasional blip throughout my journey.
What we don’t realize on our first solo journey is that we have so much power and so many skills that enable us to figure out any situation we’re in, as long as we don’t 100% break down.
From the small things…
Where is the best cheap eat in this city? Google it.
To the bigger things…
Missed a bus? Ok, how do I book another.
To the scary…
Overstayed a visa? Ok, how do I pay and how do I GTFO asap?
To the OH SHIT…
Card sucked into a machine? Fuck, ok, how can I get money now? Who can help me?
It’s all about taking a step back, asking questions, realizing that there are options, asking for help, and being patient with yourself and the world.
Unless you’re in a tragic accident without insurance (been there, don’t recommend, go get some insurance!), then there’s usually a reasonable way to overcome the hurdle and move on to enjoy your trip again.
So go, enjoy, tackle the hurdles when they arise with the skills you already have within you, enlist the help of family and friends, and the next amazing experience is just around the corner. Promise.
Sometimes traveling with others is better
So many people I’ve told about going solo backpacking around Asia were frightened. “I could never do that!” they’d say, scared at the mere idea of being alone for even just a few weeks.
I have to say, I respect that.
Starting my journey solo, I somehow thought I’d be solo the whole time. However, I was lucky enough to meet some fantastic people and have the chance to travel with them. Mainly, I traveled with 3 people separately for a month each and it was a whole different experience.
I absolutely love solo travel for the freedom it provides, you get to travel with people here and there for short periods of time then go your own ways, and you’re forced to spend time with yourself to take life into your own hands and reflect.
There are positives about traveling with others too. Getting discounts for accommodation and events by splitting a room or group bookings, tackling issues together, and – a big one – sharing experiences with them. I’m so lucky for all of my experiences traveling with others. Honestly, I wouldn’t have had a good time in the Philippines if it wasn’t for my friend. An intense retreat done with a friend was more manageable through the rough patches despite not communicating with each other.
I would highly encourage people to go on solo travels and allow themselves to be open to joining forces with another person (or more) to experience something else. Sometimes, it’s even better.
Every-thing is replaceable. If it isn’t, keep it in your heart.
In my year and a half-ish of travels, I’m very lucky to have only lost a few things along the way and never stolen from. This isn’t the case for others.
Bring along clothes that are comfy but you’re ok if they get damaged. Pack a few pieces of cheap but nice accessories that you won’t cry about if they’re stolen.
If your main bag goes missing or doesn’t arrive at the airport, do you have your main valuables in your carry-on?
Of course, be prepared, bring bag locks and lock up valuables at your hostel. Label your stuff, keep track of things.
But if something happens, and there’s a high chance of that happening, you need to be ok with that.
Things are just material goods and, even with sentimental value, you need to be able to let go and remember that the important parts are within you, your heart, your memories.
Fear is the little devil standing on the one shoulder. Flick it off. Fly.
An underlying theme in the above key takeaways is getting over fear. There are so many other kinds of fear that come up as we travel, and this is just part of the process when traveling in a foreign country! However, it doesn’t mean that you must be held back by them.
Fear is a leftover response from our caveman days and, while helpful in some cases, is silly in most.
Embrace it. Do it anyway. Face your fears and show them that they can’t control your actions. You, your conscious, intentional self, are in charge of your life.
We regret more of what we don’t do than what we do.
So hush the little voice in your head that’s limiting you from experiencing all the world has to offer you.
Kick it to the curb.
Spread your wings.
Part 2 of long-term travel key lessons will be posted on another date!