Updated: Jan 10, 2019
I once had a counseling professor who told our class, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” For the most part, I have seen the wisdom of this quote at play in my life ever since. For instance, if someone regularly leaves a large tip for servers, then they are probably generous with their time as well. Or if someone is super loving when they talk to dogs they meet on the street, then they are most likely really supportive when conversing with their friends.
In my case, I tend to do things that are a little odd in comparison to our society at large. For instance, I decided to leave a full-time job to pursue a career as a freelance career coach and consultant. It hasn’t always worked out the way that I hoped it would (at least not just yet!), but I’ve been giving it a shot. It is now a thing I often find myself trying to explain at cocktail parties in a way that hopefully doesn’t make me sound like a wildly irresponsible loser. My point is that the way I have handled my career is a little bit like how I handle most things in my life, which is to say I find myself explaining or justifying my unusual decisions quite a bit.
One of my choices that I frequently find myself over-explaining is my decision to travel solo as a married woman. It is something that I realize is a bit different from the norm, so I’m not surprised when someone might be taken off guard when they hear I’ll be spending time in Europe without my husband. I’ve had all sorts of reactions, even from complete strangers I’m chatting with, that have ranged from harmless questions as simple as “Why are you going alone?” to statements like, “Oh, your husband is letting you do that? What a cool guy!” I absolutely don’t blame people for being curious or having questions. I would, too. (And my husband IS a cool guy, but that’s mostly because he knows our relationship isn’t one in which we “let” each other do things but, rather, support one another’s growth.) Just like anything though, if you get questioned enough by others, then you start to question yourself.
That’s when I sought ought out articles and blogs and support from other women who have had similar solo traveling experiences. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, so I decided I would contribute to the plethora of posts by adding my perspective into the mix. Below are the reasons why I love to travel solo, which I hope you find helpful if you are considering doing so as well! (In my next post, I’ll be sharing my ultimate checklist for solo traveling that I created after my first experience planning a trip by myself!)
1. My Husband and I Are Total Weirdos
My husband and I do not lead totally normal lives. Some of this is partially due to the fact that his schedule as a firefighter is irregular and inconsistent, and the other part is just due to who we are naturally. He works 24-hour shifts at a time on random days of the week, and over the last seven years of our marriage we have learned to adjust and be extremely flexible with our plans. Therefore, I’ve become very well practiced at spending time alone and developing my own hobbies. It has allowed me time to write, study French, earn certifications for the work that I do, and spend tons of time with friends and family that I might not be able to otherwise.
When I had a full-time office job, he would do the same. On most of his days off, he would be alone while I was at work all day, so he started to spend his time fishing, rock climbing, and hunting. While we love being together, we have also both really embraced our sense of independence within our partnership. So when I first asked him last year if he would mind if I took a solo trip as a sort of combined graduation/30th birthday gift to myself, he said, “Do it!”
2. I’m Making Good on a Promise to Myself
A month after my husband and I first started dating (over 10 years ago!), he was scheduled to study abroad in Barcelona for three months. At 19, three months felt like an incredibly long time, and it was really difficult to be apart. It was so difficult, in fact, that I followed a friend’s suggestion that I go visit him while he was there! My older sister said she wanted to join me, so we picked up extra shifts at the restaurant where we worked and quickly earned the money to spend five days in Barcelona and five days in Paris. It was a trip I will never forget because not only did it cement this relationship that has now been going for over 10 years strong, but it also brought me infinitely closer to my sister.
After my husband returned home, I decided to postpone my dream of studying abroad in Paris because the idea of spending three months apart again so soon seemed like too much to bear. I made him promise me that if I did not go then we would live abroad together at some point after we got married, and he agreed. Well, as I was in the midst of researching where to live and teach English in Spain for the first year of our marriage, he was accepted into the fire academy. That’s just not an opportunity one turns down, so our plans to move to Spain were indefinitely postponed.
Then, just like that, I was 29, and (aside from docking in Mexico for a day on a weekend cruise) I had not left the country in 10 years. That’s when I decided to take my first solo trip for two weeks, and now, nine months later, I’m about to spend a month learning French in Paris. (Though I should add that my husband will be joining me at the end of the month to do a little traveling together!) Just as I discussed in my very first blog post, our goals may sometimes have to shift slightly, but we can still find ways to fulfill them.
3. I Strongly Value Personal Growth
When I took my first solo trip back in December 2016, it was not my original intention to travel alone. I had actually begun planning a girls’ trip with a good friend because it had seemed like a good time for both of us to be able to do so. Unfortunately, as I was sitting in a coffee shop looking up flight deals, I received a text from her letting me know that she wasn’t going to be able to go after all. We were both SO sad because we had been ridiculously excited to spend New Year’s Eve abroad.
Just as I was about to break down sobbing in public, a thought occurred to me, “What if I still went by myself?” I thought I must be crazy to even consider doing something like that. So I did what most Millennials would do—I quickly crowdsourced opinions from my mother, my husband, my friends, and strangers on the Internet.
I was thinking that everyone was going to tell me I was ridiculous to even consider going alone and that I was too old or too married or too reliant on other people for survival to be able to make it on my own. To my surprise, everyone replied with a resounding, “YES! Do it! That would be such an amazing experience!” And you know what? They were right.
As the youngest of four children, I had spent most of my life looking to other people to call the shots (see above: my polling opinions rather than forming my own). I had lived with my family, then college roommates, and then my husband. So planning a trip for which I would be making all the pivotal decisions was borderline terrifying and overwhelming at times. Everything was on me. And it was the single best scenario I could have ever put myself in to learn and grow.
4. I Want to Live My Life the Way I Would Wish I Had
I was recently chatting with a nice older man about how I will be studying French in a language immersion course. After a little while, he asked, “So why are you learning French? Like, what are you going to use it for?” It was an understandable question, and it felt like one that was very rooted in an American perspective on life—a perspective that seems to be of the mind that everything we do should have a clearly defined use or practical purpose in order to be worth doing—you know, for efficiency’s sake. The only answer I could come up with for why I was learning French was, “To know it.” And I think that answer is more than good enough.
One good thing about being a youngest child is that you get to learn from the people going through life just barely ahead of you, and I think it’s something we should all try to do more often by learning from all of our elders. So when I was preparing a speech for my master’s thesis presentation on the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, I did some research on people’s top regrets at the end of life.
As it turns out, a palliative care nurse had gathered a list of the top five things most of her patients had regrets about in the last few months of their lives, and two that stood out to me were, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” and “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
Then I was leafing through a parody book called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight, and I found that she had done similar research on the topic. Two of the things she found that came up most often in articles online was that people regretted not making travel a regular part of their lives and not learning another language. Oh hey, whaddya know? I discovered that the two things I had been wanting to do the most are two of the things that people most wish they had done as they near the end of their life journeys.
I spent my entire twenties working full time and going to school, and I have only recently decided that I am tired of putting off my dreams. Now that I’m 30, I have fully realized that I’m not actually going to be 22 forever like I had always assumed. Things happen, like having children (which still doesn’t necessarily need to keep anyone from traveling and following their dreams, but that’s a topic for another day) or unforeseen injuries and illnesses, so I don’t want to keep living my life thinking that everything I really, truly want to do will happen “someday.” If I want something to happen, I need to make it happen. So that’s what I’m doing.
5. It’s a Life-Changing Experience
After traveling for only two weeks by myself in London, Paris, and Dublin earlier this year, I felt like I had grown more than I had in the previous few years of my life. I had planned an entire trip itinerary, made friends from all over the world, figured out how to navigate several different public transportation systems, and even learned some life lessons about when to trust strangers or not!
Another unexpected benefit that I had not previously considered was how connected I would feel to so many people when sharing our travel experiences. I found a sense of community not only among the amazing friends who sat with me before I left to share tips from their travels or the fabulous new friends I made on the week-long tour I did, but I also developed friendships in a Facebook group.
Girls LOVE Travel® is an online community of over 430,000 women that a friend introduced me to before I left on my first trip. In that group, I was able to ask all kinds of travel questions and get immediate, helpful responses from women all over the world. They gave me practical advice as well as emotional encouragement and support. I made new friends through it and even got a chance to meet the group’s founder and creator, Haley Woods, along with two awesome fellow GLTers (pictured, from left to right: Katey, me, Ashley, and Haley) in Los Angeles this past July! This community of women is incredible, and it has been so comforting and validating to learn from them and grow along with them through sharing our experiences, worries, successes, and even struggles. I haven’t even arrived in Paris yet, and I already have plans to grab drinks in a couple weeks with a new friend I’ve made in France!
I know my blog posts are always a bit of a doozy to read (I’m working on that), but hopefully this has been helpful to anyone wondering whether they should travel solo. If you are even considering it, then I would say that it is probably something you ought to seriously look into planning.
My trick that I play on myself is to just start talking about trips as if they’re definitely happening, and then they somehow eventually manifest themselves into reality. Where there’s a will, there is almost always a way—even if it means making compromises, like taking a month-long trip to learn a language 10 years later rather than taking a three-month study abroad excursion right then. But if you don’t have to, don’t put it off for 10 years like I did!
Then when you’re ready to make your dream a reality, you can consult my ultimate checklist for planning solo trips in my next post!
In the meantime, please share your thoughts and experiences with me!
Have you traveled solo? What did it mean to you?
Are you just barely beginning to contemplate doing so? What might be holding you back?
Please share/ask anything! I’d love to hear from you!