How Traveling Solo Went From A Last Resort To A First Priority

If you were to ask me two years ago about the possibility of me embarking on a solo trip abroad, I would’ve immediately responded with a “no way” - and laughed purely for the comical effect of the question in the first place. Partially induced by fear and uncertainties, but also by taboo – a young female traveling solo across the globe… are you insane? My family, my friends, the media, and myself have persistently advised me against even walking down my own street alone, so how could I possibly travel abroad and expect to walk all those completely unfamiliar streets alone?

These were my thoughts, and as expected, they are the thoughts of most people still today. This is the taboo we regard as fact. 

When we think of travel, we all have this romantic (but elusive) image in our minds of frolicking across the globe, without worry and without care, basking in the sun and climbing to the most magnificent peaks. Letting the wind guide us, and the ground move us. But there’s always this fear, a fear that has been instilled in us our whole lives. The fear of danger, the fear of loneliness, and the fear of the unknown.

I found myself living in Santiago, Chile shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After dedicating 8 years of my life to learning the Spanish language, it had always been a dream of mine to move to South America and to immerse myself within the Hispanic culture. I travelled under the umbrella of a teaching program and a TEFL certificate. I began to teach English at a technical university, and I was always among the company of friends and supervisors in my daily life. But the day came when our winter break was about to commence, and up until that point, I had done a bunch of traveling within Chile – but mostly accompanied by friends and fellow travelers I’d previously met. I was planning out the upcoming 5 weeks of vacation… I knew where I wanted to go, and I knew how I wanted to do it - accompanied by at least one friend along the way. And it was going to be that way, until my plans changed last minute and traveling solo became my “last resort.” I wanted to travel. I wanted to explore the beauty of South America, and of Northern Chile and Peru. I wanted it more than anything. And so I did.

My trip began with a 21-hour bus North of Santiago with a friend. I spent a few days getting accustomed to the backpacking scene before we parted our ways and I crossed the border to Peru solo. That border crossing was the beginning of my travel evolution – crossing over from anxieties and fears to released inhibitions and countless discoveries.

The first few days of my journey involved a lot of movement – long bus rides, tireless hikes, hostels, and tents. My lonely planet book and various online travel guides were my sanctuaries. It was all so liberating. Realizing how capable I was – just little me, and my backpack, and some spare cash… and here I was, in this foreign country, mingling with locals and travelers from across the world, seeing incredible sites and monuments, stepping on grounds I never thought I’d step on. This was when I gained the appreciation I have for solo travel today.

Upon that experience, I also realized the possibilities that solo travel provides – comfortably living life on my own time, governing my own schedule and my own routes, exploring fearlessly but vigilantly. I began to crave that sensation – upon getting off the bus at a new destination, without even a clue of what the future held. That same uncertainty that used to inhibit me evolved into my main motivator.

In every new city and site, there were incredible people to meet, amazing places to see, and mind-altering revelations to have. And, of course, there were times where I felt alone – I was inherently alone, after all. However, through these experiences, I also happened upon the most important discovery that I took out of solo travel – that there is a clear distinction between being alone and being lonely. It is with that distinction that I was able to justify my sentiments, to understand why I felt the way I felt when I felt it. Solo travel isn’t lonely travel. Being alone is a marvel of its own – it is the gateway to personal understanding and development; it is what allows us to appreciate the presence of the Earth and of the other humans that inhabit it.

Those five weeks solo traveling across Northern Chile and Peru changed the course of the rest of my life. What used to be a completely mental impossibility became the “first priority” plan for every trip abroad to come. Traveling solo went from this crazy taboo instilled with fear and anxiety to the epitome of what I consider the basis for happiness and growth in my life. It is what empowers me, and allows me to get to know myself and others better, while discovering the wonders of what our globe has to offer.  That being said, I’ve already booked my next solo trip and I’m counting down the days to this next chapter of adventure and discovery! I highly suggest you do the same :)


To check out some of the breathtaking views I was humbled by and able to experience upon my solo adventures, click here:

For more stories & photos from my travels, follow me on Instagram @shayanneigans

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