Let me preface this article with: Solo travel is amazing and I encourage everyone to do it (not a spoiler). However, as a pragmatist, I’m not one to make flowery statements. Just like with relationships, friendships and coworker-ships, there are ebbs and flows with solo travel. So with that said:
My name is Amanda, and I am a 28-year-old woman from New York. For all intents and purposes, I’m an independent woman — career-driven, self-sufficient, fantastic internal pep-talker, strict “if you want change, you need to make change” and “don’t let a man get you down” mindset (sometimes easier said than done, but hey, I’m human).
I work in the travel industry, so naturally my appetite to globetrot is insatiable, and I spend most of my passive income on plane tickets. I take about four trips a year, and somehow I always managed to find a travel buddy – be it a friend, family member, co-worker. In all honesty, I didn’t care who joined me on the trip; I just wanted the companionship.
I never allowed myself to consider the possibility of traveling alone. I would hear stories from people about their solo trips and feel inspired while secretly thinking, “Wow, I am so happy I never found myself in that position.” Until this year.
Like a “Sex and the City” cliché, I booked a trip to Greece with my boyfriend, and you can guess the end of this story … we broke up. So there I was: single and my dream trip planned and paid for. I tried asking anyone with a passport to join me — no luck. I even considered traveling with my ex as “friends” just to avoid visiting one of the most romantic places in the world alone. I got a few well-deserved lectures after that one, but I finally accepted my fate: I’m going to Greece by myself.
Stage 1: Denial.
“I’m fine.” “It’s going to be fine.” “Greece is fine.” “I feel fine.” “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Those were my canned responses to just about everyone who asked me about the trip in the preceding weeks. Deep down, I was anything but fine. I was terrified, bitter and uncertain. I’ve travelled all around the world, so it wasn’t the idea of going to a foreign country alone that scared me. It was the foreign feeling of loneliness that I feared most. The week leading up to it, I had a cynical stream of consciousness. What if I don’t meet people? What if no one talks to me? What if I eat by myself every day? All of the insecure feelings I had entering grade school consumed me again.
Stage 2: Oh gosh, this is really happening?
Upon stepping off the plane, it hit me: I’m on my own in Athens, so it’s time to get with the program. I pulled myself together, dragged myself to the train station, made my way to the city center and lugged my rolling suitcase to the doors of the hostel. That was when the second wave of “Oh gosh, this is really happening?” descended upon me. I’ve stayed in private rooms at hostels many times, but this was the first time I booked a communal room in hopes of meeting people. I feared the safety, the awkward first-meeting, basic roommate etiquette like “do you tiptoe in the dark if someone goes to bed early?” I went to college, so I’m not sure why I felt so inexperienced, but leading up to the trip, I had a glass-half-empty mindset.
That leads me to tip No. 1: Stay positive. Negativity won’t get you anywhere. Be open to everything, and you’ll reap the rewards.
Stage 3: I got this
Once I finally took my own advice, I started to come around. The hostel City Circus, which I highly recommend, encouraged communal gatherings by hosting a nightly happy hour just for the guests, and the beauty of hostels is that you are among fellow solo travelers. Over a couple glasses of wine and a shared plate of hummus, we bonded over our mutual interest in travel and our past and upcoming journeys. People regaled me with their first solo trip stories and similar reservations, but clearly those trips were a success because there they were again traveling independently. I felt a renewed confidence, and I was ready to take on the experience.
Stage 4: Why did I ever do this?
There are bumps along every trip I’ve taken; however, the comfort of overstepping them with a travel companion makes them feel minute. Having your ATV break down on the side of a dirt road in Mykonos by yourself sets you into panic mood. Along with getting lost along the backroads without access to a GPS and dining by yourself only for the waiter to remark, “You are strange.” My Airbnb in Mykonos, albeit beautiful, was not conducive to socializing. It was filled with honeymooners and anniversary celebrators. I was the only solo traveler, and instead of being applauded for my decision to travel on my own, I was met with blank stares and pity. It was the first time I felt alone.
Stage 5: I’m the king of the world.
Each of those moments, however, made me stronger. After overcoming the ATV mechanical issues and misdirection, I spent the next three days driving to the most remote and pristine beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. After ignoring the insensitive remarks about eating alone, I tossed aside the inhibitions and spent each meal thereafter savouring incredible sunset views and as much Greek salad, kebabs and moussaka that my body could handle. After the initial seclusion in my Airbnb, I forced myself out of my shell and initiated conversation at bars, restaurants, shops, beaches — you name it. By the time I left Mykonos and made my way to Santorini, I welcomed the solitude of having “me” time in a classic cave home apartment and enjoyed leisurely mornings walking the cobblestone streets, sipping espresso and marvelling at the iconic Oia sunsets with a glass of Santorini wine in hand.
The experience wasn’t perfect. It was at times scary and lonely. In the end, though, it was one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever taken. I returned a more confident, humble, mature woman and will now fearlessly travel the world with or without a person beside me.
Amanda Mulligan is a deal expert at Travelzoo and based in New York. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate, and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.