Recently, I had the incredible chance to travel to Croatia when I was invited for a 5-day cruise aboard a lovely private charter. As I started making plans — buying plane tickets, snagging accommodations, and the like — it dawned on me.
This would be my first international trip by myself.
In the past, I’ve traveled plenty, and all over the world. But it’s always been with my spouse and son, or in a work group, when my agenda is definitely not left up to me.
I realized this would be a new experience, and while I looked forward to it, I was also just a teensy bit apprehensive. I’d have 2 days in Split before joining the group on the yacht, as well as an additional overnight layover in Rome. Would I be nervous? Lonely? Freaked out? All of it?
Spoiler: all of it.
Here are seven things I learned along the way.
1. It’s Important (For Me, At Least) To Have A Plan
I am a definite type A. I like things buttoned up, and rarely leave them to chance. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy free time; I certainly did on this trip. But the biggies — what I wanted to see in Split and Rome, where I’d stay in each city, even down to the list of foods I wanted to try — all of that was planned well in advance.
I think there’s a certain comfort in having an itinerary that helped set me at ease. There were likely going to be enough unknowns on this trip; I wanted to make sure I had the big items nailed down well before I was wheels up. I know some people love to make their plans as they travel; I am not one of them, and that’s just fine.
2. Me-Time Isn’t Selfish; It’s Essential!
As a wife and mom, so much of what I do each day revolves around keeping my little family’s planet on its axis and spinning along smoothly. Running the house, double-checking that my son is eating something other than potato chips each day, making sure the pets are healthy, fed, and exercised…
You get the picture.
Knowing that so many things can and do hinge on my presence or proximity, I can feel guilty or even a bit selfish taking time out for myself. In this case, I took me-time halfway around the world, and it was wonderful. When I did return home, I felt fully present and thrilled to see my boys again. This trip helped me realize just how important setting time aside for yourself actually is. Giving myself permission to go have fun, on my own, was a gift of the highest order.
3. It’s Okay To Be Emotional
By nature, I’m not an overly emotional person. I rarely cry, and consider myself a pretty tough cookie. That’s why I was so surprised when a couple of times during my trip, I burst into tears.
Then, I realized solo travel by its very nature is overwhelming. You are seeing new things, experiencing a different culture, and immersing yourself in a place that might be a bit outside your comfort zone. Add a pinch of jetlag and a dash of loneliness and you’ve got the makings of an emotional overload.
When I calmed down, I realized this reaction is completely normal. It in no way marred my travel experience. Rather, it made it all the richer. It’s okay to have big feelings traveling the world on your own! I gave them the space they needed, breathed through it and let them pass, then got back out there to see the next incredible thing on my list.
4. It’s Also Okay To Miss Your Loved Ones
For the first days on my journey, I reveled in my newfound freedom. Time for a pastry after that museum stop? Absolutely! Pop into this darling boutique? That would be a yes. I didn’t have to ask permission to do anything, nor did I have to take anyone else’s schedule into account.
But then there were times when something I saw was so stunning, so beautiful, that I just really wanted my husband there to share it with me. A meal that was so delicious I wanted to pass him a bite. Our junior deckhand was about the same age as my son, which gave me pangs. Heck, I even started seeing stray cats that looked like my two back home.
It’s natural to miss your loved ones when you’re out adventuring. But the great news is you’ll get to go home and share it all with them! Traveling solo made me realize just how much I adore and appreciate my loved ones. All the more if I leave them behind for just a little while from time to time.
5. I Can Make Friends Anywhere
I always suspected this next lesson would be true, and I was relieved to find that indeed, I can make friends anywhere. Even on my own and far from home!
During my time in Split, I immediately connected with my wonderful tour guide. I struck up conversations with the young barista who prepared my double expresso and almond croissant at the café each morning. I said hello to the people I passed while running in Marjan, Split’s gorgeous park. And once I got on the yacht, I quickly settled in with the other guests, some of whom have already become fast friends with whom I’ve stayed in touch — thank you, social media!
While it was lovely and rejuvenating to have a few days of alone time, I know I love being around others as well. It was a great reminder: A quiet recharge is terrific, but I also get a charge from making new friends, which I can do anywhere! It’s the balance between the two that’s important to recognize and honor.
6. Solo Travel Is An Enormous Confidence Boost
This next lesson cannot be understated. Traveling on my own was such a confidence boost! I made all my own decisions, made all my own arrangements, and didn’t consult with anyone else to do so. I also had to solve little issues that came up on the fly, figure out language barriers, and navigate a new city, all on my own. I thought I could do it, but it’s always great to prove to yourself that you can.
Here’s what I also realized: Many people skip solo travel altogether because they’re not sure they can do it, or at least have a good time. I’m here you tell you: you can, and you will!
7. Some People Might Think You’re Crazy; Ignore Them!
As mentioned previously, I’m married. I’m not a single solo traveler. For some family and friends, that raised questions. Some wanted to know why I’d even entertain going anywhere without my husband. Others wondered how I could leave my son behind. My mother really freaked out, and even called my husband to check in on me when connectivity issues prevented me from texting her daily.
Here’s the thing: Traveling solo doesn’t mean something’s amiss. For me, it was proof-positive of inner confidence, a wonderful, trusting, and healthy relationship with my spouse, and a supportive family. I know I came back having learned a bit more about myself, which is a good thing for me and everyone I’m closest to.
So what if not everyone understands? You do you. You won’t regret it.
Final thoughts: If you’re considering an international solo trip, my advice is to go for it! Take into account your preferences, and plan for them. Take into account your challenges, and plan for them. Last but not least, you know yourself better than anyone else. Have the time of your life just being with you.