Hi there. It’s been a minute.
As I’m drafting this post, I realize it’s been two years to the day since my last upload and that’s just unacceptable. I don’t even have a proper excuse and I’ve probably traveled more than ever before over the last two years (well, before March 2020 at least) so it’s not like I’ve been out of content either. Anyway, here’s a post about something I’ve been meaning (and needing) to write about for quite some time.
I’m a total introvert, I need a lot of time to myself to recharge, I’m shy and I’m very socially anxious. So given these traits it might seem like a terrible idea to embark on an extended solo trip and I was terrified for weeks. But at the same time I was intrigued and I knew I had to go. So I did.
The first time I ever visited a place by myself was in 2017 when I spent a couple of days in Arequipa, Peru, after saying goodbye to my family in Cusco before reuniting with a friend in Copacabana, Bolivia. This short stay was a revelation for me and made me want to travel solo one day. On one hand my social anxiety kept me from meeting anyone as I was too scared to merely have breakfast at the hostel (even though it was included). On the other hand, I’d never felt more free.
Two years later the perfect opportunity presented itself: I had over a month off from classes, I had saved up all my tips from nearly a year of working at a popular restaurant and nobody I wanted to travel with was free to join me at the time. I couldn’t let the opportunity of traveling for a month pass by so it was quickly decided that I would go on the solo trip I’ve had in the back of my mind since Arequipa. Having lived and worked in Bolivia for nearly a year I was naturally drawn to South America because I knew I would feel safest there on my own knowing the ropes and most importantly the language. So I booked a flight to Lima, Peru, and a return flight from Santiago de Chile and got planning.
Planning everything to detail was a huge deal for me as I only had a month so I was quite tight on time to travel from Lima to Santiago. It also provided me some safety and helped with my anxiety. I even had all my hostels booked as I didn’t want to be stranded on my own somewhere in the middle of nowhere at night with no place to go. I know that the spontaneity of backpacking is one of the most important things for a lot of people, but with my anxieties on my first ever trip alone it just made me feel safer and less stressed. Another thing that helped with my fears was getting a sim card with data in every country so I could easily communicate with hostels and my family and friends back home to let them know where I was, when I was due to arrive and so on. Aside from the safety aspect of this, it gives you the chance to talk to people you’re comfortable with when you’re overwhelmed by your social anxiety wherever you are. So if you’rd shy and suffer from anxiety as well, these would be my recommendations for you that helped me personally.
But what is it really like on your own on the road when even just ordering food gives you anxiety? Not as bad as you might think. The whole journey to Lima I felt that I was in way over my head. But once I checked into my hostel (which I found thanks to Lozzy and Andy from Cuppa to Copa Travels who I actually met up with in Bogotá a while back and I strongly encourage you to check out Lozzy’s amazing blog!) I was immediately relieved. It exceeded my expectations. The three guys I shared my dorm with offered to join me for dinner right away although they had already eaten and we had the best time at the hostel bar the next two nights. It was easier than I had ever imagined. Of course this wasn’t always the case, but it wasn’t the only case. I even reunited with a fellow solo traveler I met in La Paz a couple of weeks later in Santiago. So sometimes you don’t even have to try to make friends as a shy introvert and it all falls into place.
Naturally this didn’t happen in every single hostel. Sometimes I was just too exhausted and mentally or physically drained from all the small talk (Where are you from? How long are you traveling for? Where have you been already?) and sometimes judginess of other travelers (as everyone is trying to triumph everybody else’s experiences, the number of places they’ve visited etc.) to make any effort. And I guess you just have to accept that that’s okay and try not to put too much pressure on yourself if it makes you too uncomfortable. Obviously, the whole point of taking a solo trip despite all your anxieties, worries and doubts is pushing your personal limits. But if it gets too much, be gentle on yourself. I definitely felt guilty when I didn’t feel up to getting to know people and pressured myself, but I think learning to accept your boundaries is a huge accomplishment on its own. I didn’t overcome all my anxieties and yes, I did feel lonely at times which is always to be expected whether you’re an introvert or not. But even so, I have so many valuable social encounters I can look back on without having met twenty new people every day.
While meeting people was definitely my biggest worry in the beginning, it turned out better than expected. One thing I didn’t realize would be so tough on me was transportation. The times where I truly felt lonely where when I was actually in transit alone. Being on a bus overnight or for even a whole of 27 hours (Cochabamba to Calama in my case during that trip) on your own definitely sparked my anxiety. I’ve done shorter trips on my own in between traveling with other people since then and the thing that has always stuck with me is my anxiety around traveling from one place to another alone.
The last thing I want to do is scare anyone off from wanting to embark on a solo trip but as the title says – I’m just being honest and sharing my experience here. I can’t tell you in good conscience that it’s going to be easy if you’re anything like me. But to me at least, especially in hindsight, all the fear and worries are more than worth it. Looking back, it always brightens my mood thinking about what I accomplished, what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced and who I’ve experienced it with. Although I don’t currently plan on taking another longer trip on my own, I know that I could do it if I felt up to it again or if I had no other choice. The main thing I hope you take away from my words is that when the thought of traveling solo absolutely terrifies and fascinates you at the same time, don’t rule it out just yet even if you struggle with anxiety. Respect your own boundaries, don’t pressure yourself into anything that horrifies you but don’t let it overshadow your dreams either. If I can do it, so can you.
As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are.
I loved reading your text and can totally relate to many parts of it! When I travelled solo I found it even hard to find some alone time to write in my diary for example cause people in hostels come up to talk to you even if you yourself are not trying :DD
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Thanks Janine! Yes, that’s so true as well haha