SFT: Solo Female Traveler. That’s me now…and I love it. Solo traveling has its ups and downs. It’s not all smiles and beautiful sunsets like you see in the pictures- it is all beautiful though. Backpacking around the world alone has been the most rewarding, challenging and transformational thing I have ever done. I am stripped down to my bare true self and I no longer keep up protective walls to hide who I am or what I want. I take care of myself and have reinforced in my mind that I do not need anyone- a concept I never fully grasped before. I can and will continue on this path, with only myself to lean on. I continue to be surprised every leg of my journey with lessons I would never have learned had I stayed in my old life.
Here are a few things I’ve learned as a solo female traveler, so far:
#1) You Are Never Alone
One of the most surprising things I have learned about traveling alone, is that I am never actually alone. In fact, I have to make a conscious effort to spend time alone. I find myself constantly wrapped up in my surroundings, making new connections and friendships. I meet interesting people everywhere I go. Sure, there is always a language barrier, but you’d be surprised to see how many English speakers there are any place you go. Staying at hostels makes meeting people especially easy. Tons of other travelers from all around the world in one place, sharing a breakfast table. You are bound to hear amazing stories and make close connections. I’ve made lifelong friends in some of the hostels I have stayed in.
#2) Sometimes You Just Need to Chill
For the first three weeks of my travels I was on the go 100% of the time. I did not take a break to breathe and recoup my energy. There were days I would wake up, say in Barcelona, desperately wanting to just “Netflix and chill” (the literal meaning for all of you giggling) but I would guilt myself into getting out the door for more sightseeing. “You’re in freakin Spain, Heather! Get out and go see the world! This is not the time to stay in cooped up!” And so I did. I wandered, I walked miles and miles a day, and I exhausted myself.
By the time I got to Paris after exactly one month of traveling, I crashed and burned. I spent three entire days in Paris inside the apartment I was staying in. It. Felt. So. Good. “Travel guilt” came again, but I let that crap go. I stopped guilt tripping myself and relaxed. Sometimes, a girl just needs a break, and that doesn’t change whether you’re at home or in Paris. Sometimes you just need to chill- and then go on with your fabulous explorations. If long term travel is the plan, then you have to create sustainability for yourself, which can only be achieved with proper rest.
#3) You are on a Living Holiday
Most people I have met while backpacking through Europe are just on short-term trips while taking time off work. They are on a completely different wave length than I am. I am traveling long-term, on a tight budget, and am making this my lifestyle. Short term travelers want to cram all of the touristy stuff into 2-3 days and party as much as possible, without any down time because, well, they can sleep when they get home. These people are just as fascinating as long-term travelers and even more fun to hang out with (they love to drink), but it’s been crucial to remind myself I am not on their path. My life is now their “holiday” and in order to make it last I must make it real life and keep impulsive decision making to a minimum (much easier said than done). It’s all about finding balance. See all of the touristy things you must see, drink with the other travelers when it feels right and it’s a good time, and break away for “you time” when you need to. Balance and self-sustainability have been key to getting me through the journey.
#4) Home is Never that Far Away
I honestly thought I would feel further away and more disconnected than I have felt since I left home. Thanks to technology and wifi being pretty much everywhere you go, you are never more than a short phone call away from home! Even though you may be traveling alone, you can always call home for comfort and a daily dose of love and support. I talk to someone from home through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger almost everyday, and it helps me remember point number one: I am never alone.
It’s also nice to stay connected with those back home as they will usually encourage your journey. There have been days I have called my Mom and said “I can’t do it anymore. It’s too hard. I am coming home!” and she responded “Absolutely not. This isn’t just about you anymore. So many people are now living vicariously through your travels. You will get through this and will be better for it.” Sometimes you need to be reminded how lucky you are to be traveling, seeing the world, and experiencing what you are. And there’s nothing like a reminder from those you love, who are watching your journey from far away.
The learnings keep on coming everyday, but the message that is repeated to me in different forms again and again is this: You started this on your own, you’re doing it on your own and you’re strong enough to go all the way.