8 things I stop giving a sh*t about when I travel solo
1. Asking for help
Stubbornly independent, to my own demise at times, I hate asking for help from others and will often go out of my way to avoid people altogether, limiting eye contact so as not to invite small talk. I hate small talk.
I remember my first time at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, hopelessly lost trying to figure out where my reserved shuttle pickup location was. I thought I would be able to get to my hotel without having to attempt speaking French to anyone. Snubbed three times by the Information Desk, I finally found myself outside speaking to a local, who not only got me on my shuttle, but indulged me in 15 minutes of invaluable small talk as we both waited for our rides. For the remainder of my stay in the city I was once so intimidated by, I asked questions every chance I got. I practiced my French despite my embarrassment and enjoyed it all the more. I smiled at strangers, made eye contact, and made friends with wonderful people.
2. Irrational fear
It’s scary to go somewhere completely foreign to me. And it’s scarier for me to do it alone. But I get off that plane and realize I’m still on planet Earth, surrounded by humans just going about their day as they would back home. I do my research, respect differences in culture, learn a few words in a different language and embrace a little change. Crime happens everywhere, and the media knows that focusing on the “scary” sells, but I won’t be so easily sold on the notion that that’s all there is. The regret of not going is much scarier. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, “Just leave. Go away. You can’t stay in a cocoon your whole life. It will limit you in ways you can’t even begin to understand.”
3. Whether or not my boyfriend will wait for me
This is, for me, the worst excuse to forego travel. Although I admit to feeling worried that prolonged time away would kill a relationship, it’s never stopped me. I say that having lost relationships over it. But if someone is so insecure that they feel a need to limit me in my own life, I know I’m better off without them. I just go and my future self will someday thank me.
When my itinerary includes a trek across desolate landscapes of Iceland or a day navigating through Bangkok’s busy outdoor markets in 95+ degree weather, doing my hair and makeup just doesn’t make practical sense. Besides, who do I have to impress? I’ve found that presenting a more raw version of myself to strangers works synonymously with the rawness of the experience itself. This goes for clothing, too. With just a carry-on, I pack a few inexpensive basics and the choice between flip flops or hiking boots — nothing too important to lose, but still prepared for anything. Not only do I feel like I blend in more this way, at least as a traveler than as a tourist, but I enjoy the break from the shallowness of daily life back home. I’m busy with more important things like negotiating fares with tuk tuk drivers, and making sure I have enough water and general sense of where I’m going.
5. Thinking about my caloric intake
It wasn’t until I spent a week experiencing Cambodia for the first time that I realized my body doesn’t actually need as much food as I’d been conditioned to believe. I wasn’t purposely skipping meals — hot days came and went so quickly, it didn’t occur to me to sit down three times a day to eat. For the most part, once was enough. Food became a necessity rather than a distraction as I began “feeding” myself more with the excitement of experiencing new things. And because the predictability and reliability of food was low from day to day, I had no guilt in indulging when opportunities presented themselves.
6. Living by the clock
Call me a control freak, but usually I live by lists, plotting out how the next year will play out, month to month, day to day, and, sometimes, hour to hour. On the road, I work in the opposite direction, reflecting on my day after it’s already passed. There’s no disappointment if I don’t get something crossed off of my ‘to-do’ list, because I don’t have one. There’s more room for spontaneity.
7. Pleasing other people
Traveling solo means creating my own itinerary and changing it whenever I please. In a group, it’s much harder to appease each person’s needs. Heading out by myself means I’m free of the judgement of someone else, free from acting in the way people are used to seeing me, and free to be selfish and make my own decisions/mistakes, which ultimately makes me feel more confident in the long run. It also tends to make me more approachable and open to meeting others.
8. Little conveniences
In routine life, it’s easy for me to grow dependent on little things like my morning cup of coffee, air conditioning, and reliable internet. But being uncomfortable and away from everything I’m used to having all the time makes me appreciate the fact that I’ve had it so well all along. I gain a better understanding of necessity vs. excess.