4 Unexpected Learnings From My First Solo Backpacking Trip
Written by a solo female traveler.
During the summer of 2017, I took off on my first solo adventure. My backpacking trip was tentatively scheduled to begin in Northern Europe and end four months later in Eastern Asia.
I had read up on blogs and recommended packing lists for months. I knew what was excessive to bring for my 38L backpack (most toiletries - buy them on the road) and the items that would make my life easier (minimal clothing that could be used for various occasions). Let me just state right now that I never looked appropriately dressed for any occasion aside from hiking and lounging on the beach.
There were things my friends and family asked about constantly leading up to my departure day:
"Are you nervous?"
"Are you prepared for (enter literally any possible dangerous situation)?"
"Will you be drinking alcohol with strangers?!"
I felt confident that I was prepared, and I’ve got to say, I was. Maybe some of it was luck, or maybe I truly prepared for the worst in every situation (staying at only the highest rated hostels, always locking up my belongings, being completely aware of my surroundings at all time, and so on). It went off without a hitch.
There were things, however, that I hadn’t expected or thought much about before I left. Things I learned that surprised me. Looking back, these lessons have now prepared me for future solo travels and I hope can serve other women who are considering going on their first solo trips.
The passion to explore the world through solo travel trumps our differences
When I first decided to quit my job and travel for several months, my intention was not to travel to make friends. Most of my time away, I didn’t even feel lonely.
What I did feel, however, was surprise at the connections I made with people who lived completely different lives and had opposite world views from mine.
Enter a young woman staying in the same room as me at a hostel in Hong Kong. We met one day after she had been out in the city buying magazines for her collection. She explained to me that in her village in China, it was illegal to buy and nearly impossible to find magazines like Vogue and Allure so she was stocking up while in Hong Kong.
I felt naïve that this fact surprised me. How odd but amazing was it that despite our differences, our solo travel journeys crossed our two paths at the same hostel.
I met so many other solo travelers like this woman who I enjoyed time with in those few months. Some like me. Some not like me. But I connected in some way with people almost everywhere I stopped because of the passion we had for being on the road alone.
I did not discover a new understanding of who I was, and you might not either
People talk about how traveling solo changes them and gives them a new perspective on who they are. It is fantastic that some people walk away from these experiences having life changing thoughts or discoveries about themselves.
What did I learn about myself? That I was who I already thought I was.
Each experience solidified in myself what I already knew:
- I have an abundance of social anxiety that people typically don’t recognize
- I have no problem spending time alone
- I love connecting with new people
And the list goes on. At the end of the trip, this fact actually made me feel more confident after realizing there was little I didn't know about myself.
Planning travel is far more work than expected, but the time put into it is worth it
I planned my travels in a detailed fashion toward the beginning of my trip when I was traveling in expensive areas like Scandinavia. But as time went by, I planned only several days in advance.
It quickly and unexpectedly became completely overwhelming planning for each coming week. I sometimes ended up spending one day of a three-day trip researching where I would go and what I would do next.
- I wanted to see the spots that were recommended to me by my new hostel friends
- I wanted to fully understand how to get myself from point A to point B via public transit and without having a roaming phone plan ahead of getting to my destination
- I didn’t want to spend an enormous amount of money
If I could do it all over again, I would still keep a flexible schedule but I would do the actual destination research in advance so I could fully enjoy my time in each location.
Something catastrophic is not necessarily going to happen
This was something I actually somewhat considered given all of the outsider opinions on the matter.
The true lesson here: There are few places I could travel to in the world that would realistically be more “dangerous” than my home city of New York.
No one checked up on me constantly to make sure I got home okay every night when I lived in Manhattan. Why was traveling in Europe and Asia so much different?
Being far away from home creates a feeling for yourself and for family and friends that you are in more dangerous situations because people you know are not close by. It does NOT mean you are actually in more danger. It means you need to be smart about your safety because if something did happen, your support system would be far away.
I researched destinations before I got there to understand what the risks were. I was smart. I was aware. And I was fine.
If you are preparing for your first solo trip, remember this:
Be prepared for the unexpected learnings. They are the best part of the journey.