The 5 Stages of Travelling Solo For The First Time
Maybe this is the year you are going to take a solo trip for the first time. Firstly, awesome stuff. This will be a decision you do not regret. That’s great, Meg, I hear you say, but what I’m really wondering is, what is it going to feel like travelling solo for the first time?
This is a good question. A tough one to answer, but I’ll give it my best shot.
In my opinion, how you feel along the rollercoaster that is your first solo trip can be split into five stages. So buckle up and let’s go for a ride.
1. Pre-Trip Feelings
Before travelling solo for the first time I believe that you exist in a state of confused bewilderment.
Just Where Am I Going Again?
Firstly, no matter how many blogs we read or YouTube videos we watch will fully prepare us for what’s ahead. Unless your trip is within your own country, where you can generally assume you will be familiar with the language and customs, you may be unable to comprehend what your new destination is like.
It all seems so far away and, well, just new. This otherness can be daunting or exciting, depending on how you look at it.
Am I Really Doing This By Myself?
Secondly, the very act of travelling solo for the first time seems surreal.
The stage fright you feel at the thought of negotiating all of your journey alone may affect you in one of two ways. Either you’ll bury your head in the sand and feel completely unable to plan your trip, or a hyper-organisational side of you kicks in and propels you forward in a list-making frenzy.
All The Gear And No Idea
One result of this frenzied list making could see you buying a ton of stuff for your upcoming trip. Why? Because it will turn you into the perfect traveller of course. Wrong. I fell into the same trap of buying compasses, washing lines and all sorts of gadgetry. Some of these were good buys, such as the invaluable packing cube, and others were quickly ditched.
Think carefully about each item you buy and weigh up its return of investment. Remember you have to carry everything you own as an incentive not to overpack!
Aren’t You Brave For Travelling Alone!
People always like to tell me that I am brave for travelling solo (which by the way is something that I would never say about myself). The numb foggy part of your brain in which you’ve squashed down all your pre-trip panic has left you feeling totally nonplussed about it all.
You’re not scared, you think to yourself, because, well refer to the points above about deluding yourself that in some ways your trip is not really happening. You cannot visualise your adventure so it can’t be really happening, right?
2. Travel Day
Ok, if you’re going to allow yourself a little sob then now’s a good time to have one. Saying goodbye to family and friends can be emotional. All of those confused fears about travelling solo for the first time are coming to a head today as you board that plane, bus or train.
What the heck are you letting yourself in for? Whatever possessed you to book this trip and want to travel alone anyway?
If you need to let off steam with a few tears then go right ahead, my friend.
The practicalities of travelling may also just be dawning on you. For example, picking up your backpack for the first time may have just revealed it to be heavy and cumbersome. How the heck are you going to live with lugging this thing around?
Get Travel Ready
Being airport or travel ready is a key way you can fight the rising panic on travel day.
- I make sure I have a pen in my carry on for filling out immigration forms.
- I like to have my post-flight plan organised to help me feel like I am in control once I land. I book accommodation for at least the first two nights in any new place I travel to. I make sure I know how to get there using either local transport or taxis. If I’m going somewhere I won’t have GPS I print off street maps to help me find my hostel.
- Long haul can be a pleasure so focus on an in-flight plan: socks, layers, face wipes, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, sleeping aids (if you need them).
3. The First Couple Of Weeks
The first couple of weeks into travelling solo for the first time can be the real rollercoaster for many people.
At this stage the highs are numerous: you feel excited at your new surroundings and you are euphoric that you’ve made it to your new destination. You’re gaining confidence as a traveller each day by interacting with more experienced travellers. Asking them for details and tips about their trips helps you to quickly learn the ropes and gain from their experience.
Your Reality Has Changed
You suddenly find that you are used to sleeping in a dorm and all this entails: the lack of sleep, different beds and getting used to hostel life in general like shared facilities.
Whilst at first a real hardship and a test to your packing skills, by now you’re getting used to travelling virtually every day. This means hoofing your bag on public transport, journeys that seem to last days, getting lost, language barriers and sometimes having to take a leap of faith.
Now you are getting used to your friends and family so far away. People you were used to seeing all the time have now become a relationship based on messaging and Skype chats. But that’s ok. The ones you love will be there for you throughout this journey and love you just the same when you get back.
By now you’re a pro at eating whilst on the road. Whether this means feeding yourself in communal kitchens or sourcing delicious local eats, food becomes a big part of your day.
Be Prepared For The First Week Blues
Like a sparkler lit on Bonfire Night, you are burning short and sharp in the first few weeks. Not to put a downer on all of this awesomeness, but the chances are that you’ll suddenly hit a bit of a wall. The travel blues will come rushing in and threaten to swamp you.
This is where you realise that everything suddenly feels less shiny, you’re tired, you’re irritable, you’re missing home and nothing seems quite right.
Don’t panic. You don’t suck at travel and shouldn’t book a return ticket home just yet. There are many ways to overcome the travel blues and the first step is realising that you feel crappy.
4. Main Body Of The Trip
A few weeks have gone by. I like to feel that by now you are well into the swing of things.
“Yaaaaas, You Slay”
Have you heard this little saying that’s suddenly floating around the internet? For some reason it tickles me. But it’s true, you are slaying this travelling solo for the first time lark. And my god, doesn’t it feel amazing?
You will realise you slay when:
- You give advice to another newbie traveller for the first time. FACT: this will leave you feeling like a true travel champion.
- You realise you have the confidence to chat to new people wherever you go. GAME CHANGER: sometimes you don’t feel like making conversation with other travellers and you realise that you’re totally ok with this too.
- You learn what’s necessary to you, such as: the optimum way to pack your bag, the cheapest places to get food, where to track down wifi. NOTE: these are just some of the little things that fall into place as you hit your stride.
- The way you stop feeling guilty about if you’re having the best time ever in every place you visit. EDIT: this realisation is a true milestone in the lives of a traveller. Appreciate that some days are going to be better than others for all kinds of reasons.
- You’ve got used to your appearance on the road; how your clothes are going to look after the hostel laundry and how your hair will look without blow dryer and straighteners. MIND BLOWER: you don’t have to look like a glamazon to have a good time. In fact, you probably won’t even want to as you trek through the humid jungle in Indonesia with sweat plastering your hair to your head.
And lastly, one of my all-time favourites is that you realise that you’ve become more spontaneous. As you travel, spontaneity can be one of your greatest assets. Allow yourself to just go with the flow. Try to move away from the rigid plan you’ve scheduled for yourself and see what happens. Soon you’ll appreciate that you don’t need to plan out the myriad of things you could do in every place.
5. Time To Wrap Things Up
Take a deep breath; you’ve only gone and made it to the end of your trip!
Although you may be excited to see family and friends back home, your heart aches at the thought of finishing your adventure. Suddenly you find yourself seriously reflecting on those inspirational posts that you once scoffed at. These clichéd words resonate with a keenness that flares inside of you with a surprising vigour.
It’s quite clear to you now that you and travelling have some serious unfinished business.
But it’s more than yearning for the next plane ticket. It’s like a piece of you has become dislodged whilst you’ve been travelling solo for the first time. Like a mask that slips to uncover part of a face, there is a newly exposed element to who you are that is jostling for position in your old life.
Only time will tell. Some of the things you did back home may seem pointless you to now. Some of your priorities or how you spent you time or money may have changed.
How will that feel? What’s that going to be like? Only you can figure that out in the weeks that follow.
One thing that’s for sure, you’ll start living vicariously through your new friend’s social media updates. Having a whole bunch of international friends will help keep the travel flame burning bright.
Suddenly, your world will feel bigger than it did before. Before you know it, you’ll be inspired to pick your bag up to travel again.
Travelling Solo For The First Time
So there you have it. It’s a mighty challenge to encapsulate the wide spectrum of emotions you are going to feel on your first trip.
In all honesty, I simply cannot tell you for certain what you are going to feel.
What I will leave you with, however, is a plea. I want you to promise me that you’ll cut yourself some slack as you are travelling solo for the first time. Some days will spin past in a sparkle of light, laughter and breath-taking experiences. Other times you will feel like all the fun remains behind a locked door and this travel shit is overrated anyway.
Allow yourself to feel it all – the good and the bad – and know that there’s no true way you should be feeling.
Are you about to take your first solo trip? How are you feeling? Or are you a few weeks in to your adventure and would like to share any thoughts with your fellow travellers? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
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