What I Learnt In A Year Of Travelling Solo
Spending just a few days travelling to another country can open your mind in unexpected ways. Besides the delectable high of standing on foreign soil, you’re sure to experience people, places, sounds and smells you’ve never experienced before.
After returning home a short time later, your awareness is permanently shifted and a small part of you will never be the same again.
So what happens when you spend an entire year traipsing around Asia (or Europe, or South America) as a solo traveller? And what if your long-term travel extends to two years, or five?
Let’s put it this way: if one night in Bangkok is the eye-opening equivalent of cheap street food, then one year in Bangkok is a 5-star buffet of personal enrichment.
In other words, the only thing to say after such an experience is something along the lines of…
From 2013 to 2014 I spent 13 months travelling around South Asia and Southeast Asia, mostly all by myself (I’ll get to the ‘mostly’ part in a second).
While the experiences I had and the lessons I learned were enough to fill a book, (a book that’s coming out in June, by the way! My Week with Deepak), here are the highlights of what I learned from my year of solo travel:
We are all really, really different
I used to believe that deep down, everyone in the world is pretty much the same.
After a year of solo travel, I realized that while we are all the same deep down, that “deep down” is very deep indeed – it exists beneath millennia of cultural conditioning and can make it very hard to find common ground.
The way people think, the things that motivate them, and what they consider right and wrong can be very different depending on the culture. Morality is absolutely relative to the situation.
Something you hold dear to you and are sure is “right” might easily be considered “wrong” or even “evil” in another part of the world. Something as simple as saying “thank you” – the ultimate demonstration of politeness in Western culture – is actually considered rude in certain Asian cultures (my Vietnamese fiancée hates it when I thank him for anything!).
Once you realize how real our differences are, you begin to question everything you believe to be true, everything you’ve always believed without question. You can actually feel your mind opening as your assumptions fall away and you begin to trade judgments for compassionate acceptance and authentic curiosity.
I thought I had seen poverty before I left for Nepal. I hadn’t seen a thing.
I thought I had seen poverty before I journeyed to Cambodia. And yet the remote villages I visited in Nepal were palaces compared to the mud huts and starving infants that met me just outside Siem Reap.
In Western culture, many of us grow up without ever being exposed to true poverty – the kind that leads to distended bellies in infants and adult women whose stunted upbringing stops them from growing beyond 1.5 meters tall.
An American “poor” is light years richer than a Nepali “poor.” A German “poor” is nothing compared to a Cambodian “poor.”
Seeing and experiencing the truth of that first hand makes you appreciate what you have in ways you never thought possible.
Credit card debt? Student loans? Slow WiFi? When taken in a global context, these are the problems of the ultra, ultra-wealthy.
Solo travel makes you realize what you have in the grand scheme of things, and makes you appreciate the little things all the more.
Kindness Rules the World
Now, let me preface this statement with a disclaimer: there are many, many places in the world I’ve never been to. But some of the places I’ve gone gave my family and friends cause for concern when I first announced my solo journey.
While I definitely ran into scams, rare was the occasion I found myself in danger. The world isn’t mainly comprised of criminals – it’s mostly made up of nice families who go to work, labor the land, and just want to feed their babies.
To be fair, I was a Caucasian woman travelling in Asia, so the experience of someone else in another time and place could be different. But overall, I believe that people are good, and that the instincts of many of them include protecting women from harm whenever and wherever possible.
Love is all around
I spent the first 7 months of my journey travelling solo, enjoying my freedom, and planning more and more solo travel adventures. I even created a travel blog specifically geared toward solo female travellers like me.
So what happened? I fell in love, of course!
My Vietnamese fiancée and I will be married in the fall, and we are expecting our first child in July.
When first beginning my journey, I never could have imagined it would end this way! But I’m certain it was my time spent solo travelling that opened my mind enough to truly see, and eventually fall in love with, someone from a completely different culture and background.
Whether you’re travelling solo to meet someone new, get over a past relationship, or experience true friendship, I can’t think of a better way to find authentic experiences of love than through solo travel.
If you have the opportunity to travel solo long-term, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to go for it!
If you somehow imagine that opportunity is impossible for you, I promise you it’s not.
While on the road, I met travellers from all walks of life, especially the kinds of walks that make travelling challenging: folks with full time jobs, mortgages, children, spouses, massive debt, you name it!
So why did they do it? Why did they undertake the giant hassle of long-term solo travel when it would have been much, much easier to stay at home?
Because travel is the ultimate gift you give yourself, an experience time can never take away.
And solo travel is an investment in your own personal evolution - a gift that will keep on giving, and keep on growing, for decades after your journey has ended.
Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance writer and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com, an inspiration site for solo female travellers.