Hi, I’m Shani

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that.

Emotional Advice For Solo Travel

Emotional Advice For Solo Travel

I love to travel alone, it is most likely my favorite activity. And when I do it, I commit. I’m a 100% selfish, aisle seat-claiming, cheese plate-hoarding, middle of the bed-sleeping animal. My god, who would even want to travel with me at this point? I’ve written guides and packing lists aplenty, but it’s dawned on me that I’ve never shared my thoughts on how to deal with the (rather significant) emotions that bubble to the surface when you travel alone. There are very relatable and valid emotions and fears surrounding solo travel, and I hope what I’ve experienced and learned is helpful for others.

Embrace The Scaries

First of all, traveling alone is scary—and I’m not talking about logistically scary, we’re all shit with maps. I’m talking about the actual fear that sets in when you go to the airport, get on a plane, and land somewhere, and at no time do you meet up with anyone else. There can be a lot of fear, anxiety, and even embarrassment around the very act of it.

I don’t want to tell you not to feel these things, just the opposite. I want you to feel them fully. As single women, I think we tend to focus on how to change or “improve” the emotions that come up around our lives, rather than acknowledge those feelings as valid, and feel them. It’s okay to be afraid to travel alone simply because you’re alone. It’s okay to have swells of anxiety every time you sit down to eat, or experience a beautiful work of art, or discover something new. It’s okay to be really freaked out that when you get up every morning and realize there’s no discussion about what you’ll do that day—you’ll just decide it for yourself.

It’s a wonderful feeling to plan exactly the trip you want to take and do exactly the things you want to do and realize that you don’t have to compromise with anyone but the weather. But you also have my permission to be really sad and anxious about all this, too. For a little while.

Feel what you’re feeling, acknowledge it, let it wash over you—consume you if it has to. Don’t deny how traveling alone makes you feel, because you’re allowed to feel it. If you need to, take time privately in your hotel room, or in a museum bathroom, or whenever—pause your trip and take a deep breath when you need to any time you feel overwhelmed. Ask yourself what’s really happening, what’s really causing your emotions in the moment, and know that whatever it is, it’s okay. It’s also not a monster that’s going to eat you, but if you’re not careful it will keep you from eating that gorgeous croissant, and we can’t have that. Letting emotions out, letting them breathe, will always feel better than bottling them up. And once you’ve felt them, you can move forward, and those feelings will come up less and less every time.

The way I suggest ripping off this particular band-aid, the way I did this, too, is by taking a trip that’s not a big deal. My first-ever solo travel experience was a train ride to DC from New York. I spent a long weekend seeing monuments, wandering museums, and learning that in DC people line up for the best restaurants like an hour before they open their doors. And the entire time, I was really, really scared.

I was scared that people were looking at me, all alone, and judging me. I was scared that people felt sorry for me. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do when I didn’t have someone to talk to and share things with. Like I literally didn’t know what I was supposed to look at while I ate dinner alone. (Hint, just sit at the bar, you’ll feel more tethered.) And it wasn’t until the trip was over that I realized all of the moments that generated those feelings really weren’t that bad at all. I survived them just fine, and I saw a city I’d always wanted to see along the way. Now I’m dying to go to DC again because I bet the Lincoln Memorial looks better without anxiety-colored glasses.

A lot of the fear was also just harbored in my own mind and societal programming, it wasn’t actually caused by external factors. No one was actually looking at me or judging me, like literally everyone’s too consumed by their own shit to care at all about the girl reading a book and drinking a Malbec. It was all my own shit rising to the surface so that I could feel it, embrace it, and move past it. You can mentally prepare for a trip, but actually being there is a much more potent way to address any fears, anxieties, or cautions you have about traveling alone. You’ve really got to just go.

Stop Trying To “Meet Someone”

Not every action a single woman takes has to be centered around possibly meeting a man. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, do not ever book a solo trip for the sole purpose of putting yourself in a position to “meet someone.” You cannot orchestrate your meet cute, I’m sorry. You cannot assign a purpose to solo travel other than solo travel. You are going on an adventure to go on an adventure, you are taking a vacation to take a vacation. If you assign another purpose to your trip, you will be disappointed, and you’re spending too much time and money on this to set yourself up for disappointment. There, I’ve said it.

Strive For Comfort

It helps to pair the emotions and sometimes less-than-perfect logistics (planes get delayed, bags get lost, it rains) with a good dose of comfort and security. For me, this means I stay at a hotel that feels private, comfortable, and not cheap or gross. This gives me a strong sense of security in my “home base” for the trip that I know is going to be supportive for me. To me, small-ish boutique hotels on quiet streets are what feel safe. It might be something different for you. Determine what it will take for you to feel like you have a comfortable, supportive space to return to at the end of every travel day, as this will help boost your solo travel confidence. It might require saving a little more money, or waiting a little longer in between trips, but your comfort and security while traveling alone are so important. I also take this to heart in packing, too. I pack really nice pajamas, disinfecting wipes, a travel tea kettle, etc—things that will make me feel comforted and confident. To me, they make a big difference.

Literally Just Relax

It’s your trip—only yours. There is no wrong way to plan and experience a trip of your own design. Acknowledge that whatever you’re feeling, in whatever moment, is valid, and that you’re allowed to feel it. The only stress and expectations around solo travel are put there by you, so remember why it is you wanted to travel alone in the first place, and commit to experiencing something that meant enough to you to actually book a ticket.

I am really, really proud of you for traveling alone. Especially for first-timers, it can be incredibly difficult, and I have been there. Sometimes I’m still there—my anxieties pop up all the time. But every time I experience traveling alone, I get better at it, and I get better at knowing where my emotions are coming from, why they’re there, and how to move forward from them. After that, you’re just a pair of comfy shoes and a fully charged iPhone away from the time of your life. Enjoy.

More on solo travel in this week’s podcast episode, and check out my Solo Travel Guide To Paris!

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