It’s coming up on 15 years since my first solo travel adventure. I learnt a lot on that trip, all of which shapes the way I travel and live now.
Del Mar Beach in San Diego USA

Del Mar, San Diego

I’d travelled overseas before with my parents and a school group, but this trip was different – it was my first travel solo.

Would I be okay? Would I make all the connections I needed to make? What would I do if I missed the bus I had planned to catch? What if I can’t find my hostel?

Well, clearly I over thought and over planned the whole trip… right down to the time of the Greyhound buses I was catching. I plan a lot less now and am far more of a turn-up-and-see-what-happens kind of traveller these days.

So what did I learn on my first solo travel adventure?

I put this list together after reading my journal from the trip. Looking at it, everything on there seems so… well… darn obvious. But to my 20 year old self, they obviously weren’t:

  1. Travel is most definitely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life

    There are 200-odd countries in the world and I want to see them all.

    Travel is freedom; travel is education; above all else, travel is fun!

    Okay, there are plenty of times travel isn’t fun, like the times you get ripped off, or you miss a plane, or lose your passport. But for the most part, it’s fun, it’s new, it’s exciting – if it’s not, you may not be doing it properly.

    Every time I go somewhere, I learn a new culture, language, food, I learn something new about myself and understand the world in a new way.

    As Mark Twain said in ‘The Innocents Abroad’:


    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

  2. Solo travel can sometimes be lonely

    I’m not always the most sociable of people, I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert.

    On my first solo trip I discovered that not having someone to share the memories with can sometimes be lonely. Part of that trip was spent with friends, but when I was completely by myself I felt somewhat bereft.

    Fast forward 15 years, and I now know that I travel better alone. Perhaps joining friends here and there along the way, but I know now how to combat those moments of loneliness, and it comes down to being bold enough to step outside of my introverted self and speak to people.

    Sounds simple, but not always so, I am getting better at it though, and I’m also happier in mine own company.

  3. Fremont Bridge in Portland

    Fremont Bridge in Portland

    Being independent has big advantages for travel

    There are lot of things my parents taught me that I never realised until I started travelling:

    • How to budget money
    • How to cook
    • How to catch public transport
    • How to keep myself safe
    • How to clean up after myself
    • And because my parents were both nurses – how to deal with injuries and health problems

    I didn’t realise how much I had learnt, or how valuable those lessons were until I started travelling. Being independent and self-sufficient has huge advantages when travelling, it makes travel easier and you can deal with just about anything that gets thrown at you.

  4. The unknown isn’t necessarily scary

    I never liked change much when I was younger, and part of that made the unknown a little scary. But now I tend to look at the unknown as an opportunity to learn something new, to grow and it’s something that excites me.

  5. To live in the moment brings happiness

    Without trying to sound like a self-help book, living in the moment is always better. Worrying about the future or the past is a fruitless exercise and takes away the enjoyment of now.

    In my journal from 2002 is the line “this whole trip I have not thought too much or worried about anything. I’ve simply moved from place to place, enjoyed myself and taken in the atmosphere.”

    San Francisco International Airport USA

    San Francisco International Airport

    Admittedly I was 20 at the time and didn’t have a lot of other responsibilities, but it’s something I try to always do now. I don’t always succeed, but I know I see more and enjoy more when I do just live in the moment.

  6. Having friends overseas makes travel better

    These days I’m lucky enough to have friends all over the world – England, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, Iran, India, New Zealand, the US, Canada… to name a few.

    Those friends were made on my travels, and one of the best things about that is I now have places to stay and local guides when I go to those places. You see a side of a place that you may not necessarily discover yourself.

    On that first solo trip I stayed with friends in San Diego and met up with another in Portland. It makes the world of difference when you have a local to explain the intricacies of life, steer you in the direction of good food, and translate when you don’t speak the local language.

I’ve learnt a lot of other things along the way of my travels; how to take better photos, pack better, how to pick better accommodation… and a lot more. And I’ll keep on travelling to learn more.

What have you learnt on your travels? Or what do you hope to learn if you’re yet to head out on the road for the first time? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. Katherine Ley

    April 8, 2017 at 11:13

    Emma, thank you for sharing your reflections about solo travel. I’m about to embark on my first solo adventure in the United States for 35 days! I will carry some of your thinking with me. I tend to be an introvert myself and want to push myself on this trip to meet new people. It will be good for me!

    1. Emma

      April 8, 2017 at 11:58

      You’re welcome Katherine, I hope they help. I think the key is not to push yourself too much, but just enough. There may be days I keep completely to myself, but others where I push myself more to talk to others, find someone to spend a day with etc. and then go back to being by myself.

      Where are you going in the US?

      I look forward to reading your site once it’s unveiled.

  2. Crystal

    April 11, 2017 at 01:21

    I just finish my first major solo adventure…one year backpacking through central and south america. The lessons and personal growth were profound. First, I learned to be more confident in myself, to trust that I could find a way, and to let go of control. It’s okay not to know where you are going. Second– learning a new language is exciting, it opens up a whole new world for you, and that you can learn a lot when you are immersed and your very survival depends on you using the correct pronunciation. Third, there really is still beauty in the world and kind people, despite what the media and politics are telling us. Forth, learned a bit of savvy to avoid scams. Learned to trust my intuition and instincts. Being self aware and aware of my surroundings. Fifth, some days you won’t eat well, or sleep well, but that’s okay. You’ll be fine. Stepping into discomfort brings in real adventure. Sixth- Independence and autonomy = happiness. I’m strong…and travel was my greatest education. Seventh- Latino cultures are WAY more laid back than my U.S. culture. It was a breath of fresh air to just relax into the world and smile. Me amo america sur!

    1. Emma

      April 11, 2017 at 08:50

      Hi Crystal,

      It sounds like you had an amazing trip!

      Travel is still one of the best educations anyone can get in my opinion, and from the sounds of your experiences, I think you’d agree. I can relate to everything you have said, and have been changed in all the ways you have described as well.

      Thank you for sharing your story with me.

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