traveling alone: reflections

la playa

The main point of this whole Costa Rica thing was to travel alone. In fact, the idea was literally sparked because I was frustrated by being “so bored” when I was stuck in my apartment for a week during hurricane sandy. Scared I couldn’t find excitement, creativity, and solace in hangin’ out with my dear old self, I thought I’d challenge myself outside the confinements of my apartment. Which, you know, makes things a bit easier…

Throughout my travels, I was actually surprised; I noticed I wanted to be by myself most of the time, and didn’t really go out of my way to make friends with other travelers.  As the days carried on in Costa Rica, I learned more and more about what it felt like to travel alone, and wrote down the pros and cons. And here we are.


You have to be more cautious.
Well, obviously. Especially since I am a woman (female? gal?) I knew I had to play it extra safe since I couldn’t rely on the buddy system. This was fine, but I think forced me to be a little bit more paranoid and stressed out in situations that didn’t actually call for a mental freakout. Exhibit A? Sprinting through the town of Monteverde after dark with a pounding heart trying to find a hostel. In the morning light, I realized the place was filled with tourists and is probably the safest place in Costa Rica.

The language barrier can make you feel helpless.
My only regret during this trip was not knowing that much Spanish. I missed the ability to talk to the locals in their language, and felt stuck when they didn’t speak a lick of English and I couldn’t do much more than ask them how they were doing (and tell them “that meal was delicious!” although that didn’t always apply…). There were times when I was lost, too, and nobody spoke enough English to help me out. And when you’re alone, that’s stressful.

People assume you want to be left alone.
This was super surprising. I actually thought I would come home with a bunch of new friends, and while I did meet and talk to some interesting people, it didn’t really go beyond that. I found that small groups of people often meandered to other groups, especially if the Germans found the other Germans, the Danish found the other Danish, etc. But nobody really went up to the weird blond girl who was hammock-hopping throughout the whole hostel. (Sigh.) And while I definitely could have went over to a group to say heyletmehangoutwithyou, I also felt weird being like “I want to hang out with all of you, so please accept me… and speak in my language. Thanks!” 

It can be more expensive.
You know what’s weird? When you get to a hostel and you can either stay in a dormitory room or a private room with two beds. So if I ever wanted a room to myself, I had to pay for a double, which was stupid, and so I rarely did it. Also, as cheap as the local buses are, there were times where it made way more sense to take a cab that could take shortcuts down rough roads. Having a travel-friend would automatically cut the cab expense in half.

You start hating the sound of the voice in your head.
Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but dear lord were there times I wanted to shut off my brain. Not that I was in deep thought the whole time, but since I wasn’t talking to many people, I was mainly conversing with myself. And I couldn’t get my selective hearing to drown out my own thoughts. It was kind of funny and kind of exhausting.

It’s harder to get pictures of yourself in front of cool things.
Kidding about this one, since I didn’t really care. People actually offered to take pictures of me in many places, which I actually found kind of weird. So whatever. No pics of me in Costa Rica.

Okay except for this one. 




You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.
F*&K yeah!! But, seriously, how often do you really get to do absolutely everything on your own schedule? Traveling alone meant I could eat when I wanted to, sleep when I wanted to, leave the beach when I wanted to…it was awesome.

It reveals your strengths and weaknesses.
Being alone made me completely vulnerable to what I could handle with ease and what made me nervous or uncomfortable. I found out that navigating bus systems and timing when and where to go places was easy; dealing with a new currency and new food and new social customs was fun. Not having any hostel reservations when I was traveling to a new place made me oddly uneasy, and thinking my computer was going to get stolen while it was locked in my room and hidden under the mattress stressed me to an unnecessary degree.

You feel a sense of accomplishment.
I’m proud I went away alone. I realize that a ton of people do it, and honestly knew it wouldn’t be that scary or challenging. But, it still feels cool. Especially when I explain to people I used my charade skills to get a cab driver to take me to an ATM a town over when I ran out of money.

You have all the time in the world…literally.
Here’s a secret: Time slows down when you’re by yourself. I SWEAR. (That, or the fact that I’d wake up before 7am every morning and usually stayed awake till 10pm.) But I truly felt like my days were years long, and it left me with so much time to do so many different things! At first I had planned to completely “unplug,” but soon realized I had more than enough time to read, write, lay in a hammock, think, eat, wander, sit in buses, get lost, run out of money, etc, and still had plenty of time leftover to take advantage of the wifi (it’s….everywhere) and say hi to friends, the real world, and write and read and do whatever else online. And I was completely fine with that balance. 

No one can obstruct your opinion. 
This was cool. Many people don’t realize it, but our thoughts and opinions are tested daily by every single person around us. I’m guilty of it, as I’m sure most others are, so it was great to side-step that completely. Every town I visited, everything I ate, and every view I saw was completely and only just for me. I didn’t get to hear what anyone else thought of it, so I couldn’t be swayed (consciously or unconsciously) to think differently. And how often do we truly get to do that?

So … would I travel alone again? Absolutely. Will I fly solo for my next bit trip? Probably not. I did miss sharing certain experiences with other people, and while I learned a lot about myself and loved every moment of autonomy and pure “me-time,” I definitely want some pals for my next adventure. Who’s in?! 



About Laura

marketing director at Possible. formerly at Greatist. Still running, finding zen, and searching for the perfect bloody mary.

Posted on February 2, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Nice sandal tans 🙂 I’ve never traveled by myself to another country, but if I did, I’d probably stick to english speaking ones (Australia, Great Britain…) since my 3 years of spanish and 4 years of french can only get me so far…(not enough!)

    I do like having time to myself, even with my dog. I do tend to talk to her alot…more like at her since its a one sided conversation unless I use a ‘cue’ word like treat, outside or ‘cue’ sound like putting on shoes or jingling keys…can’t fool that one! If I were to travel alone, I’d love to bring my dog for safety reasons and for the company 🙂

  2. Love love LOVE all your reasons here. I adore solo travel but agree that there can be some downsides to it as well. To address your point about hating the voice in your own head, though, I usually make sure to book places that have wifi (or search for it near where I am). As long as I have the ability to connect with friends/family back at home, it makes it feel a lot less lonely, and more of just an escape BY CHOICE.

    But I totally agree that when you’re traveling solo, people assume you want to be left alone. I usually prep myself for the trip by reminding myself that I will be alone the whole time – and then if I do manage to make friends, it’s a bonus instead of an expectation.

  3. Sister…. I LOVE that you traveled on your own!!! That’s something that I’ve always thought about doing but for some reason thought it would be “taboo” (except for the classic backpacking through Europe idea). What a great way to get to know yourself better and explore something, and OPEN YOURSELF UP to a thousand new things. Girl you’re just awesome.

    • Thanks love, means a lot! I highly, highly recommend it — traveling alone is such an awesome way to hang out with your best friend (yourself?) So corny but true!

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