How solo travel made me a stronger person
I was alone in Ireland when falling volcanic ash in Iceland led to airport shutdowns across Europe. A local, generous novelist gave me a room to stay and hot meals to eat. She and her family even celebrated my husband’s birthday with me. While my family and friends were concerned how long I would be stuck in Ireland, I knew I was going to be OK.
This wasn’t the first time I had traveled alone.
I have written about how I did my first solo trip when I was in eighth grade. FI flew unaccompanied from New Delhi to Europe, spent the night in transit in Rome, and flew to North Africa the next morning where my parents lived. I was supposed to make this trip with another family friend’s daughter, but she was unable to travel due to unavoidable reasons.
Both my parents and I were nervous at first. I wasn’t the kid who got into any trouble, so they weren’t worried if I would abuse my freedom. But in the days of no cell phones, internet, or social media, they were concerned how a little girl would manage international travel across three continents when they had no way of staying in touch. I kept my passport, ticket, little foreign exchange, and personal information close to my chest. The trip taught me the power of independence that solo travel brings.
Trapped During the Pandemic
March 2020: Coronavirus took over our lives. The pandemic made most of us anxious, clingy, and uncertain. When my husband stepped out to buy milk or go to a dinner meeting, I asked if it was necessary. When I chose mental health over physical well-being and went into parks for long walks, he got worried.
I don’t know about you, but the pandemic took a heavy toll on my travel-confidence. Between NYC being a hot seat during the first wave to not taking the public transport to remote working, all with my compromised immunity, by the time I started taking the subway or even the Long Island Railroad consistently, it was the end of 2020. I couldn’t remember where to purchase a MetroCard or how to refill it. Forget global connectivity; I had gone from a globetrotter to a local borough inhabitant. Now Now 9-10 months had gone by, and I had only either walked or sat in our own car. Period.
Towards the end of 2018 and early 2019, when I was recovering from my surgery and a bout of being extremely ill for months, travel for me had to include proximity to a reputable hospital. The doctors had warned that I could get sick again. And I had a deep fear and insecurity of ending up in the ER, gasping for my breath, again.
I’d learned that horrible things happen when you are busy planning life. I was riding the high wave of the success of my novel “Louisiana Catch.” I was doing book tours, and celebrating winning the award that Chelsea Clinton had won in the past.
That was when I ended up in the ER. What if the same happened when I was on vacation? It took me a few months into 2019 before I could regain my confidence to travel alone internationally (knowing there was no hospital five minutes’ drive away). Travel to India and Europe meant disconnecting from the world for hours at a stretch. Just when I had my mojo back, the world went on pause, and we got trapped at home.
Where the Energy Goes That’s What Grows
Habits and repetition are key to our yoga practice, weight training, spiritual growth, and personal evolution. I knew that fear, if unchecked, can take over our lives. After some deep reflections, I decided that things needed to shift, and no one can do that for me.
Rip off the Band-Aid
Both my husband and I love exploring different parts of the world together, but we made it a point to go back to doing solo trips to snap out of the pandemic-anxiety. I did my first solo post-pandemic travel (that too internationally) in spring of 2022. Of course, I was concerned about the safety precautions taken and not taken in the places I was traveling to. I worried about other travelers not respecting social or physical distance. There was a tiny voice in my head that whispered, “What if you catch COVID?”
We cannot control anything in our lives but our thoughts. If you lose your mind to pessimism and negativity, it’s game over. At every stop of the way and at the end of every trip, I asked myself how I felt. One unanimous answer: I felt stronger mentally and physically. Be it running between airport terminals with a carryon in my hand to picking up the heavy bags from the baggage carousel to finding deserted coffee shops where I could take off my mask and enjoy a hot beverage.
What Happens When You Travel Alone?
The more I pack my bags and travel to different corners of the world by myself, the lighter and more grounded I feel. Sure, it’s great for regaining my confidence and creating healthy spaces in relationships; but traveling alone also makes me feel empowered. I carry my own bags, organize my pickup-drop offs, and carry out the trash etc. at the Airbnb.
Besides, I negotiate, deliberate, and calibrate on my own terms without interference. I make friends very easily wherever I go. For the writer and healer in me, stories are my rocket fuel. Listening to them, without wondering if I am going to delay others, is priceless. Solo trips also mean I lose fear — be it of strangers, unfamiliarity, new places etc.
Opportunity to Practice Self-Care
Traveling solo is also a form of self-care. On my recent trip to Rhode Island, one day, I practiced 3 hours of yoga (asanas, meditation, pranayama, and yoga nidra). I didn’t need to accommodate anyone or feel bad about making the day about yoga and creative writing. I went to bed at 8-8:30 pm on some nights without an ounce of guilt. We all love the people in our lives, but we forget that putting everyone else’s needs before your own, is abandoning yourself. It’s not a selfless act. There is freedom in planning your day on your own terms.
Traveling alone as a woman has helped me rediscover my physical, emotional, and mental strengths. It’s made me more patient and appreciative of my husband—there are things that he manages when we travel together, but I don’t always get to see it. It’s shifted my perspective and transformed my confidence levels. When I return home from a solo trip, I feel refreshed, grateful, empowered, liberated, and confident. I urge more women to try it because how can we change our world without challenging our mindsets first?
There are some places in life where you can only go alone. Embrace the beauty of your solo journey ~ Mandy Hale