Eternal Arrival
Wellness

10 Things I Learned About Myself After a Year of (Mostly) Solo Travel

When you’re your only travel companion, you can’t help but get a little introspective. Staring out of a bus window, half-listening to a podcast, contemplating my life and the many turns it’s taken to bring me here… That’s kind of been my default look the past year.

June 28th will make one year I’ve been on the road solo, with a few breaks and some travel with friends scattered in between. To celebrate making it through 12 months, here are 10 things I’ve learned about the wacky bitch who’s been keeping me company all of these days.

For an anxious person, I’m surprisingly unflappable

I know, it’s kind of an oxymoron, right? I’ve learned that my anxiety works on the macro scale. When I am unhappy with large aspects of my life – a job I’ve outgrown, a city I’ve grown tired of – I wake up in the mornings breathless and terrified. Those mornings I’d have to swallow a pill and breathe deeply to keep myself from escalating to full-on panic, just to go about my day.

But the little things that add up when you travel, I can take surprisingly in stride. Lost my luggage with precisely every item of clothing I own in it? Regroup, go to a diner for breakfast, and get tips on the best thrift stores in town. Stuck in a small village in Albania in the rain with no bus on the way? Guess I better start hitchhiking. 

That said, hostel life often brings out the worst in me

I’m about to directly contradict myself — because above all, I’ve learned that I contradict myself regularly. To quote my boy Walt Whitman, Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As much as I just congratulated myself for outrunning my anxiety… hostels really bring out the worst in me. Awkward social situations are one of my biggest anxiety triggers, and I’m a massive introvert who thrives off alone time. While I used to love staying in hostels, I’ve realized that I can only live such a public, shared life for so long before I start to go a little crazy.

Part of it is that I need to work from home a fair bit and hostels make crappy environments for that. But mostly, I get tired of having the same dull conversation time and again, and tired of making excuses not go out drinking profusely for the nth night in a row.

Also, I’ve gotten a little spoiled.

I’m no longer the youngest person in the room

Perhaps related to my blah, hostels stance is the fact that I’ve finally realized that I’m aging. Bear with me here:

I moved to New York and went to college when I was 17, the youngest person in my class by a good year or so. When I started my job in the Department of Education at 21, I was easily the youngest teacher there, and continued to be for the five years I worked there.

I got used to always being surrounded by people older than me. Frankly, it made me feel like I had time to figure out my life.

Now I feel like I’m always surrounded by young’uns who are just starting out their 20s, and I can’t help but be wrenched with envy. I find myself wondering about how if I hadn’t become a teacher and had gone into travel blogging earlier, if I’d be more successful. If I wouldn’t be alone if I had made better choices in romantic partners over the years. Basically, if I had the wisdom I have now without all the pesky business of, y’know, actually attaining it.

I actually like the beach

I never was much of a beach person – the result of many a third degree sunburn and hating the way I looked in a swimsuit.

After finally learning that I need to reapply sunscreen a jillion times and seek shade between noon and 2, I’ve finally developed a tan for the first time in my life and don’t burn quite so easily. I’ve also made peace with the size of my thighs and am finally wearing age-appropriate bathing suits instead of the grandma-inspired bottoms that even the Mormon church would approve of.

As much as I say I want to travel slower, I never do 

I’m of the opinion that clinical FOMO should be added to the DSM, whenever they see fit to revise it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn that I’m going to choose a base and start establishing a healthy work-life-travel balance…. only to find myself staring at a ticket confirmation page to a brand new country just days later.

While I’ll never be one of those superhuman travel bloggers who are in a new country every couple of days, I haven’t been able to stay in one spot longer than two weeks (Little Corn Island, you tried to tame me).

There are so many countries I want to tick off my bucket list, cities I want to wander, mountains I want to climb. So to settle down and pick just one city — even if just for a few months — seems nigh impossible. 

I’ve challenged myself to pick a city in Eastern Europe for one month to live in this August, when I’ll need to get out of Schengen so as not to overstay my visa. Sofia, Belgrade, and Bucharest are all vying for the honor. 

I have a hard time with routines and self-care

This is probably related to my FOMO-induced restlessness, but even when I’m back at home, self-care is a struggle. A regular sleep schedule…. HAHAHA what’s that? Exercising regularly? Unless you consider digesting donuts exercise, which I do, go away. Sometimes even the simplest things like filling up my old lady pill box with my pills and vitamins for the week seems like a task plucked from the annals of Hercules.

And don’t get me started on my taxes (actually, no please do).

As much as I say I’m a cynic, I’m a big old softie at heart

For some reason, I’ve always thought of myself as a pessimistic person. I blame the Q train.

But getting to know myself better, I’m learning that while I may get irritated about indignities like manspreading, body odor, and showtime, I’m pretty optimistic about the world writ large. The people I’ve met on my travels have, with few exceptions, gone above and beyond to help me and welcome me everywhere I go. And I can only respond to that with love and gratitude.

But I still love animals more than people

I can’t count the number of times I stopped whatever I was doing to coo over the animal in front of me, whether it was a dog, cat, horse, donkey…. Even the mangiest-looking of dogs (I’m thinking of you, Taco, the ugliest dog in all of Guatemala) were not spared my effusive love.

Being around animals centers me and makes me calm, forcing me to press pause on whatever thoughts I have buzzing around my head to enjoy the peace of a quick, stolen snuggle.

I’ve learned to relinquish control 

Part of why I think traveling has been good for my anxiety is that I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. I used to be such a micromanager, planning every future event to the letter. Now that it’s impossible to predict what any given day will be like, I have the latitude to let go a little.

While at first that made me a bit panicky and hard to travel with (many thanks to my dear friend Kristine for managing to put up with my high strung antics) I’ve started to master the subtle art of not giving a fuck.

Writing is what I’m meant to do

Not that I think I’m especially good at it… nor do I think I’m exceptionally bad. I just know that nothing fills me with more purpose than sitting down and finally putting everything that’s been churning around this little brain of mine on paper. Nothing fills me with more happiness than when a reader reaches out to say they’ve connected with my words.

Starting from when I annexed my aunt’s computer at the tender age of six to write a story about a car running out of gas in the middle of a desert, I knew I wanted to be a writer. In college I lived and breathed it, taking poetry and fiction workshops with some of the greats, even conquering my fear of public speaking to perform at poetry readings.

But once I started teaching, the daily emotional labor of the job beat the creativity out of me. I stopped writing for nearly five years. This blog, humble as it may be, has brought me back in touch with that. And that is perhaps what I’m most grateful for in this new crazy life I’ve created for myself.

 

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What I've learned from a year of solo female travel: tips, photos, and musings after traveling Europe, Central America, and the USA

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Kate Storm
    June 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    About 50%of your paragraphs make me feel like we’re the same person.

    Congrats on your one year travel anniversary, and all the awesome learning that comes with it!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 16, 2017 at 5:24 am

      Ahh that’s so nice to hear (also nice to hear it’s 50%, not 100%, so I can still feel mildly special and unique ;D)! <3 Thanks girl! You must be coming up on your one year soon -- or have already passed it? -- as well, no? It's quite a milestone!!

  • Reply
    LC
    June 16, 2017 at 3:40 am

    Looking at that photo of you in Cuba, I feel like you should amend that line in your opening paragraph to “crazy, badass bitch”! Sounds like fleeing NYC was the best thing you could’ve done for yourself… what a grand year you’ve had!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 16, 2017 at 5:23 am

      I will gladly take on the title of “crazy badass bitch” should you bestow it upon me πŸ˜‰ I definitely agree. I’ll still be grateful for NYC for helping me grow up, but leaving was definitely the best thing I could have done. It’s been one hell of a year — and here’s to the next one! x

  • Reply
    chewy
    June 16, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Totally relate to a lot of this! I’m also an introvert, and I’ve now accepted that some hostels are just not for me. Traveling solo also helped me realize that I can’t travel long term, and after living abroad for 4 years that I miss my family a lot (I have a young niece and nephew). I had a 3 month trip earlier this year, and I pretty much was reaching my limit.

    Congrats on making it this far! This biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself is there is no need to feel apologetic for the things you’ve realized about yourself. πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 16, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      Yeah, definitely feel you on that. I’m realizing that I really enjoy boutique hostels – you meet a more mature group of people that way while still getting to have a nice social atmosphere if you want it. I also have realized how much being surrounded by nice aesthetics improves my mood!

      I can relate on reaching my limit around 3 months. I’ve been doing 4 or 5 months trips but 3 months is usually when I start to get a bit tired or homesick. Hoping that since I’ll (try to) travel a bit slower this time around, and because I’ll be seeing some friends and working on cool projects in between, this next 5-monther will go smoothly.

  • Reply
    Taylor
    June 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Love so much about this post, Allison! This part rang particularly true: “I got used to always being surrounded by people older than me. Frankly, it made me feel like I had time to figure out my life.” Way to get out there, not give a fuck, and do your own thing. I have a feeling things shake out eventually. Keep at it, girl!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 16, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Thank you, Taylor! It is a totally jarring sensation when you realize you’re getting older than the people around you… I just thought I had more time before I started feeling like that. I have a feeling you’re right as well on things shaking out eventually πŸ™‚ I think about how much more steady on my feet I am this year compared to last, and really think that this next year will bring even more stability and sense of self.

  • Reply
    Maria Angelova
    June 17, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Happy anniversary! I haven’t traveled solo for a year but I have found that traveling is my best education! So every lesson is welocme πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 17, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      I definitely agree – traveling definitely accelerates learning about myself!

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    June 17, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I can absolutely relate to this – especially the part about social anxiety (I have a whole post on that topic πŸ˜› ). It’s funny how you learn those little things about yourself when you travel solo, like your ability to deal with stressful situations, or the pace at which you like to travel – I think a lot of people can relate to this one πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 17, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Gah, social anxiety is the worst, and especially annoying when you’re in a crowded hostel and just want to climb into bed in your pajamas and hide from the world. It is funny how traveling teaches you so much about things you never really thought about yourself. You’d think after 27 years in this body, I’d know more about myself, but I surprise myself every day πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Vick Fichtner
    June 17, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Oh my, except for the beach part, I could have been the one writing this post. Specially the hostels part…

    “Awkward social situations are one of my biggest anxiety triggers, and I’m a massive introvert who thrives off alone time.”
    Hello, nice to meet you, I`m Vick, your soul sister separated at birth!

    Found on your blog on the FB group and I`ll definitely follow it! Loved the way you write and what you write about. I`m a little new to this blogging thing but old at the traveling part, not as old as I wished, though – that being said, that is the only thing in life that I wish I was older, as the other no longer youngest person in the room! πŸ˜‰

    I hope we can keep in touch! Great work here!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 17, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Vick, thanks so much for your sweet comment, and nice to meet a fellow nervous wreck but traveling anyway soul sister! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and could relate to it πŸ™‚ Thrilled to have you following along and definitely keep in touch! Going to go check out your blog as well as we seem to have quite a bit in common πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    jana
    June 17, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Congrats on your anniversary! I totally get you, being an introvert traveller myself haha. Although I might add something to “not being the youngest in the room” – I think we need to go through every day of our life as it is because without it being precisely what it was, we’d never be what we are now so maybe if you started travelling earlier, your blog wouldn’t look like it does now or you wouldn’t be so happy on the road… So I wouldn’t spend too much time rethinking the past, just keep going πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 17, 2017 at 11:08 pm

      Thank you! I know you’re right — and in my more logical, non-anxiety-riddled moments I am totally aware of that. I wouldn’t have the knowledge or the appreciation if it weren’t so hard fought. But it’s still something that runs through my mind from time to time. But best to just acknowledge the thought, realize how fruitless it is, and move on rather than go into a rabbit hole of my own making πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate
    June 18, 2017 at 2:15 am

    That photo of you in the oceanβ€”so much joy! I love that, and this makes me long for my single days back when I was a solo traveler (don’t tell my husband) πŸ˜‰

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 18, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      Thanks Kristin! It’s one of my favorite photos of myself for that reason too! The single traveling days are quite fun, I must say… it’s been one hell of an adventure so far πŸ™‚ But I’m sure it’s lovely to have a partner in crime to travel with as well, especially if you have similar travel styles!

  • Reply
    Megan
    June 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    You gave me a laugh this morning, and I greatly appreciate it. “Unless you consider digesting donuts exercise…” Love it! I also read “annals of Hercules” as “anals of Hercules” the first time, which is makes it an extremely descriptive sentence. LOL

    I also appreciate your life on contradictions, because I’ve always found more contradictions than consistencies in myself. Sometimes I wonder if people think I’m not honest about myself when these seeming inconsistencies show themsevles, but I just think the most interesting people are complicated. <3

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      HAHAHA anals of Hercules, love it. Sometimes it feels like that too ;D I’m glad I could make you laugh! Glad you agree with me on the contradictions things. Sometimes it makes me feel like I have such a split personality, but honestly, I think it’s normal for anyone who looks deeply at themselves to see their contradictions. If you don’t see the contradictions, you’re probably just not looking hard or deep enough πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Katherine
    July 14, 2017 at 5:45 am

    PREACH! Introvert and micomanager are my middle names. Much like you, travel has definitely tested both of these aspects of my personality. I love reading articles like these because it they make me realise that I’m not the only introverted traveller out there who would rather skip the hostel pub crawl, so thanks for that πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      July 14, 2017 at 8:09 am

      Yesssss going to bed early while everyone’s out pub crawling for the win. I actually secretly love it because I finally get some peace and quiet and can listen to my Netflix without headphones for a change ;D

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