Lessons Learned from Solo Travel

I have always dreamed about traveling the globe solo. I don’t have a fear of being alone, in fact I enjoy it and sometimes prefer it. I love the freedom of being able to be my own companion, going, doing, seeing, eating, whenever I want without having to worry about someone else’s needs. I get to tune in and simply listen to me. (I’m also a Sagittarrius so that definitely has something to do with it).

When I learned I had a week off work at the end of the summer, I immediately knew I wanted to travel. So often I’m in my daily life wishing I was jetting across the world and living a digital nomad lifestyle instead of stuck in the same place every single day. Going to new places and experiencing different cultures excites me and I’m hungry to explore this beautiful Earth we live in and the people that inhabit it.

I booked a week long trip to Portugal (with a short stop in Ireland), a country I’ve always wanted to go to. After the craziness that was my summer and between work and social obligations and being with my boyfriend, I hadn’t spent much alone time for the entire summer.

I am a split 50/50 extrovert/introvert, so getting alone time to myself to reflect and process is necessary for me to feel like I’m in alignment with myself.

Therefore, when the time came for my week off to travel to Portugal and Ireland I was desperately in need for some “me” time. So desperate in fact that I wanted to just escape from my regular life. I vowed to not go on social media and didn’t even want to text anyone I knew. I just wanted to be completely alone and be open to whatever stuff came up. I dreamed of turning my phone off completely, not posting on social media anywhere, so I could truly just be.


Before leaving for my trip and during it, I noticed a few fears that came up. I wasn’t scared, but had a certain level of anxiety about a few particular things.

  • being lost, not knowing where I was going and not having a place to sleep (essentially a fear of the unknown)

-not having a place to sleep was a big one for me. I had this irrational fear that I was going to be left homeless, alone, in a foreign country without knowing anyone or knowing what to do. I had to keep reminding myself that I had backup funds so if something were to happen with the hostels I had booked beforehand, that I could find another place in a pinch. I always tend to get an uneasy and lonely feeling when the sun goes down so that added to the anxiety.

I was taught a powerful lesson during my travels about this fear.


I was traveling from the South of Portugal (the Algarve) to Lisbon, which was about a 3.5 hour train ride. I had planned my day so I would arrive to Lisbon around 7 pm because I wanted to have plenty of time to find my hostel before it got too late. Then, when I was in the Algarve I really wanted to do a dolphin watching and cave exploring tour but they were sold out of the earlier rides, so if I wanted to do it I would have to do a later boat ride and therefore take a later train and arrive to Lisbon at around 10:30 pm. I was nervous about getting there so late but I wanted to say YES to life and take advantage of being in the Algarve so leaving later sounded like a good sacrifice to me.

However, on the whole train ride there, I got more and more anxious that for some reason, the hostel I booked wouldn’t work out. I kept feeling like they would be closed and I had missed my check in time so I wouldn’t be able to check in, or that I wouldn’t be able to find it. I was unreasonably anxious about it. When I got to the train station, I decided I would take a taxi to my hostel so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding it, but upon arrival I somehow got more nervous about taking a taxi and having to talk to someone so I instead chose the subway route. Spending a few summers in NYC, navigating the subway system is like second nature to me and it oddly felt more comfortable (and it was way cheaper).

I finally made it to my hostel around 11 pm and I was relieved to see that it was still open. I went up to the desk and told the guy standing behind it that I was here to check in. He gave me a look and responded. “Check in. Now?” my fears were immediately confirmed and I said “yes, I have a reservation” and he replied back with “it’s too late to check in, you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow”. I didn’t even react because I somehow had felt in my being that this was going to happen.

After about a beat, he laughed and said “I’m totally joking with you, of course you can check in”. I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t tell if the anxious feelings and fears about this happening had been me manifesting that this was going to happen and then it came true but the universe was smarter than me and giving me what I needed, or I had a premonition that this was going to happen and the universe still had my back and turned the situation around so it was nothing but a funny joke shared with a stranger, instead of the lost and anxious feelings I was focusing on.

Lesson learned: trust the universe because it always has your back and is always smarter than you. 

Like I said earlier, I’ve always dreamed about traveling the globe solo. When I’m sitting at my desk at work, I dream up all the other places I could be than in the present. I go on social media and see travel influencers/bloggers posting dreamy pictures of waterfalls in Sri Lanka, croissants in Paris, monkeys in Madagascar, or working at co-working spaces in Bali with coconuts in hand. When I see these pictures, I always get a twinge of FOMO (fear of missing out) and start to lament the fact that I’m “stuck” at a regular 9-5 when I could be living the digital nomad lifestyle and be working while traveling the world.

However, getting a taste of living my dream and being in such a beautiful place that is Portugal, I was living my fantasy and you know what I realized? It’s not as cool as it sounds.

I was sitting at a golden sand beach in Faro, Portugal, with expansive blue water in front of me. Tanned and topless ladies were around me and the beach was splattered with umbrellas and gelato shops. I realized that although the location, the sun, the sand, was indeed glorious, it wasn’t the place or location that gives an experience meeting.

Ultimately, it’s about connection that really hold value and meaning for me.

Therefore, traveling the globe alone probably wouldn’t be as fabulous as my imagination makes it out to be. Would it be hard? Yes. Would it be incredible? Absolutely. Would it be lonely? Most definitely. Would I learn a shit ton about myself and the universe? 100%. But, are all those ups and downs worth it to travel around like a nomad, or is it more worthwhile to establish my roots somewhere more stable and start building my personal and professional life? These are the questions I asked myself as I realized that maybe traveling alone isn’t what gave me the most happiness.

It’s weird, because whenever someone travels they ONLY talk about the good parts. They rarely talk about the hard and lonely times, the struggles and exhaustion or the money spent. All we see is what they choose to post on social media, which is usually a perfect curated photo only showing the highlights.

The thing about connection is you have to MEET people in order to form a connection, and sometimes meeting people in a foreign place can be magical and wonderful, and can definitely push you out of your comfort zone.

Before leaving, I had specifically made it an intention of mine to not really meet anyone. I just wanted to be alone and like I said, focus on me. I was also hopping from city to city, not really staying in one place so didn’t want to meet friends that I would have to change my plans for. I was open to it, but wasn’t planning on meet anyone.

Halfway through my trip I realized that I hadn’t had a conversation with anyone in about four days. I was journaling a lot and I felt like the only conversations I’ve had were in my own head or on paper and I noticed I felt the need to talk with another human. I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t meeting anyone because after all, that’s what makes an experience really worth it. Again, it’s not about the places, it’s about the people. 

I started to worry that I wasn’t doing solo traveling right, that the point of solo travel is that you were free to meet other people and make friends from around the world. However, when I’m alone I feel very introverted and don’t like to meet people out of the blue. I didn’t go out at all at night because not only was I always exhausted from full days of sight seeing, but I felt it was safer for me to stay in my hostel then out on the streets where danger could potentially happen. (Again, probably irrational, but I err on the side of caution when I’m alone).

If I had been with a friend, I feel I would have been very extroverted and would have wanted to go out almost every night and talk to random strangers and make friends, but when I was alone, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I struggled with this conflicting feeling of feeling like I wasn’t making the most out of my experience because I wasn’t meeting other people vs just continuing to focus on myself since this what I had intended for this trip and was what I needed.

In the end, I didn’t really meet anyone or make friends besides a few conversations with some Norwegian girls that were staying in my room, but I realized that it’s okay that I didn’t. 

Perhaps my need to “meet” people more stemmed from the social pressures of feeling like I had to make friends to prove that I could, rather than just being okay with being completely alone for one week. 

I love solo traveling because it allows you a chance to truly be alone outside of your comfort zone. You can no longer depend on friends or family that are only a text away or on use other people as way to distract from yourself. It’s only you and the world.

This trip gave me clarity that I don’t need to spend my days wishing I was traveling around the world instead of being in one place, working towards my dream.

In the end, what matters are the relationships I already hold dear to my heart, and I don’t need to feel “jealousy” of the perfectly curated lives of Instagram bloggers, because while travel is amazing and incredible and a PRIVILEGE, it’s also hard and lonely and is great when you can do it for short periods of time instead of the permanent nomad status I like to imagine about.

I’m still planning on taking more solo trips because I truly LOVE to see the world.

What are your thoughts on solo travel? Have you ever done it? Do you have any fears surrounding it? Would you like to travel the world full time?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay tuned for city guide posts for Dublin, Ireland and Portugal!


Merm Ley



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