Taking your first trip solo can seem like an intimidating, almost overwhelming prospect and one that’s easy to put off until tomorrow—until a major life event jolts you into taking that chance. It could be a trauma: a difficult diagnosis, a divorce that unmoors you or, of course, a lay-off. It might also be exciting, life-changing news like an unexpected pregnancy. No matter what, though, it acts as a turning point that could also become a fresh start, one that’s kick-started by the experience of traveling alone for the first time, ever. We asked some Traveler readers to share their first-hand accounts of what happened to them in those very circumstances, and how that trip has affected them since then.
Karla Ruiz took a solo trip after a toxic relationship. Here she is in Langkawi, Malaysia.
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After a Toxic Relationship
Karla Ruiz, 32, is a digital marketer living in Los Angeles.
When I was 26, I met a guy who was 13 years older and going through a divorce. After a few weeks of seeing each other, we decided to give it a try, and everything seemed to be normal. We took a ‘break’ over the holidays because he had to spend it with his daughter—and then he told me he had to extend his divorce, for financial reasons. After a few more problems, including him telling me that his wife had found out about us and was going nuts, I told him not to contact me again. He asked me to stop using social media because “she” was tracking me down and that he wanted me to be safe while he took care of it. This was followed by countless mean tweets from fake accounts [by him] harassing me and my friends. A few months later a job opportunity back home [Texas] came up and I took it. During that time I created a bubble, where I pretty much disappeared from the world. It was through years of therapy that I was able to build myself back up and move on with my life.
Fast forward to 2016, and my 30th birthday was coming up. I decided it was time to embrace life and be happy, so I booked a trip to Tulum. I needed a holistic retreat; there was yoga in the mornings, vegan menus, and gratitude tents for guests to visit and spend time alone. I wanted that. I needed peace. It was my first time calling all the shots: I picked the room (splurged a bit), and decided how I was going to get here. I took two buses to get from Cancun airport to Tulum, and had I been with someone else I would've probably taken an airport shuttle or taxi—but taking those two buses allowed me to explore the little towns where the bus was stopping, and riding that second bus was quite an adventure. It was a regional route, and was packed beyond seat capacity: at each stop, people got on and off, bringing different characters—to my left there was a woman breastfeeding, and on the right a man with a portable speaker playing music. I don't think my friends would've wanted that. It was not glamorous at all.
After Getting Sober
Four years after Shari Bayer stopped drinking, she took a solo trip to Aruba. Bayer owns a PR firm in New York City.
I quit drinking at the age of 29, and 16-plus years later, I’m still sober. My trip to Aruba, back in 2006, was the first time I was traveling alone and without having alcohol as a crutch. It was a big deal. I stayed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino—it was centrally located on the island, had its own private beach, and a casino—and while I was there, attended an AA meeting on the island that my hotel concierge found for me; he even arranged for a member of the group to take me there. I was so thankful for his kindness, and even more so when he volunteered to give me a tour of the entire island the next day. We drove around for hours and he showed me all of the local sites. It was an incredible first solo trip experience that I will never forget, and it certainly gave me confidence to continue to travel solo. You can do whatever you want when you travel alone. There’s no compromising.
Ryan Shauers took a solo trip after losing his job, and enjoyed it so much he has yet to return to a 9-5.
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After Losing a Job
When Washington native Ryan Shauers, then 29, lost his job, he took a chance and booked his first solo trip.
I was working for a senior member of Congress in Washington, D.C. when my boss decided not to run for reelection, [meaning that] I would lose my job, too. I had some savings, and figured that if I didn't take this long-term travel sabbatical that I'd dreamed about, I would probably never do it. So I converted my old pickup truck into a home on wheels, and road-tripped around the American West for the better part of a year, living out of the back of the canopy. As an introvert and relatively shy person, it was important to realize that I could still make friends and acquaintances while traveling solo, as long as I left myself open to experiences. (Always default to yes.) I quickly realized that my year-long sabbatical was the equivalent to 26 years of vacation time—and I knew that I didn't want to return to a traditional desk life. Six years later, I've yet to return to a desk job.
Cat Crawford says that despite the fear that can accompany solo travel, she loves the freedom it affords.
" data-type="image-embed" data-reactid="172" readability="1"> Cat Crawford/Blogger at TravelLaLune.com
Cat Crawford/Blogger at TravelLaLune.com
After Recovering from a Severe Bout of Depression
A digital campaign manager from New Zealand, Cat Crawford took her first solo trip after struggling with—and overcoming—difficulties with her mental health.
After leaving university in 2014, I moved back home due to severe mental health issues. I’d been suffering from depression and anxiety quite badly throughout my last year of college, and needed to head back to my family home for support and treatment. I spent a number of weeks in and out of counseling and CBT therapy to help me—two years of treatment in all—and [at the end of it] I managed to build up my confidence to a point where I felt I would be able to cope with a short trip alone. So, I booked my first solo trip to Barcelona. It took a lot of courage to click the 'book now' button, and I think I had the holiday all packaged up and in my online shopping basket for a good few days before I finally did it.
Once I arrived, I spent the first day crippled with loneliness and anxiety, sitting in my bed in the hostel room, and the second trying to get myself outside to do all the main tourist stuff. But on the third day it was the Feast of Saint John and the summer solstice, and I ended up in the back of a taxi with some people from the hostel. It was the beginning of my love affair of solo travel: I’d spent two days on my own worrying and feeling anxious, when all I’d needed to do was head down to the communal areas and chat with people.
Despite the fear, I loved the freedom I had to choose the destination, choose the hostel, and choose the dates. The experience was 100 percent mine. As soon as I got home, I booked my next solo trip to Stockholm, Sweden—a place I’d always wanted to visit.
Valerie Joy Wilson, pictured here in Norway, says she now travels solo most of the time.
" data-type="image-embed" data-reactid="192" readability="1"> Valerie Joy Wilson/Trusted Travel Girl
Valerie Joy Wilson/Trusted Travel Girl
After a Life-Changing Diagnosis
Los Angeles-based photographer and blogger Valerie Joy Wilson, 32, took her first solo trip after a battle with Lyme disease in college.
I went to approximately 30 doctors before I finally received answers about having Lyme disease. I lost a lot of friends who didn’t understand my illness, which was difficult, and I was told I may never get better; that I may only get worse. I felt a sense of urgency, and it helped me will my way into a four-day jaunt through London and Paris. It was now or never, I thought.
I still remember that feeling of getting on the big British Airways plane. It had two levels, and I couldn’t believe I was about to fly over such a massive ocean. I had a knot in my stomach because I was so nervous. It’s funny to think back on it—nowadays, I hop on 16-hour flights without thinking twice. As a solo traveler, I was able to make friends with so many new people, and it really just opened my eyes up to a completely new world. The world got bigger and shrunk all at the same time; I was able to listen to political and social views I had never heard before.
That trip gave me a sense of accomplishment when my confidence had been diminished daily by my illness. And it helped me get laser-focused on my illness and push harder for answers. I wanted more, and the only way to get more was to get better. I went through another three years of serious treatment, but now I’m healthy enough that I travel 85 percent of the year. The majority of my travels? Solo trips.
After Becoming Pregnant
Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jessica Ornsby took a month-long solo mission trip to Costa Rica after she found out she was pregnant for the first time.
I was about three months pregnant when I went on my first solo trip. I was in college and had my five-year plan mapped out—which did not include having children, but did include traveling—so when I found out I was pregnant with my son I was more determined than ever to see my plan through. I didn’t want to look back at my life and wish I’d taken advantage of the opportunity when I had it.
The most memorable moments of the trip involved my connections with the people I met in Costa Rica. I was doing community building work, and volunteered at an orphanage to do some beautification there. I spent a lot of time interacting with people who were as curious about me as I was about them. I also spent quite a bit of time in a Nicaraguan refugee camp, where I helped deliver meals and other essentials. That was probably the most life-changing part of my trip. The refugees were so generous, even though they had so little. It really touched my heart. We are all much more similar than we are different, and I wish I’d known how friendly other cultures were. If I had, I’m sure I would have traveled sooner.
Lora Pope, shown here in Malaysia, says solo travel helps you get to know yourself.
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After Bereavement and a Breakup
Lora Pope, 29, is a human resources advisor and lives in Toronto, Ontario. She suffered a double blow when her father died and her long-term relationship ended in quick succession.
My dream had been to go on a big, year-long trip around the world, but I could never find the time to do it—there was always something or someone holding me back, usually a relationship. Plus, I was also really nervous about traveling for that long by myself.
Then, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away very suddenly—he was newly retired, and had many plans to go traveling. After it happened, I became depressed and wasn’t acting like my normal, happy myself. It put a lot of strain on my relationship at the time, and shortly after, my boyfriend broke up with me. My world had been ripped apart and I had nothing to latch onto. I knew I had to go.
Up until then, I’d always plan my vacations with friends and in a lot of detail, but I decided that, this time, I wanted to be open to the opportunities that came up on the road. I started my travels in Central America: It’s easy to meet other solo travelers to travel with there because people generally head in one direction—south or north. One of the most memorable moments of my trip was camping on top of a volcano in Guatemala while the one next to it was exploding. I was on the trek with seven other solo travelers, and as we sat around the campfire chatting, I remember thinking how amazing it was that just hours ago we were strangers, but at that moment it felt as if we had been friends for years.
That [year-long trip] brought me out of my comfort zone, and I believe I’ve grown more in the last year than I did in the five years before that. You get to know yourself a lot better, since you’re in complete control of every decision, understanding what you do and do not like. I have a much easier time saying no to things now.
After Coming Out
Matthew Marchak, 41, is a former model who now runs a marketing firm, The Eighth Floor Strategies. He took his first solo trip after coming out to his family.
After I graduated college in Ohio, I moved to Chicago like all good Midwestern corn-fed boys—and it was there that I finally came to terms with my sexuality. I’d met a very handsome salesman at Banana Republic and, after buying way too many button downs from him, we had our first (and only) coffee date, and I had my first kiss with a man. Everything changed. But as for my uber-religious parents? I was banished by the family out of guilt and shame.
A friend of mine had just returned from Seoul teaching English, and told me that they pay for your flight and accommodations on top of a paycheck. Three weeks later, she’d helped me secure a gig in Gangnam, and I was heading to the airport. I was so nervous, especially when I landed in Seoul and headed to my new home, but I was there, and there wasn’t any reverse button at that point. What was supposed to be a one year contract teaching quickly turned into a six-month one. I became a VIP at the Pizza Hut down the street and ate there solely for two weeks straight because they had a picture menu and I could order knowing safely what I was getting.
But then, I was “discovered” by Tommy Hilfiger scouts at a Starbucks, moved to modeling and was introduced to a whole new group of Korean fashion people and socialites and photographers, allowing me incredible access to the inside crew of Seoul life. It led to my initial career in fashion, and molded me in ways I had never thought imaginable. I ended up staying in Seoul for almost three years.
Since then, I’ve sat with Mr. Valentino at castings in Milan, had meetings with Carsten Holler in London, launched events with the late and great Franca Sozzani in Dubai, and eventually started my own company, which I’ve had for seven years. Seoul was the catalyst behind everything I am in life now.
For his first solo trip, Chase Boehringer went running with the bulls in Pamplona.
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After a Divorce
Chicago-based consultant Nick Kamboj was 33 when his marriage ended 13 years ago—and it was what sparked him to take his first trip alone.
My ex-wife divorcing me was one of the deepest emotional and psychological blows to my self-esteem that I’ve received. She was leaving Chicago for a Harvard-affiliated hospital in Boston for a fellowship, and I found out that she wanted to move there without me.
I had never taken a solo trip before: money or time was never an issue, but I thought that I could only enjoy a trip if I took it with someone. Turns out, I was wrong.
I’d always had an interest in German cuisine and culture, and so shortly after the divorce was finalized in 2006, I blindly picked a city in Germany, Munich, and made travel reservations that day. I did absolutely no research, and knew only rudimentary German. I didn’t know anyone, either. But the only person that would impact was me, and I was completely fine by that.
I don’t really watch sports, and I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know the World Cup was happening when I was there. But I went to watch the games on a big screen in the Olympic Park, among a sea of hundreds of thousands of raving fans; and when Germany won, a group of seven Germans locked in arms and singing victory songs saw me walking near them and could tell I was alone. They immediately grabbed me, and had me join in. That moment left an indelible mark on me—it demonstrated acceptance without communication.
Of course, traveling solo can be very lonely, too, especially late in the evenings in the hotel room, so I keep a travel journal. I started doing it in Munich, and it continues to serve me well. When I write in it, it feels like I’m speaking with someone else, sharing my experiences of the day that right after it happened.
Chase Boehringer, 28, took his first solo trip aged 22, after his wife left him for one of his closest friends. He now runs an adventure travel company.
After my divorce, I was crushed and fell into a deep depression, pushing me to the edge of suicide. It was during that time that I wrote a bucket list: a list of 100 things that included running with the bulls in [Pamplona] Spain. I grew up in a town in the Oregon woods, where nobody goes farther than Disneyland for a vacation; the idea of going to another country is simply not a possibility. But I did the research, went back and forth about a hundred times, and then I bought a ticket, having never left the country but knowing anything was better than my empty home. I spent some of the little savings I had and put some of it on a credit card, thinking if I didn’t make it back, at least I wouldn’t have to pay it off.
That first trip solo was the scariest thing I’ve ever done: Not the 2,000-pound bull slamming into me at full speed, but the decision to say, “I’m doing this, even if I have to do it alone.” Long term, that trip has acted as a reminder that no matter how hard things get, I am always one decision away from everything I’ve ever wanted. I know that when I feel fear, it’s usually just a sign I’m about to do something awesome.
From that point forward, two major things shifted. I started working three months at a time, saving every penny, then traveling for ten days, crossing items off my bucket list one by one. I truly love traveling the world solo now, so much so that for almost six years, I chose not to travel with anyone else—even when they asked.
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