Lessons From a Year of Solo Travel

There and back again.

You will remember the people more than the place.

When you are alone for days or weeks at a time, you eventually become drawn to people. Talking to randos is the norm. I’ll never forget the conversation with the aquarium fisherman, forest ranger, and women at the Thai market. It’s refreshing to compare notes on life with people from vastly different backgrounds.

When you meet fellow travelers, you’ll find they are also filled with a similar sense of adventure and curiosity about the world. Five days of friendship on the road is like five months of friendship at home. It’s the experiences that bond you together, not the place. A rule I followed that worked well: be the first to initiate conversation. I met some incredible people by simply being the first to talk.

“The world is endless. The world’s a tiny neighborhood. My fav people are the ones who can hold two impossible ideas in their heads at once.” — Ash Huang

Travel can be affordable.

Long term travel is different than a luxury vacation. The point is to see the world, not stay in a 5-star hotel. During the trip, I stayed on a strict budget. The goal was to spend no more than $33 per day on accommodations. After a year, I was able to spend only $26.15 per day by booking through HostelWorld and Airbnb. When I wanted to meet people, I’d stay in a shared room at a hostel. When I wanted to be alone, I’d book a private room with Airbnb.

Take the cost of your rent or mortgage + food per month and divide it by 30. This is how much it costs per day to live at home. You will find that it’s possible to travel the world for roughly the same amount. Or, if you live in an expensive city like San Francisco, far less.

You need so few things.

I have lived with a few things in a backpack for a year. I have been perfectly content. It’s a fantastic feeling to walk off an airplane with a single carry-on backpack. I didn’t buy a single souvenir because I had no extra space in my backpack. I have become more conscious about things I want versus things that I need. The less you own, the better. Otherwise, your possessions will own you. Living this way is a privilege. It affords the flexibility to easily move, live in less space, worry less, and spend less to buy bigger and better things.

Solo travel isn’t for everyone.

Traveling alone can be painfully lonely. It forces an unhealthy amount of introspection and it’s easy to get stuck inside your head. If you tend to be more introverted and are comfortable doing things on your own, you’ll love solo travel. It’s an extreme luxury to be able to do what you want when you want. If you tend to be more extraverted and prefer having someone around at all times, it will be more difficult.

Go slow.

Moving around every few days can be exhausting. I found staying in a single place for a minimum of 2 weeks was the right pace. It’s enough time to see the sights, meet some locals, understand the culture, and also have a few days to plan your next move. I would rather go slow and fully explore a place than go on a whirlwind tour.

Travel is a paradox.

If you travel to escape your life or problems, it won’t work. They follow you. In fact, you become more aware of struggles and shortcomings when you’re alone. The paradox of travel is that after a while, you long to be in a familiar place with a routine. When you’re in a familiar place with a routine, you long to travel. It’s a balance and you need both lifestyles to appreciate them.

People are fundamentally the same.

We are all incredibly similar. Everyone just wants love, validation and a sense of peace about their future. I met many folks who were in the midst of making major life decisions like where to live or work. The reality is nobody has a clue what they are doing. Some people are just better at pretending to know what they are doing than others. We’re all human and playing the game of life. This is reassuring.

Home can be anywhere.

You can make life work anywhere. Over time, you adjust to the local culture and people. It’s possible to book a flight anywhere in the world, find a job, meet friends and just live there. It’s not as difficult as I previously thought. A friend of mine has a theory: the easiest way to make the transition to a new place is to have $5,000 or 5 friends there.

English is a universal language.

I was surprised how many people spoke English (apparently 1.8 billion people worldwide). Places where English was less prevalent, I made an effort to learn a handful of words and phrases in the local language. Even though it’s passable, I do desire to learn another language fluently. You can only take the conversation so far when all you can say is: “¿Esto contiene gluten?”

It’s possible to communicate a lot without saying a word. For instance, I left my phone at a restaurant in Chile. I pointed at the table where I was sitting, put my hand to my ear like a phone, then shrugged — 2 minutes later, my phone had been retrieved.

Trust your intuition.

I learned to trust that tiny voice in my head a bit more. When you are alone in a foreign country and your phone is dead, you are forced to trust your intuition. Is this neighborhood safe to walk around? Is this person someone I should interact with? Am I heading the right direction? Intuition is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. It’s feels like a sixth sense when you’re able to read between the lines of a situation.

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer

I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to see some of the world. This planet is big and beautiful. You realize there is no way to see everything in a single lifetime. I will definitely do another trip like this — hopefully with my future wife. *crossing fingers*