My curiosity feeds an impetus for travel, and my travel whets an abiding curiosity. I’m homesick for places I’ve never been and forever tempted by thoughts of elsewhere, wherever that may be. And because I don’t know where exactly, I’d rather go alone than drag along a crew.
Truthfully, I love impulsive solo travel because I’m selfish. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Laozi, some ancient Chinese philosopher who I’d probably quoted in AIM away messages back in the ’90s, once said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.” I never have any plans and I’m rarely intent on arriving because, for me, travel is not to go somewhere, but to go—anywhere. For travel’s sake.
I caught the bug in 2012 and have since backpacked nearly 30 countries spanning five continents. I’ve streaked in the Sahara Desert with nomadic drummers—and ridden a camel (see photo below), shared meals in Southeast Asia with refuged sex workers whose names I never learned but whose stories I’ll never forget, sacrificed sheep in remote tribal villages of North Africa, protested at kissing rallies in the Middle East, gone off-roading across Central America and more.
People tell me I’m crazy, especially because I’m a chick. I’m often asked if I’m afraid of rape. Or if I’ve seen the movie Taken. I am and I have. But rape happens everywhere, and Kim wasn’t alone when she was abducted in Paris. Fear doesn’t consume me; it drives me. It drives me like I have a point to prove. People say they’d be bored, too. But I’m here to tell you how to travel fearlessly, and I promise that you will never get bored.
1. Don’t wait for others to join or you’ll never go anywhere.
If you rely on other people, you’ll start to take on their setbacks as your own. I used to plan trips with friends, until I realized that none of those plans ever came to fruition—conflicting schedules, dissimilar interests, varying priorities. Time is of the essence, so never allow yourself to miss out on an experience for excuses that don’t belong to you.
2. Go with the flow, because you can.
When you’re not restricted by friends’ fears, inabilities or apprehensions, or confined to their itineraries, you can legitimately do anything you want to do, and that’s insanely liberating. Instead of going to see what you’ve gone to see—because, with friends, you’ll likely have to agree on what to check out—you have the option to just see whatever you see. And that’s a way realer experience than that of a typical tourist.
3. Don’t be afraid to delve deep into the culture.
Surround yourself with familiar faces and you’ll seldom break out of your comfort zone. You’ll become a bystander. Surround yourself with strangers and you’ll be forced to engage and learn their stories. Whether you’re with locals or sharing a dorm in a hostel (which I recommend a million times over a private room), you’ll meet new people. Before you know it, your path will take turns you never anticipated—indulging in meals you’ve never tried, partaking in religious customs you’ve never understood or dancing dances you’d never seen.
4. Communicate however you can.
Nothing revives childlike wonder like being in a place where you’re ignorant of almost everything, can’t speak the language and are equipped with only the most rudimentary sense of how things work. You’ll be forced to communicate in ways beyond words, which connects humans on a level that doesn’t divide us by native tongue. And when you return knowing how to seamlessly interact with anyone anywhere, the world suddenly seems borderless.
5. Discover yourself.
Experiencing new things inevitably means discovering yourself. You learn your strengths, limits, likes, dislikes, comforts, discomforts. And, off the grid and unencumbered by the burdens of everyday life, you have time to reflect on those discoveries. It’s rejuvenating and will allow you to become a better version of yourself.
6. Earn your own trust.
Traveling solo means having only yourself on which to rely. You have to have your own back, trust your own instincts and be your own pilot and co-pilot. In doing so, you begin to find joy in the little things—something as simple as boarding the right bus becomes thrilling and rewarding. And because you have time for self-reflection, you allow yourself to pat your own back. It’s something we don’t do enough, as we’re all too often being our own toughest critics.
7. Take written notes on everything.
The best thing I ever did the first time I left the States was write down everything—random thoughts, restaurant names, profound conversations, what I ate for breakfast. I have notes with exact times of the day so I can reminisce in vivid detail. Today, I look back at notes and my personal growth is palpable. I laugh at things I wrote had scared me then, and I recall details I’d have otherwise forgotten.
8. Take your experiences home with you.
Traveling with friends makes memories, but they can quickly devolve into “that one time in Mexico.” Once you’ve traveled solo, the voyage is immortal; it doesn’t end. Because wherever you venture, those places somehow become a part of you. And you look at the place to which you return with new eyes.
9. Keep your mind open before, during and after the trip.
I’d never have eaten sheep testicles with my friend quivering beside me, just as I’d never have prayed in a mosque beside my Catholic friend. Our responses to cultures and opportunities are very often molded by the company we keep, and we consciously or subconsciously temper our curiosity because of that. Solo travel and you’ll come back armed with education, modesty and empathy—all things we need to create effective change in this world.