You either have it, or you don’t. That innate drive to go out and explore, to discover new paths and new personal limits. I think we all feel it one way or another, us travellers. Why else would we go out of our way to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres on foot or by bicycle, where others decide to take the car, the motorcycle, or the train.
The immense physical and mental efforts of these journeys is often what scares people away, what makes them choose the path of least resistance. Because in the end, we modern human beings are quite the lazy bunch.
So what is it that instead makes us choose the path of most resistance? In the end I believe it comes down to simple rewards. We wouldn’t go through all these struggles and “suffer” the everyday fatigue of a camino without a reward at the end of the day. And a reward can mean many different things to many different people.
Here are some of the rewards that travelling solo has gifted me throughout the years:
One of the best things, in my opinion, of travelling solo is that you force yourself to face and resolve challenging situations on your own. You don’t have that other person to rely on, to give you a hand, to solve things for you. You may meet people along the way who can help out, but it depends on you whether you reach out to them or not. My first solo bicycle trip through Europe helped me immensely in my personal development. Four months on the road by myself, without any prior experience of bike travelling. Many friends told me I was crazy, that I would not make it past the first month, one acquaintance even told me I was for sure going to die! 🙈
Those (exaggerated) comments didn’t really worry me, I actually considered most of them a compliment. Because it showed me that what I was going to do was considered to be out of the ordinary, something that “normal” people wouldn’t easily do.
And proving them wrong by completing the planned itinerary in the four months that I gave myself… well, has there ever been a better feeling?!
One of my favourite pieces of advice to friends who are struggling with light depression or low self-esteem: pack your bag and go on a (long) solo tour on foot or by bicycle! Put yourself out there, get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself!
Before my first solo trip back in 2016, I didn’t have a very positive image of myself. I didn’t really like what I looked like, I thought myself too chubby, there was always something that I had to negatively comment on. After 4 months crossing 18 different European countries, I came back an entirely different person. Self-confident, optimistic, and also: all of a sudden I liked my looks! Not only because the journey had toned my body (which was inevitable after 8000km), but I imagine also because of all the feel-good hormones that the physical activity had released in my body. I was basically on a natural high 😎 But the best thing was: I wasn’t so much focused on my physical appearance anymore. Because the journey had taught me so much about myself and about the person I am inside, that I finally realized the futility of focussing so much on my outside looks. Which in turn of course made me a happier and more carefree person.
I have always been an independent person, a free spirit if you will. In fact most of my adult life I have been without a relationship by choice, because I loved being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted wherever I wanted without having to justify myself in any way. My solo travels have only reinforced this part of me, because I learned even better how to take care of things, how to solve difficult situations. And now in my day-to-day life before asking anybody for help, I prefer to figure things out on my own. You won’t easily find me asking help before I have tried out all the different options by myself. Because the satisfaction of figuring things out without a helping hand is a true reward that motivates me to keep going and to keep improving.
It doesn’t matter how many gorgeous landscapes, how many tasty local specialties, or how many fascinating historical monuments I come across during my solo travels: in the end what I remember most vividly when I get back home are the beautiful, often unexpected encounters with fellow travellers and locals along the road. These are the stories I end up telling to my friends and family when they ask me about my adventures. Like that one time when I met Giovanna at a Via Francigena hostel in the picturesque town of Sermoneta. Giovanna was on her way from Minturno to Rome, and when she learned that I was going towards Santa Maria di Leuca, she spontaneously offered me to stay at her place in Surbo (Puglia). Or all those other moments that I met fellow cyclists and decided to join them for one or more days because we were going in the same direction. When I travel alone I feel much more susceptible to the outside world, to the people around me, compared to when I travel with a companion. It’s one of the main reasons why I prefer travelling by myself.
Physical as well as mental, the strength that I gained throughout my solo travels continues to aid me in both my personal as well as professional life. Physically I consider myself stronger than the average woman, because I often had to lift my heavy (cargo) bicycle over unexpected obstacles along the way or climb my way up to the top of a mountain pass either on foot or by bicycle, sometimes in horrid weather circumstances. And mentally, well, let’s just say that thanks to my solo travels I’ve learned that my limits are never where I expect them to be. I may have not reached them yet at all! What I learned is that in difficult moments there’s always some (hidden) energy left to carry me past the next hurdle, across the next hill. And this knowledge is a huge advantage when I’m facing tough situations in everyday life: it makes it much easier for me to continue, to go forward instead of giving up.
These are only a handful of rewards that my solo travels have given me. I could probably write an entire book about them, which I may actually do at some point. But for now I hope this suffices, and I hope my personal experiences will help and convince other women as well to go out there, to venture on their own and live their very own rewarding adventures.