I'm Afraid to Travel Solo (but I Shouldn't Be)
I have a confession to make.
I'm afraid to travel solo.
There, I said it. I, the ever adventurous Mrs. Nerd, the one who drags Mr. Nerd on all sorts of crazy adventures and can't get my head out of globe-shaped clouds for more than a second ... I'm terrified of gallivanting off into the blue on mad adventures alone.
Sounds absurd, doesn't it? I can picture your incredulous stares now.
"You're a travel blogger," you might be saying. "You love travel! You promote solo travel for people of all ages in several of your blog posts. How could you possibly be afraid of traveling solo?"
To be honest, I've never had the chance to try it. I've been extremely lucky to have friends and family around me whenever I've landed in a new country or state. In fact, my only experience with solo travel has been sitting on an airplane between places. That's it.
Don't get me wrong here, I love the idea of solo travel. It really inspires me! Plenty of teenagers, 20-something nomads, female bloggers, kickass adventurers, and etcetera board planes every day and fly to new destinations—all on their lonesome. Some people even hike long trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Camino de Santiago, and they do it by themselves. Strong and empowered.
I have friends who've traveled solo and swear you haven't seen the world until you've found yourself in it. I have blogging buddies who've written brilliant posts on traveling solo in various countries (and I get a serious case of wanderlust with each one I read). Inspiration is all around me, but when I come face to face with the idea of actually going somewhere by myself... I start to sweat.
The deeper I dive to unpack why I get so restless, the more I realize I need to step outside my comfort zone and get real in my own skin. My fear isn't based in the world, in other people, in current events.
My fear has to do with what's inside me.
"I don't know everything."
First things first: I don't fear the unknown. As most travelers, I thrive off the scent of the unknown, of an untold story just waiting to be found. An adventure is never far behind.
So what am I afraid of? All the things I don't know.
I don't know other languages (beyond some garbled French and Swedish), so the thought of a language barrier scares me.
I don't have a good sense of direction, so the idea of catching a taxi or trying to read a foreign map makes me shudder.
I struggle with sleeping alone, so the idea of booking, navigating to, and staying in a big room alone foreshadows (in my mind) a plethora of sleepless nights.
These fears are ridiculous, but they're my fears, my challenges to overcome. I'm the sort of person that builds skills with practice and repetition ... but you can't practice solo travel, so I just need to jump in and learn to swim.
"What if something happens to me?"
I've always been an anomaly.
On the one hand, I broke out of my bedroom at age 2 and ventured onto the roof of my parent's duplex without a care in the world. I was born a nomad, unable to stay put, fearless of new places and faces.
On the other hand, when I have too much time to think, I cripple myself with caution. "What if" scenarios fill my mind.
"What if I go to this place and can't find my way back to the hostel?"
"What if I'm ripped off and left with no money?"
"What if someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to?"
What if, what if, what if.
In some ways, caution is a good thing. It cancels my naivety and almost guarantees that I'll never put myself in a position I can't handle. But while it neutralizes the danger I could walk into by exploring sketchy parts of town or attending a party with people I don't know, it destroys a crucial piece of travel and personal growth in the process.
It destroys the freedom to experience new things and explore new cultures.
"I don't think I can do it."
I don't give myself (and my intuition) enough credit, and that's a problem. I know way more and can handle way more than I believe, but if I fail to see that, it's easy to sink into the assumption that I'll make a fool of myself if I put myself out there ... or that I'll end up in a situation I can't handle.
Bottom line? I need to stop.
I need to stop doubting that I, an adult with over 24 years of experience behind me and 8 years of travel, don't have the brilliance, the will, the endurance, or the inspiration to face what's out there on my own.
I need to stop doubting how strong and independent I can be.
So, how do I battle this fear?
By booking a solo trip to Cuba, of course!
That's right: I took the plunge. In less than three months, Mr. Nerd will drop me off at the airport, and I'll begin a whirlwind five day trip to Cuba, with an overnight in Chicago, a layover in Florida, and several indescribable days in Havana.
Am I really solo traveling? Well, you could say I'm cheating a little, as I'll be meeting up with an amazing travel blogger that I've known and followed for the last five months. But many parts of this trip will be solo, and I know I'll face myself—and my fears—and come out on the other side unscathed.
I can hear the tides of change now, whispering sweet words on the wind:
You can be a travel blogger. You can travel solo. You can do anything.
And I hope you listen to those own tides in your life, because it's true. You don't have to be afraid of solo travel.
You don't have to be afraid of anything.
Updated Feb 2018: Want to know how I fared during my solo time in Cuba? The story, and all its lessons, might surprise you.