4 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Solo Trip

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Throughout my 20s, I took several extended trips through Central and South America on my own. Here’s what I wish I knew before I took off on my first solo trip¬†(and all the times after):

How to listen to my intuition

If you feel uncomfortable, you’re not being silly, dramatic, or overreacting. Don’t stuff that inner knowing down. Instead, invite it to co-create this trip with you. Go with your internal guide. Follow those pings of interest and hard stops that show up in your chest when you’re going against it. Make room for it to show itself by giving yourself a quiet minute before making an impulsive decision. Do you want to do this (whatever it may be), truly? The answer is not outside of you — within is where you will find it.

ellen on her first solo trip

You are not obligated to anyone or anything except yourself.

Not peer pressure, not the cute guy at the hostel, not the older man who is telling you you have to get on a plane with him instead of taking that long bus ride (that you already bought a ticket for). So often, women feel obligated to people around them. For me, it came from a place of conditioning and guilt – I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, even if I barely knew them.

I didn’t take that plane trip, but I felt bad about saying no all day. Intellectually I knew I had no obligation to this person, but ingrained in me was the desire to please. I realize now how much time I spent stuck in guilt and shame on that first trip. I wish I knew that I didn’t have to feel bad for saying no and standing my ground, and that I could reframe that guilt into a feeling of empowerment instead.

Travel is a wonderful opportunity for expansion, growth and personal development. What it’s not: an escape from your past.

The first time I packed my bags to head out into the world on my own, I was 23 and my best friend had just died. At that point I didn’t have the tools to deal with the overwhelming grief that came from her loss. She was everywhere in L.A. to me, and I was privileged enough to have the option to buy a one-way ticket and travel instead of stay and deal. What I didn’t realize was that the grief would also tag along for the ride.

Looking back, I am grateful for the experiences I had while taking that first¬†solo trip and know it was the right decision for me at the time, but I wish I knew this was a stage in my healing process, and not a way to opt out of it. A change in scenery will allow for deeper insights, inspiration and can be the catalyst for making big decisions and changes in your life, but it won’t serve as a quick fix. As they say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

Things I learned my first solo trip

If you’re in a hostel in a shared room and have the choice between a double or twin bed, always choose the twin!

I learned this one the hard way. If you’re in a shared room situation, claim the twin bed! This will ensure that hostel staff won’t stick a random straggler in the other half of the bed with you because everything else is full. This was not entirely explained to me – I actually thought I was getting lucky. But sleeping in bed with a stranger? No thanks.

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About Author

Ellen wanders. She wandered her way through Europe in 2007 during a semester abroad in Madrid, then through parts of the South Pacific after college graduation, and spent a year in South and Central America during 2010. Most recently, she went on a solo adventure south of the border to research and write the travel guidebook Go Girl Guides: Mexico.

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