I could tell you I decided to go away alone because I wanted an adventure, or because I was about to burn out and needed a break; but, the real reason I headed off on my first big solo journey was a bruised ego and a bit of a broken heart. I needed to be far, far away from what was causing me pain (and the reminders in the form of photos popping up on social media), so I decided to escape.
I split my time between two spots: One where I was with a group, the other where I was completely on my own. For the first leg, I attended The Ranch 4.0, an intense (and wonderful) health and fitness program in Southern California. For the second, I headed to Kauai and stayed in a villa I found through a group called Pure Kauai, a world-class concierge service (yes, I wanted to treat myself!) that caters both to women traveling solo and to couples, families, and groups.
I quickly learned something several wise people had discovered before me: traveling alone absolutely changes your life. Here's a nowhere near complete list of why you should make your next vacation a solo one.1. You get comfortable being alone.
There were two main reactions from friends and family when I was planning my first trip for one. "That's awesome — I'm jealous," or, "Are you worried about being alone?" I thought about the second one quite a bit. On the one hand, I was proud of myself for going on an adventure all by my lonesome; on the other, I was a little nervous. Would I be safe? Would I be lonely? I had a few near panic attacks imagining myself sitting by myself at dinner in a land of honeymooners, awkwardly playing with my food and avoiding eye contact. I worried I would end up feeling more pathetic than I would empowered. I'm all for being independent and I do plenty of things on my own in my day-to-day life, but it's not always the easiest thing to do single what you might otherwise do with company. I knew no one and had no idea what to expect.
When you travel alone, you develop a belief in yourself and an appreciation for who you are. You realize that, yes, it's awesome to have good times with friends, but you don't need anyone to make you happy.2. You meet people.
Vacationing with friends has its perks, but it's unlikely you'll put any real time into meeting new people on those trips. You already have your crew with you, so whether you realize it or not, you're probably not going to be paying a lot of attention to strangers. When you're on your own, you're almost always going to have an opportunity to interact with new people, whether out of necessity or chance, and you end up becoming pretty comfortable with saying hi when you otherwise might not have. It's up to you to reach out, but who knows what friendships you might make when you do?
You've heard the saying, "Wherever you go, there you are." As in, you cannot get away from yourself. No matter what you do or where you go, if you don't like who you are and are unhappy with yourself, you're never going to feel at peace.
When you find yourself in a new place on your own, you're almost immediately faced with what your strong and weak points are. You have the chance to get clear on who you are, what qualities you love about yourself, and which ones could use some improvement. You might find that you're awesome at striking up a conversation with strangers, or that you're more inhibited than you'd like and want to work on connecting with people. You might realize you push yourself incredibly hard and want to ease up a bit. Or, maybe you love that you push yourself. Whatever the case, when you travel alone, you're not surrounded by all the familiar faces and places that can often allow you to stay on autopilot — you have to confront yourself.
When you travel with other people, you're not always going to be on the same page about the itinerary. On a solo vacation, you choose what you want to do and how you want to experience a place. Maybe you spend one day lying on the beach and the next day hiking a 10-mile trail. It's your call. You decide what makes you the happiest. It's your time to explore the world and, in the process, to get some clarity on what brings you joy.
5. You stop making excuses.
The flip side of having no one to be responsible for is that you have no room for excuses. You didn't skip that inventive restaurant because your friend is a picky eater; you skipped it because you'd honestly rather eat at the hotel buffet. You didn't miss that hike because your travel companion sprained his ankle. You missed it because you missed it. It's fine if you decide to sit some things out—this vacation is about doing what you want to do—but you soon realize you have no one to answer to but yourself, so you start taking ownership of your actions.6. You invest in yourself.
It's incredibly easy to put yourself last in your everyday life, for reasons that can span from work to family. Going away gives you time to shift your focus onto yourself and do those things that prioritize your physical and mental well-being. It takes a bit of easing into, but the moment you realize just how much you were mistreating yourself, you will be hard-pressed to go back to your self-neglecting ways.
7. You realize that silence is indeed golden.
You don't have someone around to constantly talk to on a solo trip, so you'll find yourself sitting in silence at moments throughout the day. While it takes some getting used to, you start to appreciate how much those moments lower your stress levels. When you get back to your busy life, you will crave them and find ways to sneak a few moments of stillness into your otherwise chatter-filled day.8. You disconnect.
It's harder and harder to unplug these days. It's so normal to always be online that it's nearly impossible to stop. Even on vacation, it's super tempting to share photos of you in paradise and, yes, there's a part of you that wants the support from friends that your vacation was a brilliant choice. But you can (and most often will) take progressively longer breaks from social media when you're off on your solo adventures. You'll remember just how much better it feels to get out into the real world and you'll limit your time with the temporarily exciting interactions of the virtual world.
9. You let go of inhibitions.
Traveling alone pushes you to let go of your fears and inhibitions. When you are by yourself, it is up to you to get things done on your own, which might involve you doing something you would have shied away from in past. You also develop trust in yourself—and that's freeing.10. You realize how strong you are.
OK, honestly, I've had a few ugly cries on these solo trips. Traveling alone is not the easiest thing to do. You're bound to start feeling like you're carrying 100 bowling balls in your suitcase, you're probably going to get lost at least once, you won't have someone else watching your back, and sometimes, you're going to feel lonely. But you know what? You get through all of it and come out on the other side realizing just how much you are able to handle on your own. Understanding all that you can overcome and that you are, indeed, a badass, will carry you through almost any difficult situation you face in your "normal" life.
So go. Now.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.