Why I Take a Solo Vacation Every Single Year

Traveling alone isn't for everyone—but for me, it's become essential.

Traveling alone has become an essential part of my life. I went on my first solo trip to Iceland in December of 2015 and had no idea what to expect. On my first day in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik, I couldn’t have imagined meeting three other traveling Americans and then going on a spontaneous road-trip across the southern coast of Iceland with them. We drove around the Golden Circle, had breakfast and dinners together, and had heart-to-heart conversations during the long drives on Iceland’s Ring Road. One evening, as we listened to Icelandic music and danced underneath the aurora borealis, I knew that this trip was only the beginning of my solo travel journey. Thinking of taking a solo trip? These are the best places to travel as a solo female traveler.

Where to next?

After Iceland, I got to work on my savings. I rearranged my life around my desire to travel, including creating a saving plan and working on my budget. I decreased my spending on lunches and drinks out with friends and instead thought about using that amount on a future cup of coffee at a cafe in Paris or toward a show in London. Here’s how to travel on a budget, according to travel agents. I read through guidebooks, blog posts, travel books, and everything in between to spark curiosity and figure out where to go next. Six months after my first solo trip to Iceland, I went on a birthday solo trip to Toronto, Canada, ringing in my birthday with a bottle of champagne and new travel friends singing “Happy birthday!” on the rooftop of the hostel where we all stayed.

Over the years, some experiences include exploring Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City, taking in the beauty of tulips in Amsterdam, spending Christmas in Vienna, drinking pints of Guinness in Ireland, seeing a play in Shakespeare’s Globe, driving on a solo cross-country road trip across America, and returning again and again to the lowlands and highlands of Scotland.

Something to look forward to

tulip festival. close up of tulips.Courtesy Madeline Wahl

Sometimes I’d be invited to a place, like Scotland or a friend’s bachelorette party and wedding near Paris, and balance traveling with friends and traveling alone. Other times, I’d choose where to go based on an event, like going to the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens near Amsterdam or Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Booking a trip so far in advance provides a sense of comfort and deep excitement. Sometimes, I’d wait for great travel deals and book the trip then or, like with going to Mexico City, I waited until the very last minute to book my ticket because of nerves—but still had the best time. There are a lot of travel hacks in finding great deals, but it’s also good to know the most expensive days to fly in 2020.

Why travel alone?

For the longest time, I always traveled with friends or family, either on road trips in university to visit friends studying at other schools or on family trips to Disney World growing up. I never considered going anywhere by myself. Why would I? It seemed too daunting, too unrealistic, and too expensive. However, after Iceland, I wanted to go off on another adventure as soon as possible. The sheer joy of exploring a new place by myself became too incredible to pass up…so I continued traveling alone. Here’s how to travel on a budget, according to travel agents.

The freedom of traveling by myself

When I travel with family and friends, I’m always concerned about what they think. Sometimes, I find myself sacrificing doing what I actually want to do to appease them. One time on a mini trip to San Francisco, I’d wanted to leave a bar early to explore more of the city, but the person I was with had wanted to stay at the bar for another hour or so and then leave. I agreed…even though I really wanted to leave. However, traveling is a learning process and I’ve since learned how to speak up for myself and stay true to what I want to do. In London with a friend, we both expressed what we wanted to do and for one of the days, we did our own thing and then met up in the evening, having completed what we each wanted to do without offending the other. Here are a few etiquette rules to follow when traveling with friends.

That “solo travel feeling”

landscapeCourtesy Madeline Wahl

There is absolutely nothing like traveling alone; it’s an unparalleled experience. I loved being in new places, meeting new people, and doing things I could never do at home, like go horseback riding on thousand-year-old lava fields in Iceland. Walking around with the realization that I didn’t know anyone in a new country became a feeling I wanted to replicate: the act of uninhibited exploration. I’d walk along city streets alone and in being alone, I’d talk to new people I would have never met normally: the Norwegian-American I met on my flight who ended up sharing her story of leaving New York to move back to Norway or the Texan who became my guide in wine country on my cross-country road trip.

It’s a relief knowing that I have a solo trip planned every year. I tend to leave my comfort zone when traveling by myself. When on the road, I went to concerts, festivals, book talks, and movies alone and along the way, I finally started to enjoy dining by myself. Going on a solo trip each year allows me space and time to explore a new place externally and a new place within. I’ve grown in innumerable ways and always take that experience home.

Until the next adventure

I never know who I’m going to meet when traveling. I never know how anything will play out. At the beginning of my travels, I booked my accommodation in advance and planned my activities and sight-seeing each day. However, I’d then have to reschedule my accommodation due to spending an extra day in a city or tagging along with a group of travelers I’d just met. In the years since my first solo trip, I’ve stopped trying to control everything. I’ve let go. I still plan in advance, but I spend more time in each place, asking locals or fellow travelers for recommendations on the fly rather than going strictly by the guidebook. I travel slower, observing the small things often taken for granted, and have found a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.

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Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a Digital Associate Editor/Writer at RD.com. Previously, she worked for HuffPost and Golf Channel. Her writing has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her work can be found on her website: www.madelinehwahl.com