By: Erin Rydberg
“You’re going to get your kidneys stolen!” This was the first thing I heard from my Cantonese coworker when I told her I was traveling to Beijing, China by myself for a week.
These were extremely comforting words as I was about to set off on my first ever solo trip by myself. Sure, I had gotten on an airplane to teach English in France for the TAPIF program, but I had met people in the program online before I went. Yeah, I took the plunge and accepted a job in Hong Kong on a whim, but I got to Skype with other teachers I was starting with beforehand and had a network of contacts waiting for me.
But, traveling, visiting sights, and experiencing a new culture by myself, I had never done. Was I crazy? Maybe, a little, but to be a traveler and an EFL teacher, you have to be a bit ‘different;' and that means stretching your comfort zone & taking on the unknown.
Traveling alone will be one of the most challenging, and at times exhausting and frustrating experiences of your life. It will also be one of the most rewarding, exciting, and memorable endeavors you will ever undertake and you will be a better and stronger person for it.
Here are some top perks & tips for traveling solo:
1. Traveling by yourself is liberating.
You get to run on your schedule, do the things you want to do, and you don't have to worry about what everyone else wants. Maybe you're a night-owl but the person you're traveling with is a morning person. Maybe you love museums and your family despises them. Maybe you want some local cuisine but your friend is in real need of McDonald’s.
When you travel by yourself, you don’t have to worry about spending your precious time abroad catering to the whims of others! You are in complete control when traveling solo. I can sleep in and not feel guilty, and I can shamelessly spend hours at that art museum and not care about boring someone. And hey - if you want to change your itinerary, there's nobody to hassle you about it.
2. Traveling solo is also a fantastic way to make friends!
Let's face it, when you travel with friends or in a group it's easy to stay in your own little bubble, making it harder to meet or interact with locals or other travelers that you don't know. As a solo traveler you will be forced to meet and interact with strangers (both locals & other travelers), and it will be a fantastic experience that can often lead to lifelong friendships that otherwise may never have happened.
During my solo travels the instant someone saw me by myself or found out I was alone, many would instantly start talking to me or invite me in their group. Others would ask me to sit at their tables for a drink, and other single travelers often just instinctively knew I was in the same boat and would sit down at my table to chat. You will be more likely to interact and become friends with locals as well.
Hot Tips: Despite the fact you may be traveling alone, you can potentially make sure you are never alone by signing up for tours or staying at hostels with other travelers. Also, if you are an ITA student or alumni, check out our ITA Alumni Country Pages on Facebook to connect with other International TEFL Academy alumni & students around the globe. Also, check out this article: 9 Pro Tips for Making Friends While Teaching English Abroad.
3. Traveling alone is a confidence booster.
When trying something new you are always going to have nerves. It takes you out of your comfort zone, but there is nothing more gratifying than knowing you ‘conquered the world,’ on your own. It forces you into situations you normally wouldn’t be in and only you can get yourself out – whether navigating a huge subway system, walking up and down the street with your suitcase trying to find your hostel, or attempting to order off a menu that has no English. Sure, it’s always a bit weird to eat by yourself at a restaurant or asking a stranger to take a picture of you so your camera isn’t full of selfies, but by traveling by yourself you begin to get used to these kind of things. It’s empowering to be so independent and in turn builds your confidence.
Additional Tips & Resources:
- Staying in touch with the folks back home. With the Internet, email, and apps like Facetime & Skype, it is far easier to stay in touch in real time with friends & family back home than it was just 10 - 15 years ago. To learn more, read How to Stay in Maintain Relationships at Home While Traveling & Teaching English Abroad.
- 15 Top Travel Phone Apps for 2017 - Get even more tools right on your phone to make travel more fun & convenient.
- 25 Great Resources for International Travel on a Budget
- Exclusive Travel Discounts Available to International TEL Academy Student & Alumni - Are you a student or graduate of ITA? Did you know can take of advantage of exclusive discounts things like airline tickets & travel insurance? Click the link to learn more.
- Teaching English Abroad: Essential Travel Resources - From airfare, accommodations & visas to information on how to acquire a passport, check out top resources related to all aspects of international travel.
These are just some of the things that make traveling solo GREAT so it is no surprise that more and more people are leaving the comfort of home behind in search of their own adventure. It truly makes you appreciate your experiences more. I highly recommend, even if just once, you take a trip by yourself and just for you – you won’t regret it!
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A native of Rockford, IL, Erin taught English in France through the prestigious TAPIF Program before heading to Hong Kong, where she taught and also worked in recruiting & curriculum development for 3 years. Her professional experience and love of travel make Erin a natural for helping others teach English abroad. Learn more about Erin.