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10 Life Lessons from Solo Travelers
Every month a new country, every day a new adventure: This is the wisdom from those who truly live on the edge.
They pinball from nation to nation, from oceans to deserts, from campgrounds to tropical islands. They travel solo. They do this for months—even years—at a stretch, armed only with a passport, laptop, backpack and an unquenchable thirst for wanderlust. These intrepid travelers, having realized they can do their jobs remotely, binge on adventure while the rest of the world binges on TV.
Take Julien Tremblay, a Canadian software engineer whose nomadic lifestyle can be traced to a business invitation he once received to join a “co-living group” of tech workers in Bali. He was mesmerized by the idea of techies on their laptops sitting next to lush Indonesian rice fields. Maybe he could live like that? To test the waters, he accepted a “starter” work abroad gig in Denmark. There, he quickly realized that to fully live this lifestyle, he needed fewer things. So he returned home and sold everything he owned, embracing a new ethos of minimalism. He felt lighter. He felt freer. Then he embarked to the rice fields of Bali, where he became fully nomadic. Going by the alias “Nomadic Julien” since 2017, Tremblay has become adept at hopping from country to country, carrying just the sack on his back.
Now that the world is opening up again, if you’re curious what the traveling lifestyle can teach you, or wondering whether nomadism is even an option for you, these longtime solo travelers are ready to share their lessons about their highly unorthodox and incredibly satisfying journey.
Change Fuels Growth
“I’ve learned that I can trust myself,” says Claire Marshall, who has been solo traveling for seven years, and now works remotely as the chief operating officer of Successwise. Marshall has bounced from South Africa to Lisbon to Bali and countless other destinations. With every new location, it’s like starting all over again. “Every time I enter an unfamiliar place alone,” says Marshall, “I’m new in a culture with a new language, new people, new friends and new dates.” When it’s harder to ask for help, it breeds a depth of inner-confidence, the kind that’s harder to foster when you’re working in a cubicle.
Experience Is Worth More Than Things
Barbara Reidel, the author of City Guides for Digital Nomads, has been solo traveling since 2014. She sums up the core tenet of solo traveling: “The most important thing I’ve learned is that moments and people are more precious than things and possessions.” It’s easy to replace stuff you lose. It’s tough to replace the companionship of people you meet on the road. And it’s impossible to replace the memories you make (but you can always make more).
Discipline is King
Globetrotting doesn’t equal vacation. “It takes a very high level of discipline to keep my job,” says Marshall, who adds that the temptations for leisure and escapism are everywhere. “I travel for the adventure, for the serendipitous moments where you meet someone or a group who are doing something amazing the next day.” But in order to keep footing the travel bill, it’s key to know how to say no to an ill-timed day trip. “It is painful,” says Marshall. “But I also understand that my work allows me this freedom, and therefore I guard my ability to be great at my job and to focus on work like a hawk.”
Loneliness Is Real
Nomadic life isn’t always margaritas on the beach. “You do feel lonely on some occasions, but it’s usually temporary,” says Tremblay. “You’re constantly reminded that you could be with a loved one.” During low moments, some solo travelers swear by mental health apps that teach you ways to channel your negative thoughts into positive vibes. Exercise is another science-proven way to beat the blues, and solo workouts like TRX, yoga and virtual training from your hotel room make it easy. Hit the gym or the trails and feel your mood lift—while maybe even meeting a fellow traveler in search of a little company, too.
Friendships Take Work
“Most people need to see their friends regularly,” says Reidel, who adds that holding onto friends while circling the globe is sub-optimal at best. “It is very difficult to build a lasting friendship while being on the road. It is possible though.” In some ways, it’s not all that different than life in a pandemic: You have to make an effort to schedule FaceTime and Zoom chats—but if you do, you may find it helps cement your bond even more strongly.
People Are More Alike Than You Think
“While people in various places can live wildly differently, we are all, at the core, humans who have similar fears and emotions,” says Marshall. “After traveling to so many places, it’s clear that we are more alike than one might think.”
Change Is Stimulating
If the thought of yet another day working from your couch or office has you depressed, these travelers feel you. “I like change,” says Tremblay. “I like moving from snow to beach. I cannot stand a static life where I always live in the same environment.” If travel isn’t immediately in the cards, try switching up the location you work from at home. If you usually park yourself at the kitchen table, try taking your laptop to the back porch for a bit. If the view from your cubicle is causing you to fall asleep, consider spending the afternoon working from a conference room or company cafeteria. Variety is good.
Work Is Where the Hard Drive Is
Solo travelers have long known what much of the nation has only learned recently: Many jobs are more portable than people realize. “Traveling has taught me that work is not a place. I can work wherever I want,” says Reidel.
A Few Good Items Are Worth 100 Bad Ones
Solo traveling with three large suitcases is never going to work. “Clearly in packing, less is more,” says Marshall. Better to have, say, a quality pair of pants, a favorite sweatshirt and versatile shoes, than a bunch of bulky gear that takes up space and you’ll rarely wear. “You are not going to want to lug around those extra clothes,” she adds. “Pack lighter and be comfortable.”
Always Have a Backup Plan
If you’re traveling alone and exploring off-the-beaten-path places, eventually, something will not go according to plan. The better prepared you are for this eventuality, the easier a time you will have recovering from it. “I always carry two laptops and two phones, just in case I lose one,” says Tremblay. “And I’m always making plans in case someone mugs me.” So far, he’s needed his contingency plans exactly zero times. But when you’re living life on the edge, it never hurts to be ready for action.