Solo traveling made me the braver, more confident, smarter woman I am today. I would not be who I am without having seen the Milky Way on the other side of the world, alone and enchanted.
I was a shy child, without much confidence. I wasn’t born the person who now solo hikes and has hitchhiked all around the world, I grew into her. Solo traveling is what empowered me, and it can do the same for you.
I want to share my story today of the first time I ever traveled alone, and how I almost quit altogether. I was terrified, and it was really tough for me at first. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.
I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree in three years, but since most peoples’ college experience, at least in the US, lasts four years, I didn’t feel like I was done yet. My Mandarin teacher encouraged me to apply for a language enrichment scholarship in Taiwan. So I did, and I got in! Then I packed my bags and headed there alone at 21 years old.
The thing is, unlike most study abroad programs, this was just a language school and nobody was there to meet me, show me what to do, or help me find housing. I was completely on my own in a place I knew nothing about. It was 2007 and travel blogs and influencers didn’t exist yet.
I remember how heavy and sweet the air was when I walked out of the Taipei airport, one big bag in tow. I’d rarely felt humidity like that and immediately, I knew I was somewhere quite unlike what I knew.
I booked a hotel for my first three days, knowing that I would have to open a bank account, enroll in the school, find a place to live, and figure out this new world I had beamed down into all within that timeframe.
It was a challenge. I was so daunted that I spent the first day ordering blueberry waffles from room service and hiding under the covers in my hotel room. I didn’t even go outside.
Which then left me with TWO days to do all the things.
I failed at my first attempt to open a bank account. I couldn’t read all of the characters on the application and left the bank dejected. My classroom Mandarin, without immersion, hadn’t prepared me for these complex tasks.
I felt exhausted, too. It was hotter than hell in Taipei that September day, sweating on the MRT platform and wondering what the hell I’d done. I felt like an imposter and yearned for something familiar.
I called my mom and told her I wanted to come home. I had made a mistake. I didn’t belong here.
“Kristin, give it three months. You can do anything for three months,” she coached me.
She could’ve told me to come home, knowing that’s what I wanted to hear. But she didn’t. She knew that I would be making a mistake by giving up.
This was back in 2007, before smart phones or global social networks. But I did have someone I could reach out to. When I was getting my visa, Melissa, a girl who had done the program already, came to the embassy to talk to us about her experience studying in Taiwan. She had left us her email. So I reached out to her, told her my woes, and she gave me all of the resources I needed. In a way, she inspired me to be that same guide now. To share my experiences of traveling alone so that other women have a blueprint.
Thanks to her suggestions I found a place to live, exactly where I wanted, and with a wonderful Taiwanese girl, Ivy, who would become my close friend. When I went back to open the bank account, I did exactly what Melissa told me to and shrugged and smiled, pushing the forms towards the lady at the desk. It worked – she filled them out for me, and then I learned the beauty of the point-and-shrug method. This is how I got a cell phone, got a name stamp, which is kind of like an ID in Taiwan, and enrolled in my classes.
Within the next week, Ivy had helped me find five private English teaching clients that paid me $20 an hour. She also introduced me to all of her friends, and practically overnight I was just another ex-pat living in Taiwan, becoming one of the existing crew and loving life.
My Taiwan experience was a wild adventure. I could never have imagined the people I would meet or the experience that I would have there. Most importantly, I realized that I could do it. That hard times would happen and I would handle them on my own. That giving up was not the best answer, and none of it would have ever happened If I had gone home.
So kudos to my mom, but also kudos to me for sticking it out.
When I came home at the end of my year abroad, I got a big girl job like I felt I was supposed to (you can read all about my history from then to now here), but that experience in Taiwan had already shown me what else was out there. It had exposed me to different ways of living.
The seed had been planted, and it kept growing, and although I didn’t know any women who traveled long-term solo, that seed grew into the blossom that pushed me to buy that plane ticket four years later and go on the solo journey I’m still on.
And I just don’t know who I would be without all of that.
It made me braver, it made me so much stronger. The amount of confidence I got over getting through those first few days in Taiwan changed the course of my life, no hyperbole.
Many times when I traveled solo in the past few years I felt like everything was enhanced. It was like my senses were at full blast. And yeah, at times it would come crashing down and I would have a terrible low. But then I remembered that life is like that.
Nothing is perfect all the time, and those are always the places where I grew the most. I knew that I really could do anything I put my mind to, and that it could turn around so quickly. Little by little, fear plays a smaller and smaller role in my life, because I have seen time and time again that I can do it.
Could I have felt this way without traveling alone? Sure, I may have gotten there eventually, but that first solo trip, and each one following has been a catalyst.
And this is why every woman should travel alone. So often we are told that we can’t do this or that, or a predetermined path has been laid out for us. Even the people who love us the most will be terrified by the radical notion of traveling alone, and you may not have the support that my mother gave me.
And that is all the more reason for you to go out and do it. For you to find out what this can do for you, to figure out that you are the architect of your own adventure, and that you can have amazing times on your own as well. We all deserve a chance to get to know each other and ourselves better without anyone else coloring the experience. That is the beauty of solo travel.
Sometimes it’s the littlest moments, even in familiar places, that we can feel the most alive. It’s the solitude that lets it happen.
I’ve got all the resources in the world for you to help you get there. I wish you a beautiful journey.