7 Lessons Learned From My First Solo Trip
Tips to remember on your first or next solo trip.
Earlier this year, I took my first real solo trip to Lisbon. What I mean by solo trip is that I didn't go with a group tour like I did during my trip to Costa Rica. And I'm not counting work trips or meeting up with friends either. This trip was entirely on my own and on my own terms. A YOLO trip, if you will.
I'll admit that I'm an impulsive person. I make decisions and then stress about them over and over after the fact. So when I found a relatively cheap flight from NYC to Madrid, I didn't hesitate. I knew it'd be affordable to hop from Madrid to Lisbon.
Being an impulsive flight purchaser is something I already knew, but below are a few of the lessons I learned from my first solo trip.
Related reading — Travel Guide: Lisbon, Portugal
1. When using different airlines, make sure your layover is long enough
I started to panic about my connecting time a few months before my trip. I told myself, "Just worry when you have to. Don't stress about it now." This thinking worked until a few days before my trip, and I went into full-blown panic mode where I was dreading my trip.
I ended up buying a back up flight from Madrid to Lisbon later in the afternoon, in case I missed my connecting flight. If you didn't know, Madrid Barajas International Airport is one of the biggest damn airports I've ever been to. The terminals are long bus rides away and the international terminal is especially far. You also have to take into account that you need to go through customs. Miraculously, I made my connection with minutes to spare. No joke.
2. You don't have to see and do everything guides or friends tell you to
The best part about traveling by yourself is that you get to make your own agenda every day. You can sleep in as late as you want or wake up at the crack of dawn. You can change your plans without your travel mate getting annoyed at you and you can take as much time as you want in a tiny little alley trying to get the perfect photo.
Sometimes when I prepare to visit a place, I get destination fatigue. I keep seeing the same tips or local spot to visit that my eyes glaze over or I feel blasé about it.
True story: I got a little wine drunk on my last day at lunch with a couple next to me. I had planned on visiting Pastéis de Belém because everyone tells you to go there since they're the original shop and they're amazing. Guess what. I was on the train, got off at the station, and realized I couldn't do it since I was so tipsy/sleepy. And ya know what? I don't even like sweets, so it's not like I was even that excited to go there (it's pretty out of the way, to be fair).
The point is, don't let FOMO ruin your trip. Do things because you want to, not because it's what people think you should do.
3. Don't feel bad when someone makes a comment about your selfies
Okay, I got to admit, I felt like crap when this woman made me feel bad for trying to take my only selfie on this trip when I was in Sintra. It was misting out and because I never tried to use a selfie stick before, I completely #failwhaled and was taking forever in this random photo spot. My selfie turned out awful because I was distracted by this woman's comment.
Typically, I'm not one to confront strangers when they trod on my feelings, so I didn't say anything. I was too embarrassed. I was too embarrassed to be labeled an Asian tourist, so I said nothing. And then I thought about it for ages. I clearly still think about it months later.
If you're a solo traveler, don't feel sorry for taking your time to take a selfie or for setting up a tripod. Unless you have someone to take your photo for you, there's no other way! Also, I feel like this is a lesson learned on being willing to take photos for others too.
Related reading — Sintra: A Lisbon Day Trip
4. Don't be afraid to make new friends
We're so used to spending our days in our own little circle, whether it's our work squad or our main squad. It's damn hard to make new friends sometimes, unless it's a friend of a friend. Making friends while traveling can either be really easy or difficult.
As a solo female traveler, I noticed I'm more on my guard about people and am less likely to strike up a conversation. Sometimes if there's a group of friends, it's hard to want to break into their inner circle. You don't want to feel like you're intruding. But solo trips are a time for you to break out of your comfort zone.
I noticed I made most of my new friends or struck up conversations with people when I was at restaurants. It's crazy how much food can truly bring people together.
5. It's okay to feel lonely
I'd say there's a big difference in living alone and then traveling out in the world alone. I felt lonely more often than I care to admit on my trip, but I think it was an incredible learning experience. I learned I can be completely dependent on myself and create my own happiness. This is something I recommend everyone do once in their life.
Feeling lonely on your trip isn't necessarily a bad thing either. My trip gave me a lot of time to self reflect on myself and the things I want to accomplish, as cheesy as that sounds. Not going completely off-the-grid also keeps your loneliness in check though!
6. Treat Yo' Self
I pretty much lived my best life on my solo trip. Why? I literally treated myself to my favorite thing every day: delicious food. A lot of times when I'm traveling with others, I have to be pretty conscious of my food spending to be considerate of the other person (picking restaurants, sharing groceries, etc.). But with solo travel, I can throw that mentality out the door.
Although I was spending more than I typically would at home, treating myself to 5 course tasting menus is my personal travel style and something I love to do. Obviously, your treat yo' self can be totally different from mine. It's just nice to live a little.
7. You don't need to get carried away with gifts
Every time I think about this, I have to face palm myself. So I mentioned I got a little wine drunk my last day in Lisbon, right? Well, the couple I was sitting next to really wanted to show me this neat wine store that was around the corner. They had already bought a bottle or two of some vintage wine and I think they wanted to get more.
I got super caught in the moment and ended up buying a bottle of '88 Madeira wine for my boyfriend as a present (it's the year he was born). BUT NOTE THIS: I had planned to only have a carry-on because of my insane layover situation. Guess what. I missed my flight and had to pay ~$600 for a new return flight.
So just remember this, don't get carried away with gifts because the person you get a gift for will love that you thought about them, no matter the gift.