4 min read

Solo Travel Sucks

Solo Travel Sucks
Early morning hike

I wrote this a week into my travel

I’m solo traveling in Indonesia, and I feel like a failure.

On the first day, I could barely hold on to a smile as I bewailed my conditions in a journal entry. I’ve been here for a week, and it’s hard. I can’t stop the creeping thoughts of inadequacy bubble up from my innermost depths.

Maybe I’m not cut out for this.

I had that thought a lot during my first few days here, and I still have it at least once a day.

To tell you the truth, I miss my partner, my family, my dogs, and my hometown. I can perform a number of mental gymnastics to try to figure out why I have tough days here, but I think the simple truth is there’s a lot of unfamiliar, new stuff that has knocked me off my pedestal of control and thrown me in a chaos, grasping for some sense of familiarity and control.

And when I grasp for that familiarity and come up empty-handed, I feel sad. I feel alone. I feel disconnected with the world I spent so many years building in the US. But I’m not going to run away from this feeling. In fact, I think it’s good I’m feeling this way.

Discomfort Hurts

I admire the people who can look at their fears, understand that they may be irrational, approach them with curiosity and excitement, and come out on top of their fears and a new understanding of themselves and the world.

I also don’t think those people exist.

I’ve had moments in Indonesia where I’m excited to see how I’ll react to novelty. I’ll go on a new hike, introduce myself to a new person, and plan epic adventures on the weekend and approach each with excitement and curiosity.

I’ve also had moments where I’ve looked at these same events and cower in fear and feel confined. My natural response to this emotion is to then sit with the feeling for a while and try to figure out why I’m feeling that way. I can do this, forever, but I know what the problem is: this is a lot of new stuff and it’s scary!

The Best Moments: Earning Comfort

Me with a monkey

When I think about the best moments in my life, they usually aren’t uncomfortable. In fact, they’re really comfortable. But that’s not the whole story.

A few of these events: amazing moments of connection with my partner, getting paid for my writing, coding through a problem I have, exchanging life-goals and dreams with my close friends.

In each of these moments, I was comfortable. I felt deeply connected with those around me, I felt that I could support myself doing what I love, or I felt like I could accomplish the problem in front of me.

When I consider how I got to those moments, though, it is clear that it wasn’t comfortable. Building a relationship with my partner isn’t easy — it takes effort and making the choice every day to love yourself and to love someone else. That’s hard. Getting to a point where I can confidently code through a problem isn’t easy, either. I had to work to get to that point — I had to gain the competence and confidence to tackle it. Exchanging life-goals and dreams with close friends? Those friends are built over many hours of vulnerability and compromise. None of this is easy.

In part, these moments are so amazing because they aren’t easy to achieve. It took a lot of getting outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself to get there. And it was so worth it. I wasn’t always comfortable, but I got more comfortable doing it as I went on.

I made great strides in loving myself. I wrote every day. I was vulnerable with the people around me.

To create the best moments, the moments that we remember, we have to persevere through a lot of discomfort and personal learning.

It’s possible I’ll never truly feel content in Indonesia. It’s possible that I can recognize solo-travel as cool but also not quite my speed. I can’t know this, though. I can’t know until I finish my trip. And even if Indonesia isn’t for me, I’ve learned a lot about myself already.

I’ve learned that I’m more extroverted that I’ve given myself credit for. I’ve learned that I can find my way through a foreign country where I know no one. I’ve learned that I can find the courage to push myself out of my comfort zone and cultivate connection.

Should vs Being

One of my struggles has been the nagging evaluation of how I should spend my time in Indonesia versus how I am spending my time. The “should” part of my brain is telling me how I need to be loving every second — that I should be satisfied and content with the experience I’m having. The “am” part of my brain is telling me how I am not loving every second — that I’m not always satisfied and content with my experience.

I’m confronting some of my deepest fears in Indonesia. I’m tapping people on the shoulder and introducing myself (gasp), I’m going on a cliff-diving tour, and I’m living alone surrounded by people who can’t understand most of what I say.

When I put it like that, I feel a little better. I’ve also come to realize that it’s the very fact that I feel like I’m not cut out for solo-travel that means I’m cut out for solo-travel. I’m outside of my comfort zone — that’s a great place to be. And if traveling alone was comfortable for me, maybe that’s a sign that I need to go after some other mountains. My mountain of discomfort is another person’s hill of delight and vice versa.

It’s not about comparing yourself to what others are comfortable with. It’s about cultivating the resilience inside of you to face what you most fear. And I’m proud of myself for that.