Everyone who’s a parent should try solo travel at least once while your kids are young. I truly believe solo travel makes you a stronger person and a better parent. And the solo travel I’m talking about is the kind that is meant to be an exploration of yourself in new settings, not a business trip away from the kids or a vacation at an all-inclusive resort.
In the last year, I’ve been fortunate to take five separate trips ranging anywhere from five to fifteen days per trip. I’ve traveled to locations including Bangkok, Sydney, Addis Ababa, Beijing, Kota Kinabalu, Cebu, and Bali. For the majority of my time in these places, I’ve been by myself. My wife and kids were in China with the kids’ grandparents, while I was able to enjoy the freedom of exploration in these different places all on my own.
Why did I take so many of these trips?
1. I needed periodic breaks from family travel, the kids, and my in-laws. We stayed at my wife’s parents’ place for extended periods of time (eight to twelve weeks). Taking the trips was my solution to create the much needed headspace from our tight living situation while in China.
2. I wanted to explore the world on my own. I’ve been a big advocate of family travel and shared experiences with my kids, but I also value travel on my own. It allows me to be more observant and attentive to my new settings and the people around me, in whatever country I visit. Without kids to tend to 24/7, the distractions immediately disappear.
3. I enjoy the freedom. It’s a blessing to be able to have my wife support my solo travels and to be able to take some time off to get out in the world to think, see, hear, and feel. It’s a joy to be able to watch movies on the airplane, listen to music and podcasts uninterrupted, read books without disruption, sleep-in as long as I want to, eat whatever I want to eat, and do whatever I feel like doing. As a parent, I don’t take my freedom for granted, so when I have it on my solo trips, I embrace it fully.
Though there are many benefits to traveling by yourself, there are also many harsh realities of being by yourself for long stretches of time.
1. You are lonely. You’re never really alone, as everywhere you go, there will be people. But for the most part, you are by yourself, alone with your thoughts. That inner monologue becomes louder and louder because now you have to actually listen to yourself, non-stop and all day long.
2. You get bored. Traveling involves a lot of waiting for buses, trains, cars, airplanes, etc. It’s a lot of time spent around waiting and the waiting game gets boring very quickly. Furthermore, meals eaten alone and solo sightseeing just aren’t as enjoyable as they are when doing it with good company.
3. You miss your family. As a parent, you’re always thinking about your family, what they’re doing, and what you’re missing. Video calls keep you connected for daily reports, but cannot substitute for you physically being there talking to your spouse and playing with your kids.
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves. — Henry David Thoreau
Despite all the loneliness, boredom, and missing my wife and kids, I’ve become a better person through my solo travels in three areas.
1. Gratitude. Whenever I feel bored while traveling solo, I acknowledge my boredom and then realize how lucky I am to be bored with nothing to do. I am grateful for the freedom to be bored and make the subsequent choices to do something interesting.
2. Patience. I’m impatient. I don’t like waiting and I don’t like wasting my time. If I’m delayed unnecessarily, I get easily annoyed and irritated. When I’m by myself, I don’t have anyone to be blame or vent to when my flight is delayed or for getting stuck in traffic. I’ve learned to accept my situation, stay calm, and be patient.
3. Presence. Traveling by myself makes me more observant because I’m not speaking to anyone. I focus on looking and listening to whatever is around me. I’m there in the moment, observant, and ready for whatever might come up.
When you travel by yourself, you are with your thoughts each and every day you are out there on the road. The experiences of solo travel show you who you really are, what your shortcomings are, and what your comfort levels are. It’s in the process of this focused self-reflection and questioning that you are finally aware of what it means to be comfortable in your own skin.
So begin the journey. Take a solo trip sometime soon. First conquer yourself, then conquer the world.