Congratulations! You won your dream vacation. There is one condition; you must travel alone. Will you go?
After fifteen years of solo travel, I will help you say yes. I was a timid little girl, and my mother reminded me that I would not come out of my room after moving to a new home for months. What changed? As Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
In 2007, I founded my law firm and began my entrepreneurial journey. Once thrust into the entrepreneurial life, I realized that the safety net of a large firm was gone, and I needed to grow a robust entrepreneurial mindset for the survival of my firm.
Mindset development happens all around us, and solo travel is my favorite classroom. The entrepreneurial mind skills learned from solo travel are a useful souvenir when we return home. The stronger our mindset becomes when facing options, choices, and obstacles during travel, the more confidence we possess to survive and thrive with uncertainty in all areas of our life.
An entrepreneur’s top five reasons to travel solo.
1. Keeps an agile mind.
Amazon show “Sneaky Pete’s” main character, Pete Murphy, is a con man who plans elaborate cons, and whenever he faces an issue, he uses the line, “work the problem.” The solo traveler’s motto is to work on the issue and not let anxiety about the unknown distract you. This process of forcing one’s mind to remain directed at the present urgent issue is a skill that all entrepreneurs need but are rarely forced into use in our well-structured or curated daily life.
Solo travel forces upon one the requirement of making decisions with a small frame of reference since the environment is new and no one familiar is there to assist. No crutch or person to resolve it, as the solo traveler must get to the heart of the matter in a situation quickly, fix it, and move on to the next. Solo travel decisions frequently are without the luxury of time. An immediate decision is needed to resolve a barrier for one to proceed with the trip.
COVID was a solo traveler’s Mount Everest as each country had its own set of shifting entry requirements. So, I applied Sneaky Pete’s advice when I stood at the Egyptian Airlines check-in counter wanting to board my flight to Jordan but did not have the proper COVID paperwork. Singular focus on resolving the paperwork issue, not all the distracting questions like, what if I miss my plane, what happens if I get stuck in Egypt without a hotel room, or my driver left, all while holding up a check-in line consisting of eight (8) people watching me and waiting for their turn. My mind automatically remained working through the paperwork problem without additional self-talk. The global COVID paperwork problem is solved, at the counter, with no outside help. I boarded my flight without delay.
This “time-slowing” skill of focusing on the problem, by eliminating the “what-ifs” from one’s mental conversation, gives one’s mind time to break down the primary problem from which all others flow. This process builds extreme mental strength and stress resistance. Also, repetition increases one’s mental time and speed with a good byproduct of controlling one’s anxiety.
When traveling solo, the unknown is in every moment; thus, one becomes accustomed to the elevated level of uncertainty. A solo traveler learns to quickly review a list of options to solve an issue, apply them and see which works. If that option doesn’t work, the solo traveler, like an entrepreneur, mentally reruns the list, eliminating the failed options and replacing them with alternates. The mind’s ability to quickly review options and put them together like a puzzle to resolve an issue is a skill developed by real-time problem solving under pressure.
We solve problems daily in our routines, but we create a system that limits the need to make decisions over time and removes unknown variables. We know the way to drive to the office. We know our schedule or community and who to call if a variant occurs.
Our daily decisions tend to be system problems that are safe to resolve with little long-term stress. One’s mind becomes lazy—little need to invent or see opportunities. A solo traveler does not have this luxury. Every choice from the moment she wakes up until going to sleep is new. Easy decisions may be where is the breakfast served to more complex; my driver does not speak English; how do I get where I want to go? Solo travel forces one’s mind to remain agile.
An entrepreneur needs an agile mind to answer or solve the problems others cannot. She sees the solution from afar, solving the puzzle by rearranging the pieces mentally and piecing together the solution. Solo travel is the training ground or “survivor” course for an entrepreneur’s agile and focused mind.
2. Forces one out of one’s comfortable routine.
A solo traveler is forced to see unexpected circumstances as part of the travel experience, not a problem. If not, the trip will not be enjoyable. Visiting a country for the first time is intended to be unknown, and the unexpected is the “new normal” by design.
Entrepreneurs see immersion in the unknown as a crucible for mental growth. Enjoying the new experience is dependent on one controlling one’s initial flight instincts of an uncomfortable circumstance.
This process creates two (2) opportunities for entrepreneurial growth. First, reframing how your mind sees a situation to feel positive or rewarding instead of negative causing anxiety. A solo traveler intends to have fun and sees the unknown travel situation as part of the travel experience, not a problem or inconvenience. Consciously deciding how your mind will view situations before they arise during the vacation is a skill that translates into approaching new situations in business. During my adventures, frequently, an unplanned event ends up offering the most rewarding memory but only because my mind is prepared to see the unfamiliar situation in terms of opportunity. Entrepreneurs intend to see opportunities or potential growth in new situations. New situations do not reflexively cause an entrepreneur anxiety and during travel is a fun problem-solving opportunity to strengthen the mind. This mental skill is developed over time by seeing what is new or missing, not attempting to recreate a known environment.
Second solo travel forces you to reduce your mind’s psychological need for routine, same or comfortable. Suppose one tries to force the situation to become like home, so she is comfortable. The “ugly American” adage “we don’t do it like this in America” will fail because the environment is not composed of the same factors, i.e., people, language, and customs. This failed attempt will increase frustration and anxiety, wasting valuable time. Alternatively, suppose you remove the instinctual need to feel “normal” and set about to resolve the situation as it presents itself or enjoy the moment for its diversity.
In that case, successful resolution of the problem is faster, and enjoyment of your trip is more likely.
Solo travel develops the mental skill to control one’s need for comfort. Successful entrepreneurs offer a solution to people’s problems or needs unseen before by others. For an entrepreneur to have the mindset to see these solutions, an entrepreneur must prepare to be in a situation outside her daily environment and be comfortable there. Successful entrepreneurs function at a high level in unfamiliar situations.
3. Relying on strangers forces cultural mind shifts.
Solo travel is unscripted travel. Since solo travel by description is a trip taken alone, solo travelers can be selfish about what they choose to do during the holiday, but to achieve the goal or desires of the trip, they must rely on strangers to make the trip function. The front desk clerk or the park guide are people with whom one has a moment’s relationship, yet one is dependent on them to arrange dinner or explain the site’s history. A solo traveler must put aside any natural resistance or prejudice to function in this new world.
The interaction is different from fellow Americans since Parisians, Moroccans, and Jordanians’ backgrounds are from centuries of dissimilar cultural variables. This is one of the main points, or one of the fun reasons, for traveling outside the United States.
Relationship development with strangers of a different culture, with forced time and selection constraints, strengthens your mind to review preconceived notions used to make decisions and evaluate people and situations. This evaluation also must be done almost instantaneously as this person is essential to enjoying your trip. Every trip, if not every day of a solo holiday, I apply “learned” life training assumptions. It is part of being human but being aware one used an assumption and then evaluating why it was used will develop a situational awareness mindset.
In Wadi Rum, Jordan, a Bedouin, explained that his life was the best that he had seen. Sleeping under the stars, riding his horses in the desert, and educating foreigners on the historical life of desert living. Ali had internet, he saw the multimillion-dollar mansions in Miami and the Rolls Royce in Dubai, but his life was better.
As an American, our culture trains us to desire a consumerism comfort in life as the reflection of success or a path to happiness is achieved through stuff to show for it. That mindset is situational. Meeting and liking someone from another part of the world who is truly happy based on his cultural influences regardless of the world’s marketing efforts or internet shifts perspective on how one evaluates her existence, as I did in this case.
Whenever I am wrong about someone when traveling, I take that lesson home. Entrepreneurs must constantly remove preconceived assumptions of how people operate or what they like if they intend to find unseen answers to human needs or questions.
4. Develops communication skills.
English is a common international language, but it isn’t the first language. In countries where English is taught as 2nd language, words tend to be used in their more literal meaning. Also, if the country was a British colony, British English was taught, and American colloquial uses do not translate. So, a solo traveler understands that when someone uses English to communicate with them, they are doing so out of courtesy or the economics of the situation. A solo traveler quickly learns the situation calls for more diverse methods of communication and pays attention to the speaker’s use the words, tone, and delivery, like the facial expression or the body cues. A solo traveler may even need drawings for directions or basic hand gestures.
Every conversation on an unscripted solo travel trip uses at least two (2) or three (3) of your senses. A solo traveler’s mind quickly learns to use these skills repeatedly since interactions happen multiple times a day as you go about your itinerary. Entrepreneurs use this mental skill training when returning to daily life as it becomes instinctual. One will find in your daily life you are more aware of all the cues that go into communication and become a “better listener.” If you cannot listen, you cannot hear the problem, and entrepreneurs thrive when finding solutions to people’s problems.
5. Opens the thought process about home.
When someone is away from daily habits and routines, she gains perspective on her daily life. This “forest” view of life against a backdrop of unfamiliar cultural environments helps for revision. Solo travel is an excellent way to see how you can live more efficiently by revealing a flawed system that can be automated, subcontracted out, or streamlined. One discovers opportunities in your daily life for time-saving hidden by the noise of the daily routine. A solo traveler also learns about the system set up at home since she manages it from afar during the trip. A micromanaged life will collapse if one is not there. A daily system that does not allow the person to be absent or give a delayed response of a few hours due to time zone differences, creates unnecessary time constraints or stress during travel and life.
Since everyone one meets when traveling is a new acquaintance, the same familiar questions are frequently asked: where are you from, do you have family, what do you do, and why did you travel alone? A mental review is done each time the questions are answered about oneself, one’s life, one’s country, or one explains choices. This repeated exercise has a profound effect on you. Either one is bored hearing your same answer; you evaluate giving new answers reflecting more upon your life or hearing your stale answers, you wonder if your life is stale. These questions force a subtle positive change of perspective on yourself and adjusts your life view that, but for situational introspection, would not have occurred.
Travel removes daily mundane chores like laundry and errands. It is easier to see life’s direction and eliminate what is unnecessary. Solo travel requires you to see a day simply.
You only have one or two bags of clothes for days, not a whole closet to choose from; you must adapt to foods outside your regular diet; you live a different schedule based on factors you don’t control; getting what you want may not be available on demand, it must be located so do you need it. Inevitably, these subtle mindset adjustments made over years of solo travel impacts your life when you bring this simplistic life view back home.
A solo traveler receives the gift of a “time gap” since it is challenging to communicate in real-time with friends and family in another time zone. This gap provides mind time to learn about yourself without the influence of trusted people helping in the evaluation process. Seeing yourself with your mind, not through the lens of others. One can hear self-talk very clearly without the distraction of friends, friends, and daily routines.
Hearing your self-talk improves it as unavoidable to determine if it benefits your life. Solo travel helps you become your own best friend.
Renee’s Solo Travel Take-Aways.
Highest level of Solo Travel:
- No tour. A self-planned trip with only a hint of structure.
- Visiting a country where English is not the first language and is used infrequently.
- Traveling once per quarter or four (4) times a year to remain fresh.
- Carry-on bags only if traveling less than two (2) weeks.
Solo traveler suggestions.
- Start easy with solo travel in the USA, then to Europe and beyond when more comfortable.
- Start with a weekend alone if nervous, then work up.
- Have a “survival kit.” Passport, credit card, debit card, and cash. With these essential items, you are free to leave when you want.
- Stay at hotels with services, like concierge and doorman, for extra safety.
- Hire drivers if financially possible.
- Dress appropriately for the culture where one is visiting. Revealing clothes are uncommon outside the US.
- Experiencing nightlife is excellent, but men in other countries have a preconceived notion of US women based on films, so remain alert as one would in NYC alone out at night.
- Modify the selection of sites and timing to visit those sites based on reasonable safety precautions.
- Buy international travel insurance for medical coverage, as most US health plans offer limited international benefits.
- Avoid visa on arrival if possible. Airport lines tend to be long, and after a ten-hour flight, waiting in line is not pleasant. One can get most visas from the country’s embassy or consulate in the USA before leaving on the trip.
- Challenge yourself during the trip to cut off any contact with work, home, and family for a day here and there to get real-time with oneself and the place one is immersed.
- Add the international plan to the phone service.
- Use guidebooks. I prefer Lonely Planet guidebooks as they have been accurate more times than not.
- Print all reservations and tickets. The internet copies are great but don’t assume one will have internet service when needed.
- Pack a copy of your passport and any relevant visas, placing them in a different bag in case of loss or theft. Easier for the US Embassy to help if you have a copy of a lost passport.
Renee Marie Smith is a 25-year Real Estate Attorney and Executive Producer at Trending50, a production company for female entrepreneurial content. Her writing and hosting credits include the author of “My Guru’s” book series listed on Amazon.com, 2012 Host of Fox29 TV’s Short Sale Guru Show, 50 Female Entrepreneurs in the 50, and contributor to HuffPost, Money Inc., and Forbes.