How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel

Author’s Note: This piece, “How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel,” has since been published in the Huffington Post.  I didn’t realize until I started writing it, that my first solo trip to Thailand was where & how I first fell in love with solo travel.  Some things don’t dawn on you until you have the chance to reflect.  And that’s what this piece attempts to do.  I hope you enjoy!

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel

“I didn’t always know what I wanted to do.  But I knew the kind of woman I wanted to become.”

– Diane Von Furstenberg

Back in my 20’s, I went to Thailand with two of my best friends from high school.  Only, I flew in a week before them ~ & thus, had that first week all to myself (which I neglected to tell my parents at the time…completely on purpose).  It was the first time I’d ever traveled internationally on my own. 

Though solo female travel may be more common now, when I took this particular trip (over fifteen years ago), the idea of a woman traveling alone seemed a bit radical. 

You’re going by YOURSELF???!!”  This is a phrase you’ll hear ALL the time if you’re a solo female traveler.  You get pretty used to it, but the implication is that you must be halfway insane to even attempt traveling on your own. 

And yet, as I looked back on that trip many years later, I realized, with some surprise: that the week I spent traveling alone in Thailand was one of the best weeks of my life.

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Falling in love with Thailand…& with solo travel.

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel

Even now, as I think back on that trip, which took place so long ago ~ the week I spent alone is something that I can recall vividly, in full-color.  The time spent with my friends, while being fun & a great bonding experience, is not something I can recall as easily; it’s more of a cohesive blur.  I think, when we’re with friends & family, we tend to sink into a more comfortable rhythm (even in foreign countries).  And comfort, for some reason, does not lend itself to heightened memory. 

I’m not saying we don’t create great memories with friends ~ obviously we do.  But in trying to recall them years later, it seems that moments that are exceptionally different are the ones we recall with most clarity.  And comfort & safety don’t typically mesh with “exceptionally different.”

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

I remember, in full, richly-detailed color, the week I spent alone in Thailand.

When traveling with friends, we feel safer; we are more insulated from strangers.  Traveling alone, however, feels less safe, & the truth is: it’s ALL up to us.  There’s no one to watch our belongings if we fall asleep on the train ~ that’s our job.  Thus, all our faculties must be employed: we are more watchful, we observe more.  Our subconscious is busy noticing & filing away all kinds of details that may help us later on.  And in situations that are more adventurous or tense, our adrenal gland is busy pumping out adrenaline to keep us alert & aware of our surroundings, allowing us to respond quickly to whatever situation may arise.

It turns out: this is quite an exhilarating feeling.  It makes one feel alive, & truly awake to life. 

Highlights of My Week Alone

During that week I spent alone in Thailand, these are but a handful of adventures I managed to wrangle my way into:

  • Riding elephants with strangers (who became friends), in the jungles of northern Thailand;
  • Scaling the walls of the Four Seasons Resort Chang Mai, after purposely ditching my tourist group at a butterfly farm, escaping the notice of the armed guards patrolling the resort;
  • Climbing on top of a train in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette with a boy, as we journeyed from Bangkok to Chang Mai;
  • Getting amazing Thai massages for just $5, nearly every day of the week;
  • Going on a date with a guy I met on the train & ending up in a brothel ~ not a massage parlor;
  • Being escorted around Ayutthaya in a tuk-tuk, marveling at the former capital’s glorious temples until dusk, getting my photo taken with Thai schoolchildren simply because I was an “exotic blonde foreign character.”  

I can remember all these moments with great clarity, even today. 

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel

A moment I will always remember, from that time in Thailand ~ is a moment that perhaps I’m always trying to get back to.  When life at home feels particularly tame, sometimes my mind returns to this moment: I was in the train, returning from Chang Mai to Bangkok to meet up with my friends.  The bathroom on the train had a small window that opened up, & looked out upon the countryside.  As the sun set, I could see golden temples in the distance, rising up out of a lush, green landscape that seemed so foreign ~ & yet so beautiful. 

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel, Girl Who Travels the World, Wiang Kum Kam, Thailand

The amazing beauty of Thailand’s exquisite

How I felt at that moment, matched the beauty of that scene: it was probably the most exhilarated & most alive I had ever felt, up to that point in my life.  I hung out the window as much as I could, & I remember that moment so well that I can tell you exactly what I was wearing: a white halter top, a white bohemian skirt I’d bought at a night bazaar in Chiang Mai, & a turquoise belt studded with seashells.  I felt entirely free in that moment.  That moment capped off the end of my week alone, & perhaps it was the first time in my life that I felt like a true adventuress ~ like the heroine of my own novel, living the life I always knew I was meant to live. 

How I Fell in Love with Solo Travel

I always said, I wanted to return to Thailand.  And yet, I think what I actually wanted, was not necessarily to return to Thailand: what I really wanted, was to return to that feeling I had on the train.  The feeling of awe & wonder, & the victorious sense I felt of having successfully navigated in a land so foreign to my own.  What I really wanted, was to return to that feeling of immaculate confidence in myself, that in itself was a discovery, as much as anything I discovered in Thailand. 

And luckily, I’ve been able to do that, in many countries all over the world.  With each new country, I build upon that initial confidence, as though I were building a worldly fortress, all my own.  Each new place teaches me something I need to know, & thus provides valuable new building blocks, as I fortify the estate that is my mind.

Without Thailand, I don’t know that I would have discovered this love of solo travel.  It’s where I fell in love with being really & truly on my own: a feeling that, once found, can never be lost.

xoxo Noelia

“The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself.  Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.” 

– Diane von Furstenberg

On Thailand

On Solo Travel

Eat, Pray, Love