Solo Travel Allowed Me to Finally Put What I Wanted to Do First

Estimated read time 4 min read

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Angela, an academic and content creator in her early 40s who travels solo in Europe. Angela requested that her last name not be shared for privacy. This essay has been edited for length and clarity.

In 2020, I had a major setback. I was engaged and supposed to get married but realized that my fiancé wasn’t the right person for me. I was living my life for other people’s expectations and in fear of judgment. It was one of the most challenging years of my life.

I was born in Beijing and was raised by a traditional Chinese family that told me succeeding academically was the only way to find success in life. I spent most of my time studying and never got to travel or enjoy hobbies.

In the early 2000s, I moved to the US on my own to pursue my education as an international student. I lived in Florida, Texas, and Southern California before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017. While I initially faced language and culture barriers, I adapted quickly to life in the US. I’m someone you call a “third culture individual” — I identify with both my American and Chinese cultures. I feel at home in the Bay Area, a place that celebrates diversity and inclusion.

Since moving to the US, I’ve earned a Ph.D. in information science and now work at a university as an academic. After living in the US for the past 20 years, I’m also a naturalized US citizen.

I traveled solo after breaking off my engagement

Apart from visiting family in China — my last trip to Beijing was in 2018 — I hadn’t traveled solo until last year. I had always lived my life according to my parents’ expectations. Like most Chinese parents, they expected me to succeed academically, get married, and have kids by a certain age. I never felt I was doing enough.

woman with bicycle in denmark

Angela cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Courtesy of Angela/@realphdfoodie

After breaking off the engagement, I worked on healing myself. Last year, I decided to try something I’d never done before, which was to travel solo internationally. For the first time, I felt like I was prioritizing myself and putting what I wanted to do first. I began documenting my solo travel on TikTok and Instagram.

I found it easy to connect with people abroad

I started my journey with a solo trip to Denmark and Sweden in November. A month later, I embarked on a monthlong solo trip traveling to eight cities in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Vatican City. And in February, I traveled to Iceland to celebrate my birthday on my own.

In addition to my regular time off, I have over 30 days of vacation a year I can accumulate. Because I work at a university, I also follow the academic calendar. For the monthlong trip to Europe, I took 3 weeks off and had a week of holiday leave for the Christmas break.

In total, I spent around $8,000 on that trip. All of my years of hard work have provided me with enough savings to fund my trips.

One of the things that I loved most about traveling solo was being able to meet and socialize with people from all walks of life. I’m an outgoing and social person, and it helped that I stayed in hostels so I could meet other travelers. But I realized that it was easy to meet people anywhere just by starting a conversation and saying hi.

a woman eating a salad in iceland

Angela dining out in Iceland.

Courtesy of Angela/@realphdfoodie

In Rome, at the Colosseum, I met another solo traveler. After taking photos of each other, we ended up chatting and spending the rest of the day exploring the city and having dinner together. I met several different people in the same way.

Solo travel helped push me out of my comfort zone

Solo traveling is such an empowering experience. I have the complete freedom to decide what I want to do and where I want to go. I enjoy solitude when I want and socialize when I want.

It is the serendipity that makes solo traveling beautiful. I did a lot of self-discovery and self-growth. I learned that you don’t have to live life a certain way. The world is big, there are many ways to live a fulfilling life. It’s helped me gain clarity and put things into perspective.