It was the summer of 2016 when it began to feel real. I was entering my senior year of college and still had no idea what I wanted to do by the time graduation would roll around. My friends were applying to grad school, law school, and med school and I felt lost. I loved studying psychology but was unsure if I immediately wanted to hop back into more schooling.
All the while signs kept coming up about Costa Rica. It started showing up everywhere; classes, conversations, commercials, articles, books…you name it. Out of the blue I decided to read Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen. She talked about her story and where she lived; Dominical, Costa Rica. It’s hard to find the words but I felt like that was exactly where I need to go. Conveniently I have an aunt and uncle who live and teach English in Costa Rica. After I emailed them I discovered that they lived literally FIVE MINUTES from Dominical! I took this as another sign from the universe, booked my ticket, and never looked back. Two days after graduating college I was alone in the Portland airport and ready to embark on my first solo trip.
Traveling alone may seem scary at first but these tips should help you feel comfortable and confident for your adventure ahead.
-Do your research: Before you travel to a new place all alone I recommend doing your research. Figure out what other travelers have to say about the safety of where you are headed. Doing this made me safe and confident being on my own and what I should look out for. Also, try to learn a bit of the language of the country. Thankfully I’ve taken enough Spanish classes in my life that I was easily able to communicate with others and ask for directions when needed.
-Workaway: During the first half of my trip I did “workaway”. What is workaway you might ask? It is a website that offers thousands of work exchange programs all over the world. There are countless different types of options that allow you to work on a farm, in a hostel, at a yoga studio (seriously the list is endless) in exchange for free or discounted room and board.
I ended up working at a hotel in the jungle for my workaway stay. When I say ‘hotel’ I mean a couple of shacks in the jungle. I would work for a few hours five days a week in exchange for free housing and any fruit that was growing on the land. Not only was this a super easy way to save money while traveling, but it was also a great way to meet other fellow travelers. I ended up meeting my long-lost soul sister at this place and we spent the next few weeks swimming in the ocean, exploring markets, and a month later met back up to go to an Ed Sheeran concert in the middle of a thunder storm. If it wasn’t for workaway I would have never met her or gotten to explore all that Costa Rica has to offer.
-Hostels: Whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, hostels are another great way to meet others and save money. Later in my stay I spent a few nights at hostels and couldn’t recommend them more. Many were full of other groups of 20 somethings that were always down for an adventure. It’s important to not be shy; if you want to meet new people just start a conversation. The hostels I stayed at also always had nighttime activities going on which were an easy and organic way to meet fellow travelers, share experiences, and maybe have a drink or two.
-Act confident: Growing up my parents taught me to always act confident…even if you didn’t always feel like it. There were many a times when traveling solo that I was a little lost and confused. Rather than showing this on my face I simply acted confident in myself and my ability to figure out the situation. The world can seem like a daunting place, but I’ve realized that we are so much more intelligent than we think we are. Things will never go as planned on a trip so it’s important to believe in yourself and go with the flow. Some of my favorite memories come from adapting to life when my plan completely falls apart.
-Take a risk: If you’ve made the jump to traveling solo, chances are you have an adventurous spirit. Harness that energy and try new things. Meet new people, take a surf lesson, hold a monkey, swim in a waterfall, or go ziplining…just a few of the opportunities that presented themselves while I was traveling. Remember that the biggest step was deciding to take a solo trip; after that everything else seems easy.
One aspect of solo travel that I loved was the fact that you can literally do WHATEVER YOU WANT! If you want to read all day, do it. If you want to spend the day hiking a mountain, do it. There is something truly freeing when you realize you don’t need anyone’s permission except your own. At times traveling by yourself can get a bit lonely and I don’t think it is for everyone. There is absolutely nothing wrong about traveling with friends and family and I understand that solo travel doesn’t appeal to everyone. Traveling has taught me a great deal about myself and what I want in this life. It is humbling to travel and realize how similar we all are. Despite cultural and spiritual differences, we are all just trying to live a happy and fulfilling life. I have never regret taking a trip even if others told me it wasn’t a logical thing to do. I’ve learned that traveling alone is not as scary as you might think.
If you are still a bit nervous to take the plunge I suggest going somewhere that is familiar. I chose to go to a country where I knew some of the language and I had relatives I could contact in case of an emergency. Having this knowledge made my trip less stressful and therefore more enjoyable.
So, my advice? If you have the time and freedom to travel, DO IT.
WWOOF (similar to workaway but solely working on organic farms):