Solivagant: Wandering Alone (and how to start doing it)
A mindset for solo adventuring
As I write this piece, I find that I’m both sharing a success story and also coaching myself to prepare for the future. As I look to the year ahead, I’m excited for all the possibilities that lie before me… for the first time since the pandemic began, I finally feel like I can actually allow myself to plan for things I’ve been too scared to get my hopes up for. Music festivals are back on schedule, travel is becoming a little easier, and with crossed fingers and just about every good luck-ritual I can muster up, I’m marking off dates on the calendar. That said, not all is as it was before.
As it likes to do, life took a few unexpected turns over the course of the past year and a half, and with changes happening all around me, I still find myself thinking about my plans a little differently. My wish list of trips and events for the year is rapidly growing, but at the same time, people in my life are being pulled in different directions and I may be left to my own devices to make some of these plans happen.
I can’t help but feel a little sad and intimidated. Looking forward to sharing new experiences with people I love drives me, and it’s often what I anticipate the most when planning trips and events. Going on adventures with a “crew” also guarantees I’ll be surrounded by people I feel safe and comfortable with, and not to mention, planning and logistics are much easier to figure out when it’s a team effort. This is especially true of music festivals, which is one type of event I may experience solo for the first time this year. I’ve travelled with a large group to every major music festival I’ve attended to date, and while I know many festie-lovers out there regularly go solo, the thought of missing out on the group experience feels bittersweet.
At the same time, A part of me wants to push forward. The pandemic showed us that we can't always afford to wait for “perfect” conditions to take action, and after nearly two years of putting off plans, I’d really rather not lose out on any more opportunities to do the things I love. Maybe the universe is trying to once again push me out of my comfort zone, or perhaps you could call it stubbornness; either way, instead of backing down, I’m trying to accept the situation as is and look at it as an opportunity to try something new.
I find myself reflecting on my past because, although the circumstances look different, I realize I’ve been in this position before. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life so far, it’s that you can’t always depend on others to make your plans work out. Venturing out solo does take some adjusting to and often a little extra prep work, no matter what kind of trip you’re planning. Even so, I firmly believe it’s a worthwhile choice. Some of the things I most resisted doing on my own became incredibly rewarding learning experiences in my life, and I feel compelled to reflect on these stories to rekindle some inspiration.
For those of you reading, I hope my story can serve as a nudge of encouragement if you find yourself debating stepping out on your own when it feels uncomfortable. While I do tie my discussion back to the music festival scene in this article, the ideas I’m sharing apply to many kinds of solo adventures and life transitions. In some way or another, I too have been there, and I hope you’ll come away feeling far from alone!
Why Go Solo?
As much as I debated jumping straight into writing a how-to guide on tips and ideas for planning a solo adventure, I feel it would be a disservice to skip over the story of how I gained the confidence to choose solo adventuring in the first place. Yes, I do intend to address the practical how-to side of the story, but it’ll be a topic for another post. Today, I want to explore the “why”.
As someone who moved across the US four times in eight years, I’ve become somewhat of a veteran of “going it alone”. It started as a necessity: After graduating college, I found myself living in a brand new city hundreds of miles away from my family and far from the structure and built-in community of school. At 22, I felt directionless, friend-less and incredibly out of my comfort zone. I chose to barricade myself in my apartment for months, paralyzed by fear of stepping out on my own. Yes, I could choose to venture out and hope for the best, but at the time, the prospect felt awful. It wasn't until I realized I was not doing my mental health any favors that I finally started to do some exploring. It felt awkward at first. Very awkward. Even so, with time, what began as an act of desperation became a source of joy.
Stepping out of my comfort zone pushed me to shed insecurities that held me back, and before long, I began reaping rewards. I would not feel comfortable planning any kind of solo trip, not to mention writing about it, were it not for the lessons I learned from this part of my life journey. I can’t emphasize enough how important having the right mindset is before jumping into an adventure because it will color the entirety of the experience …trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.
Yes, mindset IS everything
Jumping into new experiences on my own changed my perspective. It showed me I possessed unrecognized inner strength as I discovered new capabilities. This mindset shift still inspires me to move forward when taking a new step by myself, and it’s what showed me it’s possible to view these situations as new potential— but I didn’t get there overnight
I used to be the girl who always wanted to do things, but never came around to it. Whether it be going to a concert, a hike, or even visiting a street market, the same story played out over and over. I would daydream about what I would wear, what the view would be like, how I would feel when I reached the top of the trail, danced among the crowds, or found something cool in a quirky gift shop tucked away in a string light-clad corner of the street market. Nine times out of ten, those daydreams never materialized because for some reason or another, I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I remember feeling embarrassed imagining what people might think when they saw me alone : “Does that girl have no friends? She must be weird, loners are weird”... perhaps I surrendered to the shrieks of my late-teen-early-20-something ego which desperately sought approval from others, and maybe my friends who did think this way were rubbing off on me. In any case, this mindset did nothing for me but keep me stuck.
It took me years to realize these ideas amounted to nothing more than projections of my own insecurities. With the beauty of hindsight, I can speak with confidence when telling you no one else is really paying that much attention, nor does anyone really care—if you do encounter someone who passes judgement on you for doing things alone, chances are, they’re projecting their own insecurities on you— and it’s not your job to fix that.
It’s a natural instinct as humans to want to feel accepted and fit in, but oftentimes, our fears around this get a little carried away. That’s why the first step to breaking free from this insecurity is reframing your thoughts. You may indeed feel a little awkward the first time you go out on your own, in fact, you may feel awkward on your 30th time. I still do sometimes. The trick is to recognize that self judgement for what it is: An illusion. It will take time to overcome that little judgmental voice when it does perk up—and it will. The ego doesn’t back down easily, and this will take practice; however, it does become easier. When my inner critic speaks up, I’ve learned to kindly (or rudely depending on the flavor of the day) tell it that it’s “opinions” aren't needed because I am allowed to show up for myself—and you are allowed to show up for yourself. Once this belief takes root, that voice will lose its strength.
Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to feel nervous, that comes with the territory of doing something new. If planning an entire trip on your own feels like a little too much for your first time, it’s perfectly reasonable to break it down into smaller bites. In fact, I believe this approach is the best way to begin if you’re new to going solo. I’m sure some of you “full-senders” out there would feel more than comfortable taking the whole leap. If this is you, I’ll be here clapping and cheering you on, but for everyone else out there (including myself) stepping out of your comfort zone a little bit at a time is perfectly reasonable— in fact, doing so is what yields sustainable growth.
Here’s a personally inspired music festival-related example for you: You want to attend a festival none of your friends can make it to. You’re open to the idea of going alone, but you’re not fully comfortable with it yet. If you haven’t done so already, the first step I would take would be to try going solo to some local or single-night shows on your own before planning an entire festival. This would give you an idea of what the experience would look like and what parts of the experience feel comfortable and which may not.
Through this, you can gain an idea of where your boundaries lie and where there is room to expand to begin with. This would also be an opportunity to practice taming that self-doubt voice when it pops up. I think taking small steps like the ones I made up for this example are important because these actions ultimately help your mind establish a sense of inner safety, which frees it to redirect energy from trying to “protect” you to being present in the moment. Through this shift, you can start to experience more excitement, joy and confidence while on your own. This will ultimately make it easier to move on to the next step.
Whether you choose to take baby steps or big leaps, pushing past the initial discomfort of doing your activity solo will generate growth. I alluded to the fact that doing some of my favorite hobbies on my own allowed me to break free from several insecurities, and I can’t emphasize that enough. After taking that step, I also gained new perspectives on all relationships in my life: to myself, to my friendships, and to society. This vantage point ultimately allowed me to emerge with a stronger sense of self-confidence that enabled me to make better choices.
Of course, I didn't imagine that would all happen when I started. I began doing simple solo-friendly activities on my own during my summers when I came home from college as a means of keeping myself entertained. I’d pack my day bag and an extra pair of shoes and spend the afternoon hiking or exploring town, or maybe checking out a local band at my favorite hometown brewery— nothing revolutionary. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to expand to more complex activities: Attending concerts, traveling out of town, learning to blues dance, camping, skiing. With no socialization to fill the time, I found that I gained some space to truly connect with these activities and reflect on why I valued them. Did I actually like what I was doing? Or was this activity just something I did with friends to feel included? Auditing my hobbies in this way allowed me to gain a better understanding of myself and what actually brings me joy instead of what I thought should do so.
Next, I gained an even deeper insight. I realized that by only giving myself permission to enjoy and explore my interests if I had others to “escort” me, I was giving away my power. In my journey of self-discovery and reflection, I began to see that I relied on others’ opinions to validate my choices in almost all matters of life. What’s more, I saw that other women in my life also often struggled with this since women are particularly socialized to seek outside validation. The realization opened my eyes to just how much this self-limiting mindset held me back, and I wanted change.
Whether you identify as a woman or not, I believe most of us struggle with this hang-up in some way or another. Being social creatures, we all crave companionship, and being able to look to our peers for guidance and support is an important part of a healthy life. That said, relying too much on others’ approval to feel comfortable with exploring our interests can seriously hold us back. Validation-seeking comes with the territory of being human, but again, if we let it go too far, it becomes a habit that manipulates us into diminishing our self- value and we neglect the agency we hold in our own lives. The way I see it, my early days of “going it alone” proved an exercise in building self-trust. It showed me it’s possible to break free from the cycle of social dependence. Plus, as a woman, exploring new activities on my own not only granted me an opportunity to get more out of life, it also became an opportunity to chip away at archaic social norms that restrict us. It felt empowering.
With empowerment comes freedom, and just as going solo freed me to break away from restrictive mindsets, it also freed me to choose better friendships. It may sound ironic, but my social life also started improving through the insights I gained from going on solo adventures.
Many of us often rely on circumstance to find friendships, and this becomes more difficult as we enter adulthood. I already depended on this passive approach throughout my teens and early twenties, latching casually onto classmates and coworkers as they wandered into my life. While I found some value in these “chance encounter” friendships, I felt they often lacked a sense of deep connection. Work friends and classmates made fine companions, but beyond a superficial level, I struggled to feel a deeper connection.
I hadn’t learned how to identify what I actually valued in friendships, so I surrounded myself with friends of convenience. This served little more purpose than avoiding loneliness, and I realized I shared little common ground with the people I supposedly held closest to me. I set aside my own desires and interests and co-opted those of others hoping this would create more room for me in their lives, but this ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied. Whole parts of myself remained unseen year after year, and I found myself coasting along with neglected needs.
It wasn’t until I had to dig into myself to figure out what those needs are that I began to understand what I wanted from my friendships. For this to happen, I needed space. I had to break from friendships of convenience. I needed a fresh start in which I would be forced to take agency in how I sought out connections and rethink how I forged friendships.
This finally happened when I found myself in that apartment in a new city with no familiar comfort zone to fall back on. I had to rethink my entire approach to my social life. It was an incredibly frustrating process because for the first time in my life, I realized I couldn’t rely on fate to provide me a community. Even so, as painful as this change felt in the beginning, the challenge became a blessing in disguise because it gave me an opportunity to create my own conditions rather than settle on those presented to me. No longer clinging to friends who didn’t share my interests, I had room to acknowledge my own needs. I no longer had to contort myself to fit into other people’s lives; instead, I was free to seek out people who would fit into mine. I signed up for meetups and researched events that attracted the communities I felt drawn to, and before long, I finally began to make the connections I craved.
The first friends to ever introduce me to music festivals came into my life this way. Hoping to gain an after-work hobby, I joined a weekly board game meetup when I first moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in the Fall of 2017. I met all kinds of people through this group: students, corporate workers, artists, travelers, business owners, gamers, hipsters, you name it. With such an eclectic group, my quest to find new friends yielded hit and miss results to begin. Even so, the beauty of this social mixing bowl was that although our backgrounds looked different, many of us came here because we all sought the same thing: New connections. After a few months, I learned to gravitate towards the people with whom I felt I could be my whole self. I let authenticity guide me and I paid attention to what felt right. Lo and behold, this led me to discover people who shared more and more of those interests I pushed aside in my past.
Eventually, loose connections grew closer, and my new adventure crew was born. As we spent more time together, I discovered that several people in the group were active in the music festival scene, and it just so happened that the group was in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Bonnaroo in the summer of 2018. I couldn’t believe it, I finally found my lucky break! I yearned for years to explore the festival scene, but in addition to financial limitations, I kept pushing this desire aside because it did not align with what my social groups wanted. My past self began to believe that I’d never find an opportunity to discover friendships that included this passion. That all changed as a result of taking a leap into the unknown. Had my life circumstances not forced me into taking that leap, who knows if or when that opportunity would have presented itself!
As my life took me in different directions in the years since, I’ve found myself repeating this story in new chapters. Another new city, more new jobs, more new people, more hobbies to explore, and more parts of the journey I’ve stepped into solo. I can’t tell you that it ever becomes easy per se —but it does become easier. The ultimate reward of learning to take new directions on my own accord is that I know I’ve gained an asset for all aspects of life: Trust. I know I can trust myself to find community where I once was a stranger. I can trust myself to stay true to my needs and that doing so will attract relationships that respect my authenticity. I trust others to see potential in me, and I trust myself to see potential in the unknown.
I once resented the moments when I found myself walking a new path alone—both literally and figuratively. Sometimes, it’s easy to step back into that mindset, and I’ll be the first to admit It takes effort to maintain a positive outlook. My objective is not to suggest that one should banish those feelings, they’re a part of being human. My objective— to myself and to you— is that you never know what you might gain from taking that step. The mindset of a solo adventurer is one of possibility. When you find yourself debating whether to sign up for that trip, buy a ticket for that festival, or even move to a new city on your own, I hope the story I shared today can provide you some reassurance and inspiration as it has for me!
If you enjoyed this piece and you want to read more about planning for solo trips, music festivals, and follow my journey, check out my page and follow me on IG! Of course, tips are always appreciated too. With love and light, thank you!