Dylan Manderlink

Although traveling has changed drastically since his time, Thomas Jefferson was spot-on when he said, ‘One travels more usefully when alone, because [they] reflect more.’  Reflection is one of the main reasons I make an effort to travel solo and explore new places on my own.

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Since moving to Utah—a state with five national parks and thus endless exploration possibilities—I have traveled on my own a significant amount.  Traveling solo around the state of Utah has allowed me get more acquainted with my new home, has helped me become more confident in my ability to navigate unfamiliar land, and has given me a greater appreciation for what a privilege it is to be able to see and experience new places, cultures, people, and authentic food.

If you're itching to start traveling on your own, or if you already have and wish you'd done it differently, hopefully my suggestions on how to make the most of your solo traveling experience will help you out!

Limit your phone / technology use for taking photos only.

Don’t get me wrong, my #1 favorite app is Instagram, and one of the main reasons I use it regularly is because I don’t have time to scrapbook or print out my photographs to put in an album.  For me, Instagram is just that—a way to keep my memories in photograph form and share those experiences with others.  If you’re using your phone while traveling alone for picture-taking purposes, I definitely recommend and support that.  In fact, sharing your photographs on apps like Instagram can also be a way for you to connect with other travelers or find inspiration for your next trip!

Aside from using your phone to preserve and share your traveling experiences and memories, though, I would recommend limiting your use of technology to emergency cases, or as a way to keep in touch with friends or family when necessary.  Technology use when you’re traveling can be a distraction to your experience.  Part of the excitement and purpose of traveling is to live in the present moment, appreciate your surroundings, discover something new, and soak in an experience you may not be able to repeat.  Try to limit your texting, social media, and email responding.  Believe me, the more time you spend away from your phone and computer screen and stay present in your adventure, the more you will be able to appreciate and enjoy it.

Keep a journal and write in it as much as you can, even if it’s just a few words a day. 

In 2010, I had my first solo travel experience when I volunteered for a non-profit program in Ghana, Africa.  I was a senior in high school and extremely nervous about traveling abroad on my own.  Luckily, I kept a journal, and not only did it help calm my nerves about my first solo traveling experience, but it also has helped me keep memories that I may have forgotten years later if it weren't for my honest, excited, and unfiltered thoughts. 

I recently stumbled across my journal, and there are thoughts and memories I wrote down that a photo would not be able to convey.  Each journal page holds so much meaning and authentic emotion, and re-reading my entries years later made me thankful that I kept a journal in the first place.  Some of my entries are just a few words on how I was feeling that day or reactions to sites I saw, while others are more elaborate and include conversations I had with local Ghanaians.  One entry is a list of things I was grateful for from my experience in Ghana.

In addition to taking photos to preserve the visual memory of a trip, I highly recommend keeping a journal to preserve your authentic thoughts and insights.  Don’t feel pressured to write in it every day or every moment.  Maybe there’s a hike you did and you just want to write down how long or challenging  it was, or about the unique land formation you passed.  Maybe you want to write down the name of a local that you met and what the conversation was like.  Maybe you want to record a lesson you have learned while traveling alone.  Whatever the entry, don’t try to write to impress anyone.  Write for yourself.  You’re not sharing it with the world; it’s just for yourself, so keep it authentic and special.

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Don’t journal to impress anyone.  Write for yourself.  Keep it authentic and special.

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Meet new people, befriend locals, and learn as much as you can.

One of the best ways to learn about the place you are visiting is to immerse yourself in its local culture as much as possible—even if you’re just traveling to a new state in your own country!  I’ve visited 34 out of our 50 states, and I've found that each state has its own unique culture.  One of the first things I did when spending time in a new state was to initiate conversations with locals, ask for recommendations for places to visit within their state, and inquire about what they like most about where they live.  You can learn so much about a new place through the eyes of its residents.  It also helps you feel less like a tourist when you get to know members of the community and ask for help and recommendations.  Instead of using Google or Yelp, try asking someone who lives in the place you are visiting and have them help design your trip. 

While you’re traveling, learn as much as you can. If you're traveling abroad, be culturally respectful in your approach to learning, especially when asking questions about the culture(s) in the place you are visiting!  When I was in Ghana, after establishing close relationships with a few community members, I was able to engage in meaningful conversations where I learned about local Ghanaian culture.  Visiting local historic sites, museums, markets, and community events are also meaningful and personal ways to connect with and learn about the surrounding culture.  Learning about the culture, people, and community around you while traveling alone will deepen your connection to the place you are traveling and enhance your national or global perspective and worldview.  

Of course having an adventure buddy—a friend, family member, or significant other—can enhance your traveling experience, but there is something special about traveling on your own.  It’s a particularly reflective, personal, deep, and enriched experience that only you remember.  When I traveled to Alaska on my own after my freshman year of college, there was something euphoric and exciting about seeing a mountain through my eyes on my own and not needing to talk about it with a person next to me.  There was something unique about riding my bike down a deserted dirt road with a mountain range in front of me and knowing I was doing it all on my own.  And there was something reflective and emotionally rewarding about writing my thoughts down in a journal, processing my experiences on my own time, observing my self-growth and increased confidence, and seeing a new place with fresh eyes.

 

Comments (1)

  1. Meagan Hooper

Ready to travel alone, Dylan. Thank you for sharing!

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