The Unplanned Adventure: Solo in Mexico and How Taking the Leap Changed My Life

I found solo travel in 2018 when I had a group trip planned, and one by one everyone except me bailed. I decided I had put too much into the trip to quit, so I took the leap and went solo.

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Unexpected Solo Travel Circumstances

A solo trip to Mexico was not on my radar, solo travel in general was not on my radar.

Previously, my solo travel experiences were limited to navigating airports and getting to my destinations. Every time I had been somewhere before it was to visit someone, visit family, etc. Never just to go to a place by myself.

I never would have thought I would be a person that solo traveled.

And while I still appreciate traveling with companions, I discovered how empowering and fun solo travel can be (full disclosure: I’m pretty sure I still prefer going with people, maybe).

Embracing the Unknown

The original plan was simple: spend one week in Tulum, Mexico, staying at an Airbnb.

But when these travel plans fell through, I immediately thought, ‘How can I make this work?’ There was no way I was canceling my non-refundable flight.

I also overpaid for the flight to match my friends’ dates, something I usually avoid at all costs. One advantage of solo travel is the flexibility to choose travel dates based on the best flight deals, rather than coordinating with others.

This trip turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, and inspired me to embrace solo travel.

So, I booked two hostels for the week in Tulum and just went for it…

I stayed at Lum and Mama’s Home during my time in Tulum, and they were both wonderful.

Turning Anxiety into Excitement

Although I was comfortable with traveling abroad, having previously spent many months total in other countries, the prospect of socializing alone as a generally quiet person worried me.

Eating out alone also sounded no fun (I still think it’s not the best).

When faced with the sudden change of plans, I had to quickly adapt and prepare. The best thing I did to prepare for the trip was joining Facebook groups dedicated to solo travel and reading blogs that provided insights and reassurance.

Hearing the experiences of other solo travelers helped alleviate my hesitations.

Booking hostels, known for their social atmosphere, also played a crucial role in my preparations. Not only do they offer affordable accommodations, but they also facilitate interactions with fellow travelers, creating opportunities for shared experiences and new friendships.

At this point, I was still nervous but excited for this new adventure. So, I boarded the plane to Cancun and then caught a bus to spend my week in Tulum…

Making Connections While Solo Traveling

Despite my initial apprehensions, meeting new people turned out to be easier than expected, even as someone who’s usually quieter. I quickly realized that everyone was in the same boat! And I was surprised to discover just how many other people were also solo traveling.

It was super eye opening meeting other solo travelers and solo female travelers. People were out here living life to the fullest, and following dreams. Seeing it in action just made it that much more realistic to me.

People are traveling for so many reasons and have so many different stories to share. It’s fun meeting people from around the world and learning how and why they are traveling.

I have great memories of meeting travelers at Mama’s Home Hostel who were traveling long term. People who were backpacking through Central America for months on end. That really inspired me.

The hostels had many organized events and outings which made it easy to meet people. I also met new friends in my dorm rooms. Casual invitations like “Hey, want to grab lunch?” or “Hey, want to go to this cenote with me?” were common and led to shared meals, visits to cenotes, trips to the ruins, and relaxing beach walks. I even met some locals who helped us explore some exclusive spots.

Many of the things I did I was never really alone!

Tips on making connections: Staying in hostels is key—they naturally foster interaction and build confidence as you see others embarking on similar solo adventures. Participate in the social activities offered by the hostel. Remember, many people are in the same situation as you. Don’t hesitate to ask others if they want to join you for a meal or if your plans for the day align. Engaging with fellow travelers can lead to wonderful shared experiences.

Solo Travel Moments of Doubt

It wasn’t all easy! ‘Is this for me?’ ‘Would I actually want to do this again?’ All questions that I had pop into my head during the trip. I think it’s normal to have these thoughts, especially when it’s your first time doing something.

I had two moments in particular where I remember feeling meh.

On my first evening in Tulum, I ventured out to grab dinner by myself. Having just arrived and not yet met anyone, dining alone felt rather lackluster. I experienced a sense of awkwardness, unsure of how to pass the time while waiting for my food.

The second instance occurred midway through my trip when I moved to my second hostel. I just felt lonely. It was the middle of the day, and I remember lying in a hammock waiting for my bed to be ready. The hostel was quiet, as many people were out on activities. I felt guilty for seemingly wasting time sitting around the hostel, while I could have been out exploring, but I just didn’t feel like doing anything alone. I think that’s okay. Even if you’re in a really cool place, it doesn’t mean you need to be active all the time.

Embracing the Freedom of Solo Travel

This trip taught me so much about solo travel, and just travel in general. In the end I had a fantastic week with so many great memories!

Solo travel allows you to fully embrace your independence and make your own decisions about where to go and what to do. This is probably the best part about solo travel is that it’s all up to YOU. You don’t need to work around other people’s schedules and preferences. And once you’re at your destination, the type of people you meet at hostels often have similar interests, wanting to do, see, and experience the same things as you.

The idea that is particularly empowering is the realization that I can travel anywhere in the world on my own—I don’t have to wait for anyone else.

Practical Solo Travel Tips and Advice

Get Connected: Follow Solo Travelers

Here are some pages and people that I’ve been following for ages.

Accommodation: Opt for Hostels

  • Choose hostels with high ratings and positive reviews on platforms like HostelWorld.
  • I tend to go for hostels that aren’t full on party hostels, but that are still social. I like my sleep, but it is also nice to meet people. You can usually tell by the photos and descriptions if somewhere is a “party hostel”.
  • Read reviews and look at photos to gauge the hostel’s atmosphere and amenities. Go for hostels with organized activities.
  • Participate in the organized hostel events, dinners, breakfasts, and walking tours to meet fellow travelers and enhance your experience.

Navigating Airports and Connectivity

  • For first-time solo travelers or those needing a refresher, familiarize yourself with airport procedures and layouts. There are many YouTube videos about how to navigate airports.
  • Use an Airalo ESIM to ensure connectivity upon landing in a new country. While local SIM cards may be cheaper, it can be overwhelming if you’re in a new country and disconnected.

My Destination Recommendations for First-Time Solo Travelers

If you’re considering your first solo adventure, choosing the right destination can make all the difference. The best choice often depends on where you’re from, but here are some handpicked recommendations to kickstart your solo travel journey.

Lisbon, Portugal 

You can’t go wrong with Lisbon as a first-time solo travel destination. There are loads of travelers and it has some amazing hostels. Check out my hostel recommendations for Lisbon here.

Prague, Czech Republic

While I haven’t visited yet, Prague consistently appears on recommended lists and comes highly suggested by fellow travelers.

Thailand

Thailand as a whole is a fantastic country for backpacking. If this is your first international trip and you’re coming from the US, you might consider exploring Europe first.

Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

This region is a great choice. It’s easy if you’re coming from the US and has so many great destinations to explore. Holbox, Valladolid, Tulum, Isla Mujeres, and Bacalar are some of my favorites. And although I haven’t yet been to Merida, I’ve heard many great things.

When planning your first solo trip, remember to pick one or two cities to avoid spending too much time in transit. The more you have to move around the “harder” it becomes.

Pyramid in Coba Ruins

You don’t HAVE to go totally alone!

One of my favorite happy mediums is traveling on a tour. While a little more expensive than doing it on your own, it can be incredibly worthwhile. In fact, if you haven’t traveled much before, and you’re nervous about going completely solo, I would recommend booking onto a tour! It can give you that confidence while taking away the logistics of planning a trip. I recommend TruTravels.

I did 30 days in Thailand with TruTravels and it was absolutely incredible. Most of the people on tour were traveling solo! Although I am happy to solo travel I really think booking at least parts of my trips on tours is my sweet spot.

Final Thoughts

My unplanned solo trip to Mexico really opened my eyes. Seeing so many people traveling on their own made me think, “If they can do it, why not me?” Even though I’m usually quiet, it turned out to be pretty easy to make friends while traveling. The whole trip really inspired me to continue exploring the world.

Now I know I don’t have to wait for friends to be available to travel; I can just go on my own.

Solo travel has empowered me to embrace independence. I love the freedom knowing I can explore the world at my own pace, going on spontaneous adventures and following my curiosity wherever it leads.

For those considering embarking on your own solo adventure, I encourage you to take the leap. While the journey may have its uncertainties and challenges, it is so rewarding. Whether it’s exploring the cobblestone streets of Europe or immersing yourself in the vibrant cultures of Central America, solo travel offers a world of discovery and self-discovery waiting to be explored.

It’s hard to get schedules and budgets to align, and I decided I’m not going to keep waiting for others. Otherwise, it’ll never happen.

Looking for more on Tulum? Check out my favorite cheap eats here.

I would love to hear from you below! Tell me about your first solo trip or your favorite solo travel destinations. If you haven’t yet been on a solo trip, where do you want to go? What’s keeping you from going?

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