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The Hard Truth About Solo Gap Years

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Most travel blogs out there champion selling off everything, bidding the 9-5 goodbye, and taking off into the unknown with a one-way ticket. It’s an incredibly exciting, sexy, and inspiring prospect to stop making excuses, hop on a plane with nothing but a backpack, and take the world by storm. It’s also a hugely important and life-changing decisions.

However, with all of the pros that come along with taking a solo gap year -- like learning how to be independent, broadening horizons, and learning about one’s self as well as the world -- there are also a fair amount of cons to consider. Just like everything in life, traveling is not all puppies and rainbows. Things can and do go wrong and the highs can be equally matched by the lows. Thinking of taking a solo gap year? Here’s the dirty laundry:

The List of Places You Must Visit Will Only Grow

It seems like taking a year out for a round-the-world (RTW) journey would naturally shorten the list of must see places as you put a check mark next to each new country and city. While you will be checking off a few places from your bucket list, this assumption isn't necessarily true.

You’ll realize that you would need a lifetime and a half to see the whole of this earth.

In fact, the list will only grow as you meet more and more travelers who speak of more and more places, expanding your horizons and opening your eyes to the infinite possibilities that exist in this world. The more you scan the globe, the bigger and smaller it will simultaneously seem -- smaller because you’ll meet people from all around the world and even people from close to home during your travels, and larger because you’ll realize that you would need a lifetime and a half to see the whole of this earth.

You Will Be Lonely

You will, inevitably, feel lonely

Even though it’s super easy to meet other travelers on the road, you will, inevitably, feel lonely at times. Friends from back home will post pictures together and you’ll wish you could be there. You'll deal with FOMO while abroad. People will get married, have babies, graduate, and reach major life milestones that you will miss. You'll feel homesick, and this is never easy.

Moreover, there will be times when you reach a hostel and it will be empty, save for you and your battered backpack. Or the alternative will be true. You’ll be sitting in a crowded room feeling alone because you’ve had a bad day, received some bad news, or are simply feeling down, because these things happen on the road just like they do back home. Except you’ll be hundreds of miles away from people who you can burden with your feelings, because laying your woes on someone who was a perfect stranger only minutes before is usually not an option.

That's OK, and to be expected. Just prepare for those days and understand that not every single moment of your gap year will be full of wonderful excitement. It's still life, and life has it's downsides too.

You’ll Pay More for Things

Sometimes you’ll find a place with only single rooms instead of dorms. Every now and then, you’ll shoulder the full financial burden of a taxi, or will have to pay a little more for certain activities because a solo traveler costs more to accommodate than a group.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t tons of other solo travelers or even duos and groups that will welcome you with open arms, but you’ll eventually have different plans and part ways. Sometimes, you’ll truly be a solo traveler who pays solo traveler rates. And that can hurt your wallet... just a little bit.

You'll Say Goodbye More Times in One Year..

Than the rest of your years combined. And we don't care how old you are. It's gonna be true.

The beauty of solo travel is that there are always amazing people to meet. Being alone opens the door for talking to the random strangers nearby because there won’t be a friend or lover sitting next to you to take all of your attention. It’s a wonderful aspect of solo travel that is hard to grasp until you’re really out there, constantly meeting new people who are equally open because they, too, are traveling alone.

Numerous goodbyes are inevitable on the road, and it eventually becomes emotionally draining to have so many short relationships.

That said, there’s no way your plans will intersect with the vast majority of the people you meet. You may cross paths multiple times, but it’s never a given. As a result, you’ll be saying goodbye just about every day, perhaps even multiple times per day. Someone who you click with immediately and hang out with 24/7 may have a flight home the next week, or maybe you’ll have a train ticket to the next town booked, and you’ll be forced to part ways.

Numerous goodbyes are inevitable on the road, and it eventually becomes emotionally draining to have so many short relationships.

You'll (probably) Fall in Love and S/he Will (probably) Break Your Heart

Romance on the road will break your heart

Chances are, that tanned Australian playing beach volleyball will catch your eye, that dashing Brit with a beautiful accent, will be enticing, or that romantic Frenchie, complete with perfect words to describe love, will make your heart go pitter patter.

Falling in love on the road, with its romantic locales, complete lack of responsibility, and beautiful people is all too easy. People are open, don’t have the burden of full-time jobs, and have all the time in the world to nurture a new relationship. It’s fun, hot, exciting, and addictive to imagine the possibilities of ending up in your new love’s country with the dream of pursuing a new life together.

That is, until the reality hits that maybe he or she already has a flight booked to a land far, far away and it doesn’t jive with your plans. Even if you did move to your new love’s home, would the reality of jobs, pressure of making a new relationship work after all of the sacrifices you’ve put in, or the realness of it outside of a travel romance make it possible for the relationship to last long distance? Sometimes, the answer is “yes,” but honestly, most of the time it’s “no”.

You'll Be Forever Changed

With all the aforementioned seemingly negative points made, please don’t let that deter you from taking a solo gap year, because the pros of a gap year far outweigh the cons.

Even the shyest and most awkward person will open up on the road. Even the most stressed out and agitated person can find relaxation and peace when traveling. Even the most closed-minded person will become open after a gap year. Even the most impatient person can learn patience and compassion from roaming. The environment with so many open and friendly people makes it possible, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Suddenly, with a new appreciation and understanding of the world around you, you will grow, you will be changed, and it will be for the better.

Photo Credits: Megan Lee, Shazaan Bahrainwala.

Photo of Kristin Addis

Kristin Addis is a native Californian and former investment banker who quit her job and sold off all of her belongings in favor of becoming a nomad in Asia. Now she travels solo seeking off-the-beaten path adventures. There is almost nothing she won't try! She blogs at Be My Travel Muse. Follow her on Twitter @bemytravelmuse and Google+.