By Michele Linder
Training myself to be a better solo traveler — who happens to have a profound hearing loss — has been among the most valuable teachers in life. It has taught me how to cope with and embrace my deafness, and how to fit into a world I can’t hear.
Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with others, but some things you can only learn and experience by going solo. Traveling alone leaves you more open to unique discoveries and adventures, and there’s nothing that will make you feel more empowered.
Many would never consider traveling without a companion, even those who are fully-abled. We each are free to set our own limits — I’ve always supported each to their own — but for me, I am not willing to let anything take away my independence, or place limits on where I can go, and when. I want to control my own plans, not wait until someone can accompany me.
So, that is the first question you need to ask yourself: “Do I want my travel to be dependent on others?”
If your answer is “No,” then the next step is to take control and teach yourself to be a good solo traveler. That doesn’t mean you book a long and involved trip that includes flying to some far away land. It’s best to start in your own backyard.
The biggest deterrent, as with anything you undertake, is to fixate on what could go wrong. Shifting your focus on the goal — your destination — is essential. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to reach your destination.
PART I: WHAT SOLO travel CAN TEACH YOU
SELF-RELIANCE: When there is no one else to depend on, you learn to depend on yourself. It’s up to you, and you alone, to make your trip a success. And by “success”, I don’t mean that everything went according to plan and was easy. You’ll learn the best lessons when things don’t go well, or when your trip takes an unexpected turn.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: When you travel alone there is no one else to hear or listen for you. It’s all on you, and it forces you to communicate effectively to get the information you need. You can’t fake anything when successfully reaching your destination depends on making yourself understood and getting specific information.
ADVOCACY: Solo travel shines a big old spotlight on how we perceive ourself and our disability. If you want to learn how to shed diffidence, or that feeling of needing to apologize for the extra effort required to communicate with you, traveling alone is the cure. There is no better way to learn how to effectively ask for what you need.
PROBLEM SOLVING: If I had to choose one point as the most important, problem solving would be my number one. Travel presents such a huge opportunity for the unknown — delays, cancellations, missed stops, etc. — and is so well suited to best laid plans going up in smoke. You’re forced to think on your feet and to figure out an alternative.
CONFIDENCE: Traveling solo takes you out of your comfort zone, and when you succeed at something that scares you, you can’t help but become more confident and capable.
PART II: FIVE SIMPLE RULES
These rules will become your commandments.
- DEFINE SUCCESS SIMPLY: Reaching your destination safely.
Bonus: If you focus on that one thing, all that happened on the way there becomes inconsequential.
- PANIC IS THE ENEMY: Let go of irrational fear; it never improves a situation.
- ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED CONFIDENTLY: Let go of the notion that asking for what you need is bothersome or equates to a favor. No one is doing you any favor by accommodating your difference.
Bonus: You’re teaching them to interact with someone who is different; a win for all.
- LEAVE AS LITTLE TO CHANCE AS POSSIBLE: Do your homework, prepare, learn as much as you can about your route, mode of transportation, and destination. Think about what can go wrong beforehand, and plan for it.
- REMAIN POSITIVE: If you can’t control it, exercise flexibility and tolerance.
Bonus: That missed flight or delay is an opportunity to catch up on your reading, work on writing your next blog article, or chatting with someone in person or online.
PART III: TAKING THE PLUNGE
START SMALL: Take a bus, trolley, light rail, or train in a city close to you.
POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND: Choose a day and time when you’re in a good mood and feeling more confident.
BE PREPARED: Familiarize yourself with routes and maps. Look online for this information or grab a bus or subway schedule the next time you’re in town.
BUY AN UNLIMITED OR DAY PASS OR TICKET: Give yourself a cushion. A flexible ticket means a missed stop or wrong turn won’t be as big of a deal.
Once you’ve mastered a small trip, keep pushing yourself toward bigger and longer solo trips. Each success — arriving at your destination safely — builds your confidence, and before you know it you’ll be purchasing a Eurail pass and traveling Europe alone!
You might think learning to travel alone, while deaf, is something you’re doing for yourself. It is, but it also demonstrates to the world how capable people with disabilities are. When you do that, you’re making things better for all of us.