Design Your Life
4 Ways to Get Over Your Fear of Solo Travel
By Zim Ugochukwu
I couldn’t stop myself from crying. But what if my plane crashes and I never see my family again? What if I’m stranded and can’t get help?
It was 4 am and the realization that I was traveling to a remote Portuguese island a few hundred miles off the coast of Morocco began to worry me. You see, this wasn’t my first time traveling solo. As the CEO of Travel Noire, I travel quite often — sometimes 4-5 times a month. Yet each time, the fear never settles.
Those tears, while warranted, weren’t a sign of weakness. Rather, they were confirmation that I was still human. That even though you and I have the same fears, we have the capacity to overcome them on the quest to define our better selves.
I mustered up the courage and boarded that 6 am flight to New Jersey. From there, I connected to Manchester, London and then to Madeira, Portugal a small archipelago of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
I spent one amazing week on the island of Madeira. In fact, it was the best gift I’d ever given myself and here’s why: I was able to come closer to who I really wanted to become. There’s something incredible about solo travel. It gives you permission to sit in silence, wander without worry and relish in local culture. Here are four things you can do to get over your fear of solo travel and give yourself the authority to live.
Grab a Window Seat
Whenever I fly, I try to grab window seats. Looking out of the window to a blissful sunset or to catch the bird’s-eye-view of a new destination really calms my nerves.
My favorite window seat however, was inside of a tiny white smart car. While in Madeira, it was important for me to be able to explore like a local, so I rented a car to enhance my journey. In fact, I highly recommend renting a car for solo travels. It gives you a sense of control over where you end up — even if you’re headed nowhere. I would often find myself driving in and out of the winding tunnels in Estreito da Calheta, snacking on cherries from the local market.
I’d drive with all of my windows down to play my Portuguese tunes on full volume in the afternoon breeze. It was the perfect escape.
Connect With Locals
I had no intention of ending up in Madeira.
A few weeks prior, I landed on the Airbnb website. I pulled up a map of the entire world and began to search by instant book — a feature they introduced to allow users to instantly book a villa, apartment, yacht or home. Gone are the days that you have to be approved by your Airbnb host to stay in their home.
I took a look at a traditional stone home in Madeira and instantly fell in love. There was no way that a house could be so perfect, situated at the edge of an island, overlooking the sapphire colored sea.
When I arrived to the property at 9 pm, the sun was beginning to set. I was shown around by Delila, the property manager, who graciously left me with pasta, fresh fruits, handmade red tea & ginger cookies because all of the stores had closed by the time I arrived. I spent the next few days basking in the temperate Portuguese sun, walking to local stores and staring blissfully at the sea.
A few days into my stay, the owner of the property, Ana, flew in from Switzerland to prepare the villas for opening. You see, I was the first person to ever stay at their villa. How amazing is that? We spent the afternoon getting to know each other, and for the better part of the day, had a mini-photoshoot. We stumbled into her horticulture garden, took selfies in front of sunflowers, picked herbs from her garden for our homemade tea and sat under the sun to chat about Madeiran history.
I truly felt like I was home.
On my birthday, she even brought me a local cupcake, hung a hammock & birthday banner on my villa door and left a card and local lotions in my car.
Believe in good
While at the airport, I thought I pulled enough cash from the ATM to cover my taxi fare from Funchal to Estreito da Calheta. Halfway through the ride, as I stared intently at the meter, I began to realize that I would run out of money before I even reached my final destination. I kindly said to the taxi driver that I didn’t have any more cash and the words that followed still warm my heart to this day. He said, “no worries, let’s go.“
Even though it was my first day in Madeira, the kindness and generosity of it’s people was ever present. I learned that when you travel with the intention of being and doing good, the world will surprise you in more ways than one.
I spent countless mornings driving around the island. I didn’t have a destination in mind, rather, I drove to discover. One of my favorite travel quotes is by Pico Iyer, and he is incredibly spot on when he writes about travel:
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
I ended up at the top of mountains, inside outdoor cafes, at local pizzerias and in ancient homes. Being alone was an amazing experience — I was able to set my own agenda, explore at my own pace and connect with Ana on my own terms. Together, we walked in the town center and went on joy rides through the city. She connected me with Madeira in a way that I would have never been able to on my own or with the help of a hotel. This was a true authentic experience and through this trip, I discovered pieces of myself that were hidden, even from me.
The next time fear slowly creeps it’s way into your heart, remember that the hardest thing about getting started…is getting started.
This is a series in partnership with Airbnb.
Zim is an avid photographer, visual storyteller, classically trained pianist, junk foodie, vegetarian, and occasional building climber. She is the founder & CEO of Travel Noire.