Peechaya Burroughs for TIME

I Went on a Vacation By Myself, and It Changed My Life

Feb. 3, 2016

Traveling solo doesn't always mean you'll be lonely

When I started telling people I was going to Mexico for a week, everybody’s first question was the same: Who are you going with? When I said I was going on my own, their reactions were all very similar. “Wow, that is very brave of you!” “Aren’t you scared?” “Will it be safe?” “Alone? I could never do that.”

It’s 2015. Women have made strides in politics, in business, in tech, in culture. But even those friends I considered forward-thinking questioned my decision to travel by myself.

My trip wasn’t even as courageous as it could have been—after all, I wasn’t truly by myself, at least not once I arrived in the small town of Puerto Morelos. I booked a weeklong yoga retreat through The Travel Yogi, a company that creates adventurous albeit relaxing yoga retreats all over the world. I didn’t have the typical concerns of finding a hostel or making friends, but still people who learned my plans seemed baffled.

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As a single 26-year-old living in New York, I was sick of seeing my friends with significant others post photos of incredible journeys. And any time I tried to get a group together for an exotic trip, it was too difficult to nail down a date—and especially a price—that worked for everyone. So when I found this trip, where I’d stay in a beachside boutique hotel that held daily yoga classes and served delicious vegetarian food, I didn’t check with anyone, I just booked it.

I’ve been quite a champion at being independent: I live by myself in a studio, I’ll go to Broadway shows by myself, I’ll see movies at times that work for me even if they don’t work for others. But taking this leap felt much different. And my friends’ reactions made me feel like they felt bad for me, like I had no one to travel with.

“I think people are afraid of looking like a loser,” says Kristin Newman, a TV writer and author of the travel memoir What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. “It’s the same how people don’t want to eat dinner alone. I think people are afraid of being lonely, of being scared, of looking like they didn’t have anybody.”

She’s right—a thousand questions weighed on me when I landed. Even after I met the people at my hotel who I’d be spending time with, I went to bed thinking, “What am I going to do with myself all week?”

Well, I’d be meeting locals and eating dollar vegan tacos, watching men chop open coconuts with machetes to make fresh coconut water, getting massages on the beach, snorkeling with barracudas and lobsters and eels, diving into freshwater caves, spotting spider monkeys in trees, reading in a rooftop hammock, sipping micheladas on a regular basis and making incredible new friends. Despite all my fears, I’ve never felt less alone than when I was traveling alone.

Jennifer Hoddevik, one of the Travel Yogi founders, says about 80 percent of the people who sign up for their trips are going solo and 85 percent of them are women. Hoddevik traveled by herself for years while working as a travel agent before she founded Travel Yogi and had plenty of experience with safety, a big concern among solo female travelers. She and her team scout the locations where retreats are held when they are traveling as women who are alone.

“We really do want people to pay attention to their intuition when traveling, but knowing what it’s like personally, at night in Reykjavik or Guayaquil, is something our travelers count on,” she says. “Safety when traveling solo is a fair concern, but traveling solo doesn’t always mean ‘alone’.”

Yoga, or any other active focus of a trip, will have you bonding with people instantly, which I found on my trip–specifically when we worked on partner poses in class. If your yoga or fitness studio doesn’t advertise its own trips, there are plenty of options to find more. Yogascapes, similar to The Travel Yogi, hosts a trove of wellness retreats that include yoga, surfing and, sometimes, even wine. Eat.Pray.Move puts works with a handful of retreats in places like Marrakesh, Croatia, Tuscany and Iceland, some of which include Give-Back retreats, where 10% of the profits are donated to charity. And, if you keep your eye on websites like Groupon and Gilt, you might even find a retreat offered at a discount.

Newman, whose travels include Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Israel, Iceland, and many others, says for safety, you have to be smart but also lucky. “I feel so safe everywhere I go now because I trust my instincts and because I think being able to maneuver all those places is such a powerful thing to give yourself as a woman.”

If being lonely while traveling solo is part of your concern, Newman has expert advice on how to handle. “Night life is the hard part,” she says. “Always sign up for a day tour to do something adventurey so you can meet a buddy on a day excursion.” She also advises against certain countries that can make you feel more devastated and secluded. “Italy is pretty rough both from the fact that people are going to be on a lot of romantic holidays and Italian men can be difficult to deal with.”

My own advice is to take the plunge. Once you land wherever you decide to go, you’ll feel empowered enough that all your concerns about feeling lonely will wash away. I channel the zen from my trip whenever I feel stressed out–and it’s true that wanderlust is contagious. I’ve already booked my next trip.