As I stepped out of the Lyft at Newark International Airport, I saw a huge group to my left, embracing and screaming with joy over their reunion. I, on the other hand, was about to dive right into solo travel.
Even though I’ve travelled alone before, seeing scenes like this always make me hold a mirror up, reminding me that I’m being dropped off at the airport alone — and that no one would be there to greet me like that on the other side.
The last time I got back from a solo trip, one of the first questions friends and coworkers asked was: “Who did you go with?” I found myself stammering through excuses, trying to develop a plausible “why” I had travelled solo.
More often than not, I was met with a “Oh, you really do like to travel” or “That’s so brave of you” with an obvious judgemental eye roll behind it.
So, as I boarded the plane for my first Flash Pack trip to Finland, all my fears about solo travel started to set in again.
Why was I even going on this trip?
Why was I spending money to go to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language?
This sounded like a stressful burden, not a vacation!
But after a weekend in the Finnish forest with a group of fellow single travellers, I realized all those fears were simply in my head. Here are some of the fears that plagued me on my outbound trip and how I eliminated them each, one by one.
1. I’ll be so lonely
Yes, I know the stigma, so let’s just get it out there.
There is definitely the implication that going on a solo trip means you couldn’t find a plus one. It’s the losers, the singletons, the rejects.
But here’s the crazy thing:
The entire time I was on my Flash Pack trip, I was never really alone! Though I arrived in Helsinki on my own, I was always connected to my group via a WhatsApp chain that had been started a few weeks prior.
So even before our first actual meeting in the hotel lobby, I already felt like I was travelling with a group of friends. Even after the last item on the official agenda, we stuck together and continued exploring the city on our own.
In fact, the only time I was really by myself during the whole trip was when I excused myself to go to the restroom!
Loneliness = no concern of mine.
2. I’ll spend too much money
Obviously the more people you squeeze into a hotel room or a cab, the more you save. But the thing about this trip was, that was already done for us. In fact, I didn’t even have to think about money the whole time.
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Every meal, from the beer tasting in a bustling Helsinki brewery to the outdoor gourmet cooking lesson in the middle of the Nuuksio National Park, was taken care of as part of the trip fee.
When we were getting our rental equipment for the stand-up paddle boarding in the shop and I wanted to rent a waterproof case for my phone, I pulled out my wallet since I saw the rental price on the wall.
Not for us! We were part of the elite group — they just handed me one… along with a tasty pastry and coffee to warm us up! No extra charge.
Basically, all I had to do was book the flight and trip — and everything else was included, so there were no surprise additional costs at all.
The trips truly are all-inclusive.
3. I won’t understand the language
Before I go to a foreign country, I always try to play around on Duolingo in the local dialect for a few weeks before, so I’m familiar with the tones and can at least say “Hello” and “Thank you.”
But, as life goes sometimes, my crazy schedule didn’t allow for that, so I literally landed in Helsinki not knowing a word of Finnish (Guilty confession: I even Googled “official language of Finland” after I landed, hoping that English would secretly be one! No luck!).
The funny thing is, the moment I met my group, language was a non-factor!
Sure we had travelers from Australia, England, Romania, and the U.S., but we shared the common language of English, with it being most of our mother tongues (some with a more charming accent than mine!).
And for anything else we needed, our tour guide was a local and played translator. (But I did have him give coach me in pronouncing “Hei” (hello) and “Kiitos” (thank you), so I could add it to my repertoire.)
No need to worry.
4. I’m taking too many days off
I know how it goes:
You only have about two or three weeks off a year and, once you calculate in family obligations, friends’ weddings, and other personal commitments, you’re left with only a handful of vacation days.
Sure, the thinking makes sense to carry them over until you have enough for a longer vacation later. But Project Time Off reported in 2018 that Americans left a whopping 705 million vacation days unused last year.
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Time is money — and vacation time is arguably worth more than money, so make an investment in yourself and splurge by using those hard-earned days now.
Maximize them by linking them with long weekends and federal holidays (hint: if you take the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week off, you get 9 consecutive days off by only taking 3 days!)
I strung my getaway together with Labor Day week to maximize my days — and all three of us American girls on my trip simply added a few days on either end to complement the Finnish vacation. Flash Pack’s itineraries range from 3-day weekend getaways to 2-week adventures, so there’s plenty of flexibility to choose one that fits in your schedule.
5. I’m worried about my safety
I’ve been in my share of dicey situations on my own — from a crazy cab ride in Marrakech to a way-too-strong-for-me drink in Quito (had to try the local Canelazo!), so nowadays playing it safe is a top priority.
To my relief, on a Flash Pack trip, once you land at the airport, you’re basically in a safety net. From the included airport transfer to the private (decked out!) van to the forest, transportation concerns were a non-issue.
But more importantly, once our group met, we implicitly took care of one another. Even though we had plenty of beers on night one and oh-so-many tasty cocktails (both hand-crafted and in a can — the Finnish Long Drink is a must-try!), we all made sure we got back to our rooms and hanging tents safely.
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This really is safety in numbers, meaning you can visit a country that, perhaps, you’ve always been too afraid to visit before on your own.
6. I’m stressed by the itinerary
Speaking of hanging tents, as much as the agenda excited me, there were a few items that worried me.
I don’t exactly have the best sense of balance, so stand-up paddle boarding was a concern. Also, I’m super prone to motion sickness, so while swinging between trees for a night in the forest sounded like a dream, I also knew I might wake up sick to my stomach.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t paddle boarded, so our guide gave us a beginner’s level lesson — and I surprised myself by not even falling in once, thanks to his instruction.
And the tents were so secure that I didn’t even notice I was swinging in the fresh forest air.
But had I wanted to opt out of either (and I was tempted, believe me), the option was always there to chill at base camp or pull the sleeping bag onto the ground. Nothing was ever forced upon me— but in the moment, I chose to go for it all.
The packed list of adventure activities may sound more stressful than a relax-on-the-beach island vacation, however, I couldn’t believe how calming a weekend in the forest was for the soul.
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And, as it turns out, chatting by a campfire under the Nordic stars totally measures up to some fun in the sun. The lesson for me there was: be open to new things, try something on the itinerary you think you WON’T like. It may just turn out to be awesome.
While I headed off on this journey with nothing but worries about the unknowns of solo travel, I came back, having stricken each one off the list, knowing there is absolutely nothing to fear about traveling alone except the fear itself.
Images: Rachel Chang