4 Ways to Get Over Your Fear of Solo Travel

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

Wander

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.

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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 Ugochukwu

Zim Ugochukwu

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.

26 Comments

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Jamira

    Growing up black and poor, my two biggest fears have always been… never spending too much money because of the potential for a raining day and never traveling alone but the experiences I read about on TravelNoire somehow makes the possible for the unknown (Good or bad) totally worth it.

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Nicole

    Great article!! As someone who loves traveling yet HATES flying, I definitely feel your pain. The best decision I made that really helped me was becoming a college admissions officer. Each fall I had to travel by myself all over the US and then eventually to the Caribbean (yea I know, Jamaica and Trinidad for work, talk about a perk). I laughed when you advised to get a window seat because that’s my go to tactic for a different reason. For me looking out the window helps during turbulence so I can see that although the plane is shaking, we’re not falling from the sky lol.

    While I don’t have the opportunity to travel by myself much, traveling solo was great! It also encouraged me to push my family to travel internationally. After going to Italy with my mom and sister last year, my mom has made it clear that she’s going back to Europe next year, with or without us!

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Annette

    Great post Zim!

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Kydee

    This was super inspiring! Go Zim!

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Charisse Sobers

    This article was just what I needed to read. I want to see so many places, but don’t go to them because I have no one to accompany me. Reading this has inspired me to take a solo trip, even if it’s a domestic one. Thanks for this!

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Carolyn

    Zim,

    I am TRULY inspired by this post. I too, have a fear of solo traveling and have yet to do so. I’ve set every intention on taking my first international solo trip this September for my birthday. Looking forward to living my BEST life. Thank you.

    Carolyn

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    tishushu

    This was truly inspirational. Even though I am partnered, I feel that traveling alone is important.

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Davina McGill

    This was one beautiful post – words and pictures included. Thank you.

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Webster

    Thank you for such encouraging and inspirational words. Those words helped to remove some of the fears I experience when thinking about traveling alone.

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Nia

    This is such a beautiful, inspiring, and empowering piece. I dream of being able to travel the world like this some day. So glad that I stumbled across your site!

  • Reply July 1, 2015

    Vusi

    I have always wanted to do this and I have been making all sorts of excuses. Thank you for this piece of inspiration into further discovering oneself

  • Reply July 2, 2015

    Cari

    This article is what I needed! I’ve been struggling with inner fear to take a LOA from my job and move to Spain for three months, longer if I don’t return 🙂 I’ve traveled solo to Capetown S.A. so I know I have it in me but the fear of the unknown is real. Your words are so true the hardest part is getting started. Happy travels!

  • Reply July 2, 2015

    Tamara

    Thank you for this post. I’m planning a trip to travel alone to South Africa sometime between November (my birthday month) to January for a few weeks. I’m a little nervous, but excited!! Like others have said, it gets so tiresome to always have places you want to travel to, but no one to go with. I finally said forget it, I’ll go myself! Thank you for the reassurance 🙂

  • Reply July 6, 2015

    Danielle

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post!!!

  • Reply July 7, 2015

    Kéila

    Your story made my heart smile. God bless Ana and the memories she’s helped you create. 🙂

  • Reply July 9, 2015

    Michelle C. Clark

    I love this site. Thank you Essence for the wonderful article on Travel Noire featuring Zim Ugochukwu in your August, 2015 issue. I took my first trip alone to Jamaica this past March. What I realized is that following the crowd will have you running around in a circle. I had an awesome time. Met a lot of great people from all over the world. When I wanted to engage I did. When I wanted moments of quiet reflection I took them. My next solo trip will be to the Maldives to visit a friend I met in London, England. Thanks for reaffirming my belief that travel alone is definitely a character building experience.

  • Reply July 9, 2015

    Meese

    Hi Zim,
    I’m planning on following your footsteps for my birthday coming in this September as a treat to myself!! 🙂 I checked on the stay at this place an its very reasonable, but i’m seeing the flights seem preteen pricey lol. Do you have any advice? I’m Leaving out of Newark NJ and I see flights going from there to Lisbon then Madeira for the dates of 9/12/15 -9/19/15. I guess i can keep checking but i was just wondering if anyone has any suggestions. Thanx!!!

  • Reply July 11, 2015

    Aleta

    So glad I found your site. I am taking a month long vacation to Europe for my birthday in September. I have never taken an extended solo trip. I have a healthy amount of fear regarding the trip but also super excited about the adventure. Thanks for confirming I’m on the right path.

  • Reply July 18, 2015

    Meese

    Soon update lolol I booked my flight and stay here an I am ELATED!!! That is all lmao…thank you for the motivation to live out loud & push past fear!!

  • Reply July 21, 2015

    Velvet Jones

    Hey there! I have always wanted to travel like this, now that I have the luxury,but was afraid of how people would receive a black woman. I see here on your site, that you’ve been plenty places. This is soooooooooooooooo encouraging for me. Thank you so much for the motivation. I want to to travel the world while I still can do it!!!

  • Reply July 21, 2015

    Gretchen

    This is a great article. I just discovered this site after reading the latest edition of Essence magazine, which featured the site in an article. I am not afraid to travel solo, in fact, I prefer it, or with a male companion. I studied two summers in Italy in the 1990s and was hooked after that. Sadly, life got in the way of my dreams of frequent international travel and I have not traveled to the extent I had originally hoped, with only one trip to Montreal in 2002. As a birthday gift to myself, I went to Paris this past March and was hooked again and re-energized to begin traveling internationally more frequently – at least once a year. I’ve decided to use my tax refund money each year to fund my trips so that I won’t have to go into my savings or acquire more debt. Net year I hope to go to London and return to Paris as a week was just not long enough to see all of that beautiful city.

    Although I too once wanted to live abroad, I am very satisfied living where I do and after changing career I now have an incredible job in the education field, which means I have summers off and lots of mini breaks throughout the year.

    I am trying to figure out ways to summer in Europe and this site is giving me lots of options to look at.

    Thanks so much Zim for having the desire, insight, and courage to create this wonderful site.

  • Reply July 27, 2015

    Lily

    I am so glad I found your website and your article on traveling solo. I just finished traveling from D.C. to Totonto via Niagara Falls driving. I had family and friends ask me why I was traveling by myself. My answer was because I can and I have 6 days off work to do what I want to do. I had the most amazing time I thank you so much for giving me informaiton on how I could travel overseas.

  • Reply July 29, 2015

    Sheriseology

    A timely post for me. I find myself with some free time and my hubby will be headed on an impromptu boy’s trip to Greece.

    So, rather than sit at home and jealously glare at pictures and status updates, I want to take the opportunity to visit some places that we don’t necessarily consider during our joint trips.

    It seems that even though I met him during my time living abroad and virtually alone, I seemed to have “forgotten” how to actually travel alone! I definitely want to rediscover that feeling again, because the freedom from a super-defined schedule to please everyone, and from having to constantly know the whereabouts of your travel partner(s) is everything!

  • Reply August 5, 2015

    Kim A. Hazel

    I love traveling alone and most people I know think that it is either sad that I’m not going with someone else, or brave. If I waited for someone else to be available or have the means and time to travel with me, I would not be going anywhere. That destination and the photos were lovely. I’m using airbnb for the first time in the fall (Paris). I’m trying it out for Amsterdam, too.

  • Reply February 22, 2017

    Cyn

    Great read. Hits home. I am ready to travel abroad and no one I would want ro travel with can get away like I can. I am inspired to let go of the what if’s and let the what willl be Be. Thanks!

  • Reply March 6, 2017

    Cara

    I have wanted to take a solo trip to Europe for the past three years, and your blog post has helped settle some of my fears about solo travel. I know that if I went I would create great memories. When I finally go on my trip, I will make sure I stay at an Airbnb at least once as that seems like a great way to connect with the locals. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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