Ride the Damn Roller Coaster, and Other Life Lessons from Solo Travel

I’ve only taken two trips as a solo traveler, spaced about 5 years apart. For some that might seem like a lot. I realize in the grand scheme of travel and travelers, it’s really no big whoop. Both trips were also pretty “safe”. Both to Spain. Easy communication. Nice places to stay. Easy to get around. I wouldn’t say there was much roughing it involved. 

These trips have been pretty epic to me, though. In the gifts they’ve given me.

The 5 year span between my first solo trip to the Basque region, circa 2014 (I think?) and my most recent trip to Barcelona are like dog years in my life. About 5 years ago marks the time where I decided, not necessarily entirely consciously, to start living my life.

I feel like the decision to take that trip marks the beginning. Tired of waiting for something to happen, I decided to Just. Go. 

I wouldn’t say the trip was all perfect, but the lessons it gave me opened my eyes to so many ways I was holding myself back from joy.

One lesson that stands out was a moment in San Sebastian where I found myself in a bit of a mood. I wandered up to the Monte Igueldo Amusement Park for the view. Got to the top, looked around and thought, “What the hell am I doing here?” Whatever it was I was searching for, I didn’t seem to be finding it.

I noticed a roller coaster at the top and my initial thought was, “I don’t do roller coasters anymore.” I’m not sure what made me decide to give it a shot, but I paid my €3 or whatever it was, and took a seat in the front, feeling a little silly (I was the only passenger). Then commenced maybe the shortest, greatest roller coaster ride of my life. I laughed hysterically the entire time. It was ridiculously fun. I had to go again, this time with a family on board (I sat in the back), and it was joyous.

I left with a completely new mood and even more important lesson. When in life you have the chance, ride the damn roller coaster!

I mean what else are we doing here, after all? What exactly are we all waiting for? Permission to feel good? To do what we really want? To have fun? To be happy?

What is the purpose of this whole thing if we don’t ride the roller coaster?

My most recent trip to Barcelona came with a new perspective, having transformed in so many ways over the course of those previous 5 years. It did concern me, then, when I arrived and started hearing the familiar question…”What exactly is it you’re looking for?”

Now equipped with the tools to shift out of that mindset (and, in fairness, once I had a good long nap), I commenced on a journey that felt so much more present, more joyous in the moment. This came from applying some of the most important the lessons I learned during that Basque trip and over the last 5 years, some of which I’ll share here:

  • Ask for what you want. People can’t read your mind. 

  • The richness of life is in connection. Don’t wait for people to engage with you. 

  • Don’t wait in general. 

  • Take the time to slow down. Relaxing in a place you’ve never been is just as special as bouncing around and seeing all the things. And it allows you to appreciate the bouncing around even more.

  • You have a limited time-span. So if you want to try something, see something, enjoy something, do it now. You won’t have the chance again next week.

What’s most apparent as I reflect on these, is they’re the tenets of a life well lived, not just a great vacation.

Say yes to experiences. Declare what you want. Say it out loud. Connect, engage, slow down, take it all in. Don’t wait. And of course, when life gives you the opportunity, ride the damn roller coaster. 



Christine O'Neill