Solo female travelers make up an increasing percentage of vacationers, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the travel industry. In 2015, the New York Times reported that solo leisure travel was up 15 percent from two years earlier and noted that in response, some cruise lines and hotels have dropped long-standing impediments to solo travel, such as single supplements and other fees. And in 2017, Conde Nast Traveler highlighted an exciting aspect of this trend: the growing number of solo women booking adventurous trips.

Despite the image of a young backpacker that often accompanies such coverage, these new solo tourists are not all millennial women setting out to explore the world for the first time. In fact, many are older women who find that they finally have the time and money to embark on an adventure—and they’re not going to stay home just because they’re single, or married to someone who doesn’t share their wanderlust.

If you’re a woman who’s considering traveling alone for the first time, here are some of the benefits of taking a solo journey.

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You Can Go Anywhere You Want

It sounds obvious—of course a solo traveler can pick her own destination. But this is a big change for people who have always had to make compromises when planning trips—defaulting to a child-friendly hotel, following along as a spouse pursues their hobbies, or selecting a location because it’s a convenient mid-point between reuniting family members. If that’s how you’ve traveled in the past, being able to choose exactly where you go, and when, and for how long—based entirely on your own interests—can be a truly eye-opening experience.

That’s because solo travel forces you to identify and act on your own wants and needs. Maybe you’ve always been willing to endure your spouse’s road trips, but left to your own devices, you realize that you’d prefer a car-free vacation. Sure, you may have a mental image of solo female travelers bravely hiking through South America, but this is your chance to choose a destination that appeals to YOU. If you would rather relax on a beach in Florida, go for it.

You Can Do Anything You Want

Do you wake up at 5:00 a.m. to pack in all the sightseeing you can, or do you prefer to spend your afternoons people-watching in cafes? Do you like to stay in one hotel, or jump around to different lodgings in various locations? Do you like going out for every meal, or cooking in your room? Does your ideal packing list include fancy dresses, hiking boots, bikinis, or all three? Do you want to learn new skills, visit museums, or shop all day?

You get the point of these questions: There are endless variables that go into planning your travels, and when you only have yourself to take care of, you can structure them however you please.

As a solo traveler, you can tailor your trip around the activities you like, and move at the pace you want. You don’t have to accommodate anyone else’s sightseeing goals, food preferences, or bedtime. But perhaps most important, you can be spontaneous.

If a site you’d planned to visit looks dull, you can skip it and move on to something more exciting. If you want to tick items off your bucket list, you don’t have to worry about boring or overwhelming your travel companions. If you feel tired and decide to spend one day chilling out rather than exploring, you can do that, and no one will be there to make you feel guilty about it.

While you are planning your itinerary, you might find a private tour or group tour that happens to provide exactly what you’re looking for. Though this isn’t exactly traveling alone, it could be the best option for you, and one you might not take advantage of if your family or friends were traveling with you. Plus, if you’re nervous about being on your own in a place where you don’t speak the language, signing up for a tour, class, or other activity that incorporates free time can be your gateway to true solo travel.

You Can Spend Time Alone

If you’re an introvert, you know you need time alone to recharge. A trip away from your daily obligations can be just what you need after a particularly stressful time in your life. And if you have a habit of giving too much time to others, and not reserving enough for yourself, this can help you break out of it.

If you’re more extroverted, the idea of spending ten, five, or even two days alone might sound terrifying—or really boring. But the experience can be just as rewarding, forcing you out of your externally-focused comfort zone and encouraging you to be a little more introspective than usual. Besides, if you’re naturally outgoing, you’ll probably end up talking to strangers anyway.

You Can Make New Connections

Sure, you can chat with locals or fellow tourists while traveling with a spouse or a friend. But when you’re on your own, you can engage with new people in a way that you probably wouldn’t if you had a built-in conversation partner. As a solo traveler, you can make a concerted effort to meet new people by attending a public event or finding accommodation with a local host. Or, you can simply remain open to small talk with those you encounter as you explore your surroundings.

Another social opportunity that solo travel brings is the chance to meet up with far-flung friends and acquaintances. Perhaps you have an old friend who has moved to another country, or an online correspondent who lives in another city, or a distant relative who you’ve never met. Reach out and invite them to meet up for a quick drink or a meal when you’re in their town. You’ll get to have a one-on-one talk you might not be able to arrange otherwise, and maybe they’ll even offer to be your personal tour guide for the day.

You Can Focus on Personal Growth

You don’t have to be a fan of the Eat, Pray, Love style of travel narrative to realize that a journey can be transformative. A solo trip is the perfect way to indulge in a so-called “selfish” pursuit, like attending a yoga or meditation retreat, relaxing or concentrating on your health at a spa, or designing your own idea of a restorative getaway.

Maybe you want to read books on a balcony with a gorgeous view, or walk for hours through peaceful woods. When you’re traveling by yourself, no one can tell you that your time would be better spent doing something else. Well, they can, but they’ll be at home, and you’ll be in a new setting having a life-changing experience.

When you venture out on your own, whether it’s on an around-the-world adventure or a weekend getaway to a nearby city, you don’t just learn about life in other places—you learn about yourself, too. Traveling alone is not always easy, but it can be just as exciting and enjoyable as traveling with others. And the confidence that comes from navigating the world on your own will last long after you return home.

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