I’d be lying if I said I don’t get scared. Not the kind of fear that paralyzes, but a wave of uncertainty inevitably sets in. It was most prominent when I took off on my first solo trip.
Although I know I can’t say it’s for everyone, I think everybody should try traveling alone. A weekend way. A backpacking trip. Staying a few days longer than you friends. You learn life skills, but you also have the chance to really look inside yourself. The realizations may not be anything great. You may even dislike them, but I promise you’ll learn something, even if it’s “I’m never doing that again.”
You see what you want to see. You find people to share it with, especially staying in hostels. Sometimes on lonely days, you’re hoping for some wifi to feel a connection. Despite the ups and downs, I look back and know I’ve done “a thing.” Maybe it’s not a great big thing in the sky, but I get the rush of unfamiliar places, accomplishing a difficult leg of travel or maybe, just making it to a sought after destination.
Setting off in the summer of 2014, I had few plans – Copenhagen to Berlin, Berlin to ???. Eventually, I thought I would go south before charging west to Italy, France, and Spain. It didn’t work out like that (in the best way), but Barcelona was always in my mind – a distant goal. When I got to Italy and saw the clock beginning to tick away, what once was infinite time was now very finite. My flight home was not yet booked, but my start date was going to be official soon. There were no more extensions.
In Rome, I decided it was time for the Hail Mary. Barcelona or bust. At the urging of my brother, I got there. It felt like such an accomplishment to land at Barcelona’s airport. I could feel the smile gleaning across my face. It was late. I still had to figure out transport and recall some Spanish, but I had done it. It was bittersweet to think my trip was coming to a close, but it already felt as if I had accomplished what I set out to do.
I left the states feeling scared, unsure, and hopeful. Now almost three months later, the feelings in my mind were of confidence and pure joy. I was filled with gratitude for the opportunity, the support from home, and the whole experience. It made Barcelona that much sweeter.
You meet such lovely and varied and interesting people when you travel alone because you’re open. You have to be. I grew to enjoy doing things on my own and on my terms, but by no means would I always want to be by myself. When you’re alone, you can tune into your surroundings more acutely and arguably, be more present. With found friends, you channel into each other, as well as the new place, to create memories.
You say a lot of goodbyes, even more hellos, and realize you’ll never see most of these people again. That being said, it doesn’t take away from the experience. You share something in that time and place, and utilitarian as it may sound, sometimes that’s enough. I’m still happy to see these friends on Facebook: living their lives, traveling, offering advice to one another for new adventures. Plus, I hold out hope I’ll see some of them again.
Solo travel is how I have pushed myself farthest outside of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It has been the most rewarding force in my life, albeit challenging and terrifying and confusing. It has given me confidence in my abilities and in my career. I approach tasks in a different way. I realize that sometimes when I think I can’t, I can. It’s enjoyable to work hard at something, to give it your all and see the result. It’s not always what I thought the outcome would be, but it doesn’t detract from the satisfaction.
There were and are days when I look at my backpack – next to me, draped under my foot, or literally across from me at the table – and think damn, that’s my only friend in this foreign place. But then I smile and realize it’s all okay. I can and will go anywhere. The reminders of why I can and why I should are too strong to ignore.