Traveling is something that many people long to do, but the act of traveling alone is often stigmatized and looked upon with with either awe or concern.
The idea of traveling alone first came to me only a couple of years ago, when a dear friend of mine decided to travel solo and then study abroad. At this time I was completing my first trip abroad in the company of friends (which was a huge deal for me), and the idea that I could experience the world alone had somehow never occurred to me before. As the next couple of years passed and the wanderlust grew, I realized that none of the people in my life were in a position to undergo extensive travel, and it became all I could think about. Then another friend of mine embarked on a long term solo trip through Asia and worked by teaching English online. That’s when the doubt in me vanished and was replaced with determination.
I began the trip with my partner in Ireland, and when it was time to bid him a farewell back home while I began my solo adventures I broke down into enough tears to catch the pitying eyes of nearly everyone in a fifteen foot radius. All the worry and fear that I had pushed down until that moment came flooding out of me (it also didn’t help that we had to wake up at 4:00 am and I was running on less than five hours of sleep, if I’m being honest). He jumped on a plane bound for home and I jumped on a ferry and began to set out into the world alone.
As a naturally introverted person, I relished the thought of having no one but myself to rely on and entertain. So much of my life had been defined by the roles that I played around others, and now I was in a position where no one knew me and no one had any requirements of me except myself. Whether cuddled up in my hostel bed or walking down a busy street, I was free to exist just for myself. It was liberating.
Of course, this wasn’t the entirety of the solo travel experience. At a hostel in Bath I shared a bundle of grapes with a lovely woman from France as we talked about travel and teaching opportunities. In the crowds in the London Underground I noticed a child waving at me and returned the gesture. I was approached by a dog and struck up a conversation in very broken Italian and English on a beach in Sestri Levante. I greeted dozens of people from all over the world at a Bed and Breakfast in Bracco and formed potential lifelong friendships. I learned that this was really the experience of traveling solo.
Everyone’s experiences are different, but for me, travel is largely about creating connections with other people; people you would never meet otherwise, people you can learn from, people you can come to care for. The truth is, on my solo travels across Europe, I have never really been alone. I have shared cramped hostel spaces with others, worked with strangers who would become friends, and have been graciously invited to stay with multiple people. I have had moments of feeling alone, but these have been infrequent and short-lived.
For a while I was trepidatious about the connections I was building. I had felt a sort of comfort in my complete anonymity, but I soon realized that though my connections with people in the past had often brought me a sort of confinement, it now also opened so many doors and provided me with a sense of safety and happiness that I didn’t even know I needed or wanted.
So my input to those thinking about traveling solo is this: There may be times when you are alone, but those will become wonderful learning moments in which you get to know yourself and the world more intimately. The rest of the time, you really won’t be alone at all— even if it’s just a smile from a person walking by or a conversation with someone about local go-to spots at the bar. The world can be a scary place, and yes, there’s a lot of bad in it, but I have learned that the majority of people that you will run into as a traveler have open hearts. I have been absolutely inspired by the kindness and compassion of those I’ve met abroad as well as those back home during this trip.
My spot of advice for those traveling solo: You know that feeling that you may get when you realize that every single person has a life of their own, with all of the experiences and feelings and life that makes them an individual? I have been trying to interact with every person I cross with that thought in mind. Meeting new people is like discovering new cities; you can never know everything about them, but you’re always the better for trying to learn what you can.