Traveling is something I love to do. It’s hard for me to stay in one place for too long. I like the novelty of exploring a foreign area, appreciate the lifestyle of a former classmate in her new city, and re-visit places that hold precious memories. Through all of this, I like to create experiences with those I love.
So, you can imagine the shock it was to have to travel alone. And I don’t mean the physical act of traveling, because we have all taken a bus, or a car, or a plane by ourselves countless times. I’m talking about going somewhere so absolutely foreign. I’m talking about going somewhere and seeing beautiful sites and having so many photo opportunities with no one by your side.
I know there are reasons that you will never want to travel alone, but these are the reasons why it is necessary to travel alone.
It gets really lonely.
When you arrive at an airport, a train station, or to a charming front door framed in ivy, the greatest feeling in the world is reaching your destination to see that warm smile and receive that giant hug. When you travel alone, you get none of that.
It is not easy to walk out of a train station carrying two suitcases that weigh roughly the same amount you do, trying to locate the closest taxi stand, frozen amidst families welcoming back their children or old friends reuniting after a long summer break. Knowing that no one for whom you care dearly is even a taxi ride away is tough.
But despite the FOMO for not taking advantage of a city with a fiery nightlife, being alone has its perks. It allowed me to notice the group of small kids of various ages playing soccer together. To witness a huge grin spread across a little boy’s face when his mother helped him set the miniature sailboat just right for it to take off in the wind across the pond. It made me all the more desperate to interact with people, to hear their stories, to hear them talk.
Being lonely is a terrifying concept, but it is one that needs to be experienced. It makes friends, family, and even acquaintances that much more valued, because being lonely is hard.
You learn not to take everything so seriously.
I am the poster-child for taking things too personally. Of being so self-aware that I become awkward or mute and later reflect that experience onto my life. So, of course, when I found myself in a coffee shop in a foreign country where my best attempt at speaking the language is sub-par, my awkward tendencies shone through so brightly I most likely blinded everyone in the café.
It was only after five minutes of standing in front of the counter holding an empty cup of coffee and *discreetly* looking around to try to find a dirty dishes bin that I realized they had a busser to pick up empty cups and wipe down the tables. Attempting my most casual, “I know what I’m doing,” I probably did more of a “drop the cup and dash” maneuver.
However, on my way down the street, a giggle erupted out of me after picturing how I must have looked to all the café regulars. It’s okay to be so far out of your element that you look like a complete fool, because that’s how we improve. There were times on my trip where I just wanted to break down in tears because I didn’t know the proper restaurant etiquette. I repeatedly chose not entering a restaurant for fear of embarrassment… but after about two hours of not eating I decided what really mattered more? (answer: food). In the wise words of Taylor Swift, if anyone is judging you for that—“Shake it Off.” Seriously.
You come first.
If you’ve ever studied abroad, you most likely have heard the advice, “never travel with more than three or four people.” In most cases, this is advice you should absolutely heed. When you travel in a big group, it means compromise. You all have different desires and different definitions of ‘when in Rome.’
When you travel alone, obviously, none of this is a concern. You can see anything and everything that you want to see. Are you hungry? Go get food. Do you want to sit in the shade next to the impressive fountain and take a rest? Stay as long as you want! When you aren’t bound to someone while traveling, you have the liberty to plan your own day and do what feels right for you.
It sucks not having anyone to reminisce about your adventures with.
It’s not as fun to think back on a time when you did something so embarrassing (i.e. in attempt to push your luggage down the street have it topple over, and then proceed to trip over it) and not have someone to laugh about it with.
It doesn’t seem as wildly romantic when a young Frenchman in the Jardin du Luxembourg asks you what you are reading, and upon realizing you are American says “You look so pretty” in his best American accent and walks away, without a friend encouraging you that he was the best looking French guy.
It really does suck not to have someone witnessing the same things you are. But you have those memories. Those moments belong to you. And there is something wildly romantic about that, too.
I’m not going to tell you that traveling alone is easy. It’s not. Exciting, yes. Easy, no. But everyone needs to experience that joys and miseries of being so independent. It’s cheesy to say that traveling by yourself will change you in so many important ways and let you find yourself, blah, blah, blah, so I’m not going to do that. But I will tell you that right now you should book a ticket to go somewhere. Alone. You won’t regret it.