I hope that every single person reading this has had, or plans to have, the opportunity to travel alone at some point in their life. It’s invigorating, let me tell you. It’s invigorating and relaxing and empowering and exciting and incredibly refreshing all at the same time.
My time abroad is coming to a close, and I’ve had the opportunity to travel alone twice now. I guess I’ve travelled alone to places before this too, to Japan and America and several other countries where I was going to meet family or friends or other programs. But my two trips to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg and Santorini, Greece were my first two trips truly alone, from flight to hotel to activities planned – s o l o. When I first told people I was travelling alone to these places I got one of two reactions: “Oh, why aren’t you going with anyone else?” or “Are you sure that’s safe?” So I figured I’d make a blog post to address both of these questions, because I finally feel like I’ve figured out a way to answer them both pretty well. The response is gonna be in a roundabout kind of way, but just stick with me.
(Luxembourg City, Luxembourg)
I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to answer the questions is by describing my 5 biggest tips for people (particularly females) travelling alone. I like to believe that people in the world are good (sometimes naively so), but when you do things solo, it requires a different level of responsibility.
#1.) Know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there
This one notion helped me avoid a lot of panic. I’d make sure to google where I was going, how best to get where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do once I was there the night before, or in a place where I had Wifi. That’s not to say you shouldn’t keep yourself from hopping on that spontaneous boat, or walking down that semi-abandoned trailhead; just be smart, and have a (flexible) plan.
#2.) Be open to meeting new people
Street smarts are important; how old were you when you first heard about stranger danger? But I spent a full day with people I’d never met before in both Luxembourg and Santorini, and we’re still in touch! There’s something about people mutually travelling alone. It makes you realize that every human out there has his or her own story; every experience each person on this planet has is so different. If you’re surrounded by friends, chances are you never meet that one girl from Canada or China or Portugal who gives you a whole new perspective on a whole new culture.
(Went on a 12 mile hike with two sisters from Canada, and we ended watching the sunset from the tip of Oia.)
#3.) Unless you’re fluent in the language, accept that you’ll feel lost some of the time
That’s okay. Ask people questions. Trust yourself to wander around for a little bit. Order something you can’t pronounce at a restaurant and try it even if it looks like a pile of mush. You’re going to get a lot more culture out of wherever you are by feeling a little bit like a foreigner, instead of speaking English non-stop and nervous giggling with your friends when that that local comes up and tries to talk to you.
#4.) Take an hour or two and do absolutely nothing.
Ironic, right? There’s this notion that when we travel we should always be doing something. “Don’t waste time!!” But on both occasions I travelled alone, the few hours I spent just thinking about where I was and what I was doing and where I wanted to go (beyond the trip itself) were some of the most relaxing, introspective moments of my entire time abroad. There’s nothing to distract you when you’re all alone. It’s you, your brain, and in my case, the Luxembourg cityscape or a beach in Perissa.
(Perissa in Santorini, Greece)
#5.) Know it’s okay if you get a little bit lonely.
Remind yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. You didn’t make a mistake going alone. There will inevitably be a moment of panic where you wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea. But hey, you have you and that should be enough. As silly as that sounds, if you get lonely, remind yourself that you’ll have these memories for the rest of your life, and no one and nothing can take it from you. You got yourself there all on your own. You’re experiencing this and growing as a person because of it. How cool is that?
The coolest thing about solo travel is that the way you feel about yourself doesn’t go away after you get back home. The confidence and self-reliance and ability to just be with yourself doesn’t go away. It becomes a part of your every day life. So I guess I just want to say I hope you get to travel alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on trips with my friends throughout my time abroad too. I love being able to share experiences with friends who come back to Amsterdam with me just as much as the next person. Being able to laugh and reminisce and joke about that time you got completely lost and ended up two hours from where you’d originally planned on going – how you all were so mad at each other but now it’s nothing short of hysterical. I get that – I understand why it’s appealing and fun and why everyone should have those trips, too. But travelling by yourself, relying on yourself to fill the day with worthwhile things to do, feeling grown in a whole new way; it’s a different kind of trip.
I can confidently say that travelling alone has been one of the most formative parts of my abroad experience. I want to share with whoever is willing to listen that with an open mind, a little bit of planning, and a leap of faith, travelling alone is a courageous experience, but it doesn’t have to be a scary one.
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<p>My name is Elisa Stern, and I am a junior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. I am studying neuroscience and philosophy, and will be studying abroad in Amsterdam for the Spring of 2016.</p>