I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly independent person, but this semester has given a new meaning to that word. One of my aunts wrote to me that there is never a time when you are as independent as you are when living in a foreign country. It demands more problem solving, decision making, and putting yourself out there. I’ve learned the most about this intense independence in my solo travels, making a solo trip one of my top recommendations for anyone studying abroad.
During Semana Santa or Holy Week I took a trip by myself up to northern Spain. After meeting a friend in Valencia, I ventured to San Sebastián and Bilbao for my first true solo trip.
Each little detail of the trip taught me something different. Even just the process of eating a meal was full of learning experiences—being decisive enough to choose a restaurant, working up the courage to sit alone, using my second language confidently with the waiter, budgeting my meal responsibly, avoiding the urge to check my phone constantly, concentrating on being present—and the list goes on.
When you travel alone, you’re introduced to a different version of yourself. Once free of other people’s opinions and preferences, you have the freedom to do whatever it is that you want. You don’t feel guilty for walking a crazy amount or for sitting down and people watching for an hour. No one knows that chocolate croissant is actually your second of the day, and everything you do corresponds with your own budget. You can walk the streets of a new city and discover little details you may not have noticed otherwise.
Traveling solo also gives you the chance to meet new people along the way. In San Sebastián I was lucky enough to meet two girls traveling together from Madrid in my hostel. My favorite and most memorable part of the trip were the different pintxo bars we tried and the time we spent wandering the old quarter of the city together while we trading new Spanish and English words.
Since then we’ve kept in touch and even met up recently in Madrid. I’m more than certain I’ll see them again, either in the States or somewhere in Europe, and couldn’t be happier that my solo travel led me to meet two great new friends. The friendships you make when traveling are a unique type of bond, one definitely worth seeking in one way or another.
If a full solo trip isn’t for you, at least take some time for yourself throughout the semester. Find a park, take a walk or go to a museum on your own schedule. Get to know what makes you happiest and what kind of traveler or even what kind of person you are. Solo experiences can be just as valuable in your host city as in a new one.
Not only have I learned to navigate public transportation, communicate effectively, and organize myself better, but over the course of four months I’ve become more in-touch with my introverted side, something I am so incredibly grateful for and proud of. It’s one thing to be okay with being by myself, and completely another to feel comfortable with and energized by it. Having the opportunity to experience things and reflect on what they mean to you is a life skill that will take you far.
This certainly doesn’t mean avoiding group activities—in fact, it’s the complete opposite. Your amazing new abroad friends won’t be offended if you choose to try something on your own instead of in a group; you’re all abroad to grow and experience new things. They’ll be excited to hear all about what you’ve seen, done, and learned and will certainly have a story of their own to share. Let a solo trip be a change of pace from your usual group excursions.
Sometimes intimidating, but always rewarding, a solo trip is yet another abroad experience that has the power to alter your perspective and teach you more about yourself and the world around you.
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<p>Hi, I'm Nina! A proud Jersey girl and sophomore at Penn State, I have a passion for all things food, music, culture and crafting. Join me as I test my Spanish skills while living out my Andalusian adventure this semester!</p>