The thought of traveling solo can be an intimidating concept, and for some of our IES Abroad Correspondents, it turned out to be one of the best parts of their study abroad journey. Study abroad is one of the best ways to make new connections and friends, of course, but it’s also an incredibly important opportunity to get to know yourself better, too. Take it from the students themselves, many of who have shared their unique solo travel experiences with us and vouch for the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone. As told through the student lens, here are four key aspects you should know about solo travel:
1. Finding Your Confidence
Tatyana Masters made her way from Rome to Brussels for a solo weekend trip and didn’t regret a second of it. As part of her experience on the IES Abroad Rome - Film & Media Studies program, she took advantage of alone time to accomplish many of the adventures she wanted to take, including her trip to Brussels where she traveled around the lively European Commission area and visited a museum centered around Belgian potatoes and fries – to name a few of her highlights.
Her recommendation to travelers looking to go solo is to take a few steps to ensure the most optimal experience, including making an itinerary and map guide, staying somewhere you feel safe and connected, and making the most of your alone time.
“I encourage everyone to do a solo trip. Not only do you get to see the things you really want to, but you are forced to sometimes be in awkward situations and learn how to deal with it. I found that I really never eat alone in restaurants so doing that for almost every meal felt a little odd sometimes, but by the end I felt confident walking into any place and asking for space for 1. Pushing yourself to be in sometimes uncomfortable situations without another person to help out can be really healthy.”Tatyana Masters • Fordham University • Rome – Film & Media Studies
2. Setting Your Intentions
Sydney Braun set an intention at the start of her study abroad journey that she would do what she wanted to do regardless of who else was interested in tagging along. It was this mentality, she says, that led her on a solo trip to Hamburg, about a two-hour train ride from her study abroad home base in Berlin. For Sydney, her interest in German 80’s music and subculture was one of the main reasons she opted to research Berlin as a study abroad destination from the get-go, and when she heard that one of her favorite German bands, Abwärts, was playing in Hamburg, she couldn’t pass it up. The only obstacle was that her friends in the Berlin - Metropolitan & Urban Studies program were not familiar with the band or interested in going, leaving Sydney with no choice other than to go solo or bail. According to Sydney, going solo turned out to be a risk worth taking.
“My trip to Hamburg was one of the best trips of my life! I was able to operate on my own schedule and was able to see and do whatever I wanted to see and do at that moment. Going on a weekend trip by myself solidified my confidence in being alone, something that I've been working on throughout my time abroad. Though I've addressed building my confidence in being alone in past blogs, traveling by myself without having plans to meet up with friends at my destination has been the biggest leap of faith for me so far! I’ve realized that my ability to genuinely enjoy being alone will allow me to have so many amazing experiences and go on adventures that I may never have gone on otherwise, like my weekend in Hamburg. I’m excited to bring this newfound skill with me through life and see what other wonderful things are waiting for me!”Sydney Braun • University of Michigan • Berlin – Metropolitan & Urban Studies
Learn more about Sydney’s adventures and takeaways in her blog, “The Art of Being Alone: My Solo Trip to Hamburg”
3. Setting Boundaries
For Stella Meillon, traveling solo to Hobart, Australia meant making friends on the plane, a spontaneous drive to Bruny Island with new friends from France and Italy, and a last-minute drive up to Cradle Mountain to camp and hike. While she says traveling solo was one of the best parts of her study abroad experience, she also understands that solo travel can make you an easier target for unwanted attention. And while it’s worth it, traveling with caution is essential to ensuring your safety in the process.
“If you are nervous to travel alone, it's justified. It's scary. Eating alone is intimidating. Who will I talk to? Etc. But wandering around with no one else to limit how long you stare at a pretty flower in the street, getting food from wherever you want without having the dreaded "where do you want to eat" discussion, and meeting random crazy people is all worth it and more.”Stella Meillon • University of Colorado - Boulder • Sydney Direct Enrollment – University Of New South Wales
4. Finding Comfort in the Discomfort
It takes a lot of courage to be able to confidently travel across a new city alone. For Jacob Chan, navigating Madrid alone was not easy, but was well worth stepping outside his comfort zone. One of the goals he set for himself at the start of his study abroad experience was to explore as much of the city as possible to truly immerse himself in the culture and atmosphere. With that, he came up with the idea to take the Metro and hop off at a random stop to see where it might lead him. Despite much hesitation and self-consciousness around solo travel, Jacob maintained his goal to immerse himself in Madrid and the results were rewarding.
“It took me a long time (while still struggling now) to be able to confidently travel the city by myself. No matter how many people told me that it’s completely normal and that people (for the most part) aren’t really paying attention to you, I still always had that fear in the back of my mind. It took a lot of practice and reassurance but it worked. Take it from someone who is incredibly self-conscious: don’t let the fear of being judged stop you from doing things you enjoy. It’s much easier said than done but I promise you the results are worth it.”Jacob Chan • Haverford College • Madrid – Language & Area Studies
See what Jacob has to say about pushing past fears in his blog, “Próxima Estación”
You heard it from our students first – solo travel has helped instill lifelong lessons, strengthen their confidence, bring forth once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and enhance the overall study abroad experience.
Want to hear more from our students? Check out our Correspondents to read more stories from the student perspective.