I had the pleasure of traveling abroad this past summer and it was the greatest, most liberating experience of my entire life.
I flew out of the JFK airport in New York and landed in Paris, France the next day. I took a bus to Amsterdam and it got lost along the way. Hell, I didn't even know if I was on the correct shuttle. Then, I took a short flight and 3 high-speed trains to Rome, Italy. I also took a boat to the island of Capri. After 3 long weeks of sleeping in bunk beds at hostels, I gratefully returned home to the United States.
I don't speak fluently in any language other than English, I didn't even pack the proper walking shoes to tread miles through Paris in or enough pants to wear when it rained. I felt homeless at times, especially when I was at the train station in Bologna, Italy for 3 hours in the middle of the night and all I had to eat were Stroopwafels from Amsterdam, not to mention my phone was on 12% and the bathrooms were locked. I even befriended a woman who I think was actually homeless, hoping that she wouldn't steal my suitcase.
As you can tell, not everything was always glamorous. Sometimes it was challenging and testing, but that was the beauty of it all. I was forced to trust my gut and become a problem solver and face my weaknesses. I trekked my way through Europe, learning how to use the metro systems and how to order coffee without getting dirty looks.
I did this by myself.
Before I left for my trip, many of my friends and family were weary of my choosing to travel alone. Pickpocketing, terrorist attacks, and kidnapping were definitely at the top of the "cons" list. I took these into consideration and made sure to take all the precautions I possibly could to ensure that I would be as safe as possible. I felt at ease, and I think my optimism was what calmed the nerves of my loved ones.
Of course, at times I wish I had someone to share the spectacular moments with and to share meals with so I didn't have to eat alone. Going to the bar by myself wasn't ideal and so was not having anyone to lean on in long queues, either. Despite the "cons" list that I've devised up until this point, I would travel solo again in a heartbeat, for just 3 reasons.
1. The world becomes your playground
You are in charge. You get to navigate. You get to choose the destination. It's all about you. You don't have to rely on anyone else. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. You have the glory of venturing at your own pace. There is no one slowing you down or rushing you. You. You. You. The world now revolves around you. If you want to sit in front of the Eiffel Tower all day, you can.
2. You become self-aware
You are not going to "find yourself" on the other side of the earth, but I can promise you that you will come home and be a more confident human being. You will step outside your comfort zone, step into the unknown, and have to trust strangers. You will feel comfortable in your own skin. You will be brave and independent. You will learn compassion, gratitude, flexibility, patience, and a sense of direction. You will realize your inner strength and you will be pushed to your limits. Traveling alone will open your heart, change your view of the world and expand your horizons.
3. You will meet people along the way
I stayed in hostels because they were a cheap option. It wasn't a luxury stay that's for sure, but at the end of the day, I really just needed a place to rest my head and recharge. There were 4-8 bunk beds in each dorm style room. Some were co-ed, some were female only. I ended up meeting some of the greatest people who were also traveling alone, and the best thing is, you can be whoever you want to be because nobody knows you, yet... And then, all of a sudden, I wasn't eating meals alone anymore and I was sharing my life story and hearing others' stories. It was inspiring to be surrounded by so much diversity and culture.
In the end, I realized that the world isn't a scary place like the media tends to illustrate it as. Sure, parts of the world can be dangerous, but that doesn't mean we should rule out the good places, right? We shouldn't live in fear because that only restricts us as human beings.
There is so much to discover in this world, it would be a shame if you were always waiting for someone to tag along, or for someone to travel with you at right time whenever that is.
Embark on your own journey and see where the world takes you.