While studying abroad, lunchtime conversations were about weekend plans. Not about where the best parties would be or which clubs we should go to, but about where we would travel. With three-day weekends every weekend and travel around Europe being too easy, our options were unlimited.
The downside of making so many great friends abroad is that it is difficult to decide where to go. I spent the first weekend in Ischia with my friends, which was hands down one of the best weekends of my life. After that, I decided on my own personal itinerary. There were places I wanted to go, and I was determined to make it happen regardless if anyone else wanted to join.
I did not realize this would mean I would spend the next three weekends by myself.
I began with a day trip to Orvieto, which was a magnificent way to enjoy some me-time and rediscover my love of writing. The next weekend, I went to Florence and Pisa. I intended to meet up with friends, but by chance, I ended up alone the whole weekend and loved it. The last weekend, I flew to Munich by myself. There was a moment while visiting Neuschwanstein that I was standing in the Alps by myself when I truly realized my solidarity. It made me feel really old and grown up and kind of scared, but it was liberating knowing that I am finally an independent adult.
My family may not have preferred me traveling alone, but they knew they could trust me, and I’m so thankful they did. It was an incredible learning experience. Even if it is a road trip to somewhere new, I highly recommend trying a new experience alone for these reasons:
1. It’s easier.
I am a very organized planner, and it was way easier to make my own plans instead of trying to coordinate with others. I didn’t have to try to squeeze on the same cheap airline at the same price as anyone else. I didn’t have to worry about booking a hostel at the same place. My plans depended on me and only me.
2. It’s faster.
For that same reason, I was a more efficient traveler. I was able to focus on exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to travel along while my friends did something else that I wasn’t really interested in. I’m an early riser and a fast walker, so I was able to get up and go on my own schedule. In 12 hours in Florence, I covered over 15 miles. This would not have been possible if I had been with anyone else and wanted to stay friends with them.
3. You’re able to see more.
In those 15 miles, I saw nearly all of Florence. I didn’t just see it; I was able to enjoy it. My nose wasn’t in a map trying to locate the next place to go. Thankfully I have an innate sense of direction, so I was able to explore with my eyes taking in all of the sights. If I saw a place that looked interesting, I was able to spontaneously stop in without asking permission. I was free to do as I pleased.
4. You blend in foreign environments.
I am a firm believer that you are safer alone (in daylight) than you are in a group. In a group, everyone else can tell you are foreign. They hear your English and giggles and know that you are a student abroad. This puts you at greater risk of petty theft and being taken advantage of. When I was alone, I was mistaken for being German and French on multiple occasions (you didn’t really think someone would mistake a 5’10” blonde for an Italian did you?!). As long as you aren’t fearfully focusing on your surroundings like a victim, you will blend in, and no one will bother you unless they are asking for directions. It is also really awesome when you are able to provide directions as a traveler!
5. You’re able to meet new people.
When you are not surrounded by a group, you are almost forced to make friends. No, I don’t necessarily recommend befriending your hostel mates that seem cuckoo, but it is good to find new people to talk to. In Munich, I went on three different tours: a walking tour, a beer/food tour, and a trip to Neuschwanstein. I made friends on each tour, ranging from fellow Americans to Canadians, Australians, Germans, Italians, and Spaniards. I loved discussing the different aspects of travel and study abroad with them, while hearing about their travels. One deep conversation was about rape culture in different countries (rape culture was actually a new concept to my European friends). I would have never met these new friends or heard these different perspectives if I had not been alone.
6. You can reflect.
In true Jesuit form, traveling alone is a perfect time to reflect. I was able to not only reflect on the immense privilege I was experiencing while abroad, but I was able to reflect on my desires and passions in life. When I have free time, what do I enjoy doing? What are my hobbies? What do I want to do for fun? This was my first time really experiencing completely free time, and it helped me realize how much I love exploring new places. I learned how to check into a hotel/hostel, how to fly solo, how to ask for help, and how to be me – all on my own. It was humbling and maturing to travel on my own, and I think it was overdue. I’m 21, and my life is free to experience as I choose. And I choose to experience as much as possible.
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” –Henry David Thoreau
++ Mary K