Travelling alone is daunting, but like all good things, the fear you must overcome to do it is well worth the long term advantages it can bring.
When you’re planning your study abroad, chances are, you’ll imagine yourself en route to your dream destination with at least one other friend. The notion of travelling alone is not only scary but also incredibly intimidating for many students, especially if you’re not a seasoned traveller and you’ll be travelling to a destination that has a culture completely unlike your own. If you had told me prior to leaving for my exchange at the University of Leeds in England that I would end up travelling most of Europe completely alone, there’s a good chance I would’ve told you you’re crazy—there’s no way I would ever do such a crazy thing.
But such is life; you simply cannot and never will be able to accurately predict the future and when things don’t go as planned (as they did for me), all you can do is go with the flow and hope for the best. Thankfully, things didn’t just work out in my case, my trip through Europe actually ended up being better than I could’ve ever imagined.
I quickly made many friends during my exchange and it was only one month into my time in England when I knew exactly who I wanted to travel with. She was a friend who had also attended to my university at home in Canada and because we were from the same culture, we had similar interests, perspectives, and even personalities. I knew that we would most likely get along and since we were also working toward the same degree at university, we had similar schedules in Leeds and could meet up often to plan our trip. And this is exactly what we did: we worked hard for about a month to plan every part of our trip from hostels and buses, to flights and excursions. It wasn’t until two weeks before we were suppose to leave that things took a turn for the unexpected.
Two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, she texted me saying that she had come down with a horrible case of tonsillitis and potentially mono as well. One week and multiple (expensive) doctor visits later, she decided that it wouldn’t be a smart idea for her to go travelling, especially since her medical insurance wouldn’t cover her costs while abroad.
Simply put, I freaked out. I worried day and night until I left for my trip. A million thoughts ran through my mind: what if I don’t meet any friends? What if I get robbed walking home alone at night? What if I get lonely? What if I get lost and can’t figure out where to go? Eventually, however, I talked some sense into myself and came to terms with the fact that all these worries would ruin my trip if I allowed them to and that these were all things that I could end up experiencing anyway even if I did end up travelling with my friend. Unfortunately, what I didn’t initially think about were all of the pros that could come from travelling alone, and it wasn’t until I embraced my solo traveller status that I was fully able to realize the many benefits.
The Major Advantages of Travelling Alone:
- You’ll meet more people than you would travelling in a group: Believe it or not, you will most likely end up meeting significantly more friends when you travel alone simply because you’re by yourself and more open to meeting people. If you’re travelling in a group there’s a good chance that you’ll stick with those friends before you branch out and attempt to meet new people. You might even be apprehensive of making new friends in fear that your other travel buddies might not get along with those same new people as well.
- You can travel by your own agenda: When you travel alone, you only have one set of interests to take care of: your own. You can visit the exact museums you want to, spend money on the things you want to, go out as little or as much as you’d like, and you can even get up and go to bed exactly when you feel like it without worrying about what your travel partner(s). Better yet, you can travel for the day with other people you meet who are interested in the doing the same things you are.
- You’ll learn how to put yourself out there: If you travel with someone who knows the language of the country or city you’re travelling in, it can be easy to hide behind them when interacting with locals, asking for directions, and so on. When you travel alone, there’s no one to hide behind and that’s totally okay. You’ll learn a thing or two about vulnerability and even more about how being uncomfortable and out of your bubble is actually beneficial for your experiences and allows you to learn that much more about yourself.
- You can change your plans on a whim: When you meet someone you get along with from the hostel and want to change your plans to travel with them to their next destination, you don’t have to think twice about it. You can go ahead and do it without having to consider the interests of your travel partner (or group). You’ll have the freedom to change your plans spontaneously, which can often lead to the most unexpected and amazing events.
- You’ll have time for self-reflection: For the most part, travelling is often go, go, go and when you’re travelling in a group or with a friend, there’s not always enough time in the day for alone time. When you travel alone, however, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to take time for yourself, write in a journal, take in the sights around you in silence while you wander the city, or even have an Eat Pray Love moment while you dine solo in a restaurant. Taking time to reflect may not seem important at first, but it will bring you many more long term benefits than you might think.
While travelling through Europe alone, I learned all of this and so much more and surprisingly, if I could go back and change the way my trip turned out, I wouldn’t change a single thing. The reality is that although travelling alone may seem too ambitious or daunting, in the long run, it can teach you far more not only about yourself, but also the unique cultures that you immerse yourself in.
by Roslyn Kent – University of Calgary – Canada