Growing up I was never alone. I went to a tightly knit conservatory high school for dance, surrounded by 30 girls (and a few guys) following their passion and forming a predictably tight bond. That atmosphere continued every day after school and on weekends when I went to a studio and danced with more people who became close friends. I continued on to college and before I knew it I had joined a sorority and lived in a three-story house with 80 girls. After college I immediately moved in with my then-boyfriend (now fiancé). Life has been far from perfect, but there were never dull moments; friends and experiences constantly surrounded me. Looking back I am astonished by the fact I’ve never been truly alone.
When I started to tell people that I wanted to travel solo and experience some things by myself I, rightfully so, got a couple of strange looks and lots of questions. As someone who hated going to lunch or a movie alone, how would I possibly manage a different country alone? But the bigger question, one that even I kept asking myself, was why would I want to do this alone?
The simple answer is that I wanted to travel and see more of the world more than I wanted anything else, and I was tired of waiting for people to travel with me. I realized that if I didn’t go off on my own I would never go. That scared me much more than the thought of traveling alone.
So I did it. I quit my job, bought a plane ticket and told myself a million times you can do this. There have been good days and bad days. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine as I sometimes display on social media. Every now and then I longed so badly for my fiancé or an old friend to be standing next to me in an unknown city that it physically hurt. But then suddenly I’ll have a day where I make friends over a couple of beers with 3 people from 3 different countries that I realize why I’m doing this, and it’s completely worth it.
Before I left I had read a million blog posts on solo travel trying to prepare for this extremely scary experience I was willingly putting myself through. They all said the same thing, “solo traveling is the most unalone you will ever feel”. I believed them, and hoped that is the type of experience I would have, but I was weary. I am quieter and shyer than I appear and I constantly fear being judged, but through travel and new experiences I am slowly letting go of that. I am forcing myself to talk to people at hostels and strike up conversations at coffee houses and it has so far been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I am by no means an expert on solo travel, but I feel like I am getting better at it one day at a time. My biggest takeaway that I wanted to share for traveling alone, or traveling in general, is to put down the phone. The first week I was in Barcelona I found myself choosing coffee houses and museums based on if they had wifi. My first task when I sat down anywhere was always get the wifi password. I would connect and immediately catch up on my group texts and chat with my fiancé or parents.
Then one day it dawned on me: why did I even buy a plane ticket? To come out here and sit on my phone in a different location? No, I wanted to meet people from different cultures and find people like me who love to travel and experience new things. So now instead of searching for cafés or hostels that have wifi I search for a cafés or hostels that look to have interesting people. I strategically sit next to people who aren’t on their phones and strike up conversations any way I can.
It can be awkward sometimes, sure, but with this strategy I have recently chatted with a 20 year old Lithuanian guy hitchhiking across Europe, a 50 year old married couple from Australia who told me all about their backpacking experience when they were 30, and a girl from Madrid who dreamed about moving to London for a guy she is sort of seeing.
I am starting to realize that this is what travel is all about. Yes, of course experiencing a buzzing city, feeling history, or taking in wonderfully preserved nature are the reasons we travel, but it is the people that I have connected with so far that I will remember the most when I look back on my time travelling alone in the years to come.