I lived alone for a year and a half before I left to backpack for five months around Europe. I thought I was accustomed to being alone, having relied on myself heavily during that time.
The argument for traveling solo has become a popular topic. I wanted to travel, but I wanted to see so much and didn't want to put a short time stamp on it. So, instead of waiting around for someone to be able to join me for this several-month long trip I wanted to do (which would have likely been never), I went solo.
At the time, my daily routine just wasn't dynamic enough to challenge myself to learn new things. I was in graduate school, but beyond the books I wasn't learning much more.
I learned so many things while I was traveling. I learned about the world, about the people in it, and about myself, but I'm sharing some big lessons here.
I learned how to do group activities alone.
I just discussed about deciding to travel solo. One of the biggest barriers against solo travel is the thought of doing typical "group activities" by yourself.
I still remember the first time I ate alone on my trip. It was at a ramen bar in Dublin (I know, great choice for "local cuisine"...) When the waiter came by and asked how many were in my party, I said, "Just one," with a sad fake-smile on my face.
Also while in Dublin, Trainwreck came out in theaters. I really wanted to see this movie, having seen trailers before I left home. On one rainy day, I decided I wanted to see the movie much more than I wanted to trek around sight seeing in the notorious Irish drizzle.
Why do we feel so self-conscience about this?
The truth is I used to look at people in restaurants and movie theaters by themselves, and wished I was as confident as they were entering a packed place alone. Now I am, and it feels good being confident in myself while I feel eyes on me, wondering why I am sitting there alone.
Because I want to.
I learned how to stand up for myself.
I believe this ties into the self confidence I learned in the previous lesson. I learned to stand up for myself in all the small and big ways.
When my order is completed wrong or when I pay for a service that I'm not content with. No longer do I suck it up. When I am asked for my opinion or asked for input on plans. No longer do I respond with a shy "don't worry about it," or "whatever you want to do."
When someone tells me they don't like what I'm doing with my life or the decisions I've made, I have found my voice. Instead of letting them trample my feelings and allowing these feelings of resentment to fester into something bigger, I try to defend my actions.
I learned the art of small talk.
Ask anyone who knew me before August 2015 and they will tell you how much I hated -- and I mean just hated -- small talk. Growing up in the southern United States, you'd like everyone there has that gene automatically ingrained in their DNA. I guess it skipped my generation.
Turns out, this "small talking gene" was just suppressed by my more powerful introversive tendencies.
While I am still shy sometimes, I no longer find myself wondering why this stranger asked me how I am doing today. As if they really, truly care.
Instead I entertain their questions, and shoot a smile on my good days. I've learned that you never know what kind of impact you will have on a person.
I learned compassion.
After my trip, I find myself being more aware of other's feelings. I'm not saying I am a saint -- I still anger people sometimes when I know I shouldn't or my argument is wrong.
Now, I feel guiltier for those times I do do that and I try to be more conscious of my behaviors and how they affect other people. I also notice myself recognizing when closer friends and family are acting off, and offer myself as someone to talk to.
I believe this comes from traveling alone because, while it was an overall positive experience, it did have its adjustment periods.
There were many times that I just wanted to talk to someone. Not a stranger, not a few friend, but someone who I knew really cared and truly understood. So no, perhaps I want to be that person for someone else so they don't have to feel the way I did.
I learned how much I can do without.
I live in a part of the world where no one walks to the store. Smack in the middle of the southern region of the grand ole' U. S. of A, houses and the nearest grocery store are just too far apart to walk between.
For the most part, there is no public transport and when there is, it is an unnerving experience of notoriously shifty people in even shiftier areas and run-down buses. Every one has a car that they use multiple times a day to go to work, meet up for lunch and travel on the weekends.
I sold my car before I left for my long-term travel trip. So, when I got back, obviously I didn't have a way to travel freely on my own. How do I travel, visit family and friends, cross state lines, or go meet for lunch?
In some lucky circumstances, someone has a car I can borrow briefly. I can arrange for my friend or family member to pick me up to hang out. Or, I take the bus.
No one takes the bus anymore. Maybe they used to, back when they lived in areas or during a time when personal cars were more inaccessible. Even though taking the bus is actually cheaper in the long run, it has a stigma attached to it that leaves to people feeling empathetic. Then they see I have no problem taking the bus and they get confused.
Of course I would love to have a car again. I miss my perfect Honda Civic, my very first car that lasted me through the remainder of high school, all of college, and straight through to graduate school. I'm a very independent person so relying on others sets me off sometimes, into an emotional hole of self-pity.
Then I remember how lucky I was to have my car in the first place. To have so many people care about me enough to transport me if I need it. To have the life education to know that taking the bus is not something to look down upon. To have had an opportunity to sell my car to travel.
I sold my car for $5,000. I can't even count how many experiences, tickets, meals, beers, espressos were bought with that money.
All I know for sure is that in those five months I spent traveling solo, I traveled to 19 countries.
I spent all of that money plus some, and the resulting laughs, memories, and internal life lessons were worth every penny.
This article first appeared on Lauren's website Postgrad & Postcards, an inspirational and informative website for those that love to travel, filled with personal stories, advice, guides, and inspirational pieces based on her experiences traveling through 26 countries and 5 continents.