Why (and How) You Should Travel the World... Alone

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

I was born in a suburb.

A small suburb. A small suburb outside of a small city with a Football team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the ‘90s and a claim to fame in the shape of a Buffalo wing and OJ Simpson.

Being born and raised in Buffalo, New York wasn’t a bad thing by any means. In fact, I loved it. I had my best friends in the entire world living down the street. I spent my summers swimming and playing capture the flag. I went to incredible public schools from the ages of 5 to 18 and had incredible teachers inspire and push me to succeed along the way. I grew up happy, well fed, well kept and for all intents and purposes, well rounded. But growing up in a small suburb near a small city often lures you into a sense of ‘it’s a small world after all.’

When you stay in one city your whole life, I guess it is. When trips to Tim Hortons (that’s a coffee shop) and Wegmans (if you don’t know that one you don’t deserve to know) become High School reunions, that’s not a small world you’re living in, it’s a bubble.

And like every small child knows, bubbles need to be popped.

Growing up in the age of the internet, it’s easy to believe that we’re all interconnected. When you and a British kid on Twitter can tweet about how amazing Lin Manuel Miranda is all because you were able to listen to the same music from different continents while you sit in a Denny’s in Buffalo and he in a bedroom in Manchester, it really is hard not to marvel at such a thing. However, what people seem to forget is the entire world that exists beyond that tweet.

The world is not a small place. It’s vast and stunning and sometimes scary. It’s not small. You can travel your whole life and you’ll never see everything, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

People are meant to explore. It’s the reason we escape to movies and ask google for answers about the vast world around us. We’re curious and we shouldn’t attempt to stifle that curiosity.

Now, before I explain why I believe everyone should travel the world, let me preface this: Traveling the world isn’t cheap, I know not everyone can afford it, I know I’m lucky enough to be able to and I’m incredibly thankful for that. This blog post isn’t going to be about the money behind it anymore than the trip itself should be. It’s about the experience and why, if you can afford it, it’s more than worth it.

Why You Should Travel the World

For every action, there are thousands of reasons not to take it. You have work, you have school, you have family and friends and this commitment or that. Life doesn’t stop moving and you simply don’t have the time. All great reasons not to travel. There will always be a thousand reasons to say no.

So find the one to say yes.

Find that one cheap flight, don’t go home for winter break, realize that life doesn’t stop moving but you’re allowed to. Make the reason up if you have to, but if you want to travel, even if you’ve only just thought about it, don’t let life get in the way.

Acknowledge that somewhere down the line you’re going to look back and either remark at how grateful you are for having gone or how much you wish you had. But don’t you dare say that you’ve seen it all, because until a Hungarian stripper throws a drink all over you in front of seven of her closest stripper friends, you haven’t seen anything.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme but you get the point.

Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’ll do it. So, why do I have to do it alone?

Alright, so you don’t have to. But, if you can, you should.

If you can’t travel completely alone, do your best to be as independent as possible. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Now, some more quick background. I grew up in a family of ten kids. Yeah, ten, wow―we’re moving on. Growing up in a big family, I learned at a young age the importance of being independent. Traveling alone is one of the best ways to work on that independence.

Want to work on confidence or on trying new things or on writing more or reading more or doing more? There’s no better way to do it than spending some time alone seeing beautiful things in incredible and unfamiliar places.

One of my personal goals from traveling this summer was to start reading and writing more, to work on new ideas and to develop new scripts and concepts. After a few days in Budapest, I ended up in a small coffee shop hyped up on caffeine. The very same one I’m sitting in now.

I started writing and ideas flowed out like they haven’t in years. Being in a new setting doesn’t only clear your head, it pushes the reset button and allows you to look at your problems and your priorities from thousands of miles away.

When you bring a piece of home with you, you allow that stress to follow you. Whether it’s a significant other or a best friend, sometimes it’s best to leave everything behind for a bit.

Traveling is about being relaxed and open minded. It’s about trying new things, and not regretting it. Actually, not totally true, I’ve eaten so many different kinds of animal liver so far and I regret all of it. But you won’t regret most of it.

Try new alcohols, learn some words of a new language, see places you’ve always wanted to―or better yet, see places you didn’t even knew existed.

Yesterday, I was in the room where Mozart gave his first concert at the age of 6 years old. I didn’t even know that until after I’d been there for a few minutes only half paying attention at not reading the placards on the wall. The fact that a lot of Americans seem to forget is that our country is so incredibly young.

A few weeks ago I went into a 500 year old bath tub. The White House is about 200 years old and I legit got naked and took a bath in a 500 year old tub.

Beyond going to different places and seeing new things, traveling alone is great because you’ll find that you’re willing to do things you don’t usually do.

I’m not one to get naked in front of people I’ve only known for a few hours, and get into an old bath, but hey, I’m never gonna see them again so why not?

Traveling alone allows you to do things without the immediate judgment of your friends and family.

You might not normally have the confidence to walk up to a girl at a club and talk to her, but if there’s only a 50/50 chance she speaks english and there’s a near 100% chance you’ll never see her again, you’ll figure out pretty quickly that you legitimately have nothing to lose.

On the tamer side, maybe you like museums and your family hates them, or vice versa, when you’re alone, you call all the shots. A few weeks back I went to huge Picasso exhibit and saw hundreds of original works and spent hours exploring the entire Hungarian National Gallery, meanwhile my parents did the entire Louvre in an hour and felt they’d seen everything.

So, to recap. You don’t have to travel alone. In fact, for some I’m sure that’s the last thing you’d ever want to do. But, if you really want to get to know yourself, to experience the world fully, to force yourself to try new things and to meet new people from every corner of the earth, then push yourself to break through your own boundaries and do something that would otherwise make you uncomfortable.

Damn, you’re persuasive. Okay, but how do I travel the world alone?

Alright, so I’m not gonna give you the facts and numbers about airplanes or hostels or hotels or money conversions. Google that shit. I’m not here to give you the numbers, I’m here for the important things. So, here they are:

Self Confidence

This one is surprisingly important, though it deserves some clarification.

No, you don’t need to look in the mirror and be sexually attracted to yourself―though you do get bonus points for that. Instead, you really need to be comfortable spending time alone with yourself, and that isn’t as easy as it seems. Self confidence is merely being happy in your own company.

Do you like seeing movies alone or reading a book for a few hours or going on walks? That’s the first step. But if you’re the kind of person who hangs out with friends all day and your time alone is primarily spent napping, then maybe work on yourself a bit first. Take yourself out to dinner one day. Or go shopping. Take yourself out on the date you’ve always wanted but never got.

Traveling alone is going to push you out of your comfort zone in ways you can’t imagine. One time I ate some strange middle eastern food (okay I ate chicken heart, I’m not proud of it) at this little joint in Budapest and it led to a rather violent bowel movement.

Now something to note about Europe is the toilets work a little differently, they’re all for saving water over here which is great for the environment and awful for actually flushing down an American sized shit. Anyway, I flushed the toilet after using a very conservative amount of toilet paper and nothing moved. Literally, there wasn’t any flushing, just some water moving around.

Oh, and I had a Tinder date in a half hour. Long story short I didn’t plunge the toilet so much as stick a plunger in the toilet and apply brute force until the toilet was empty. But I also laughed at the absurdity of the situation.

I mean I laugh now, at the time it was gross. It’s still pretty gross, actually.

Regardless of the situation, whether it’s as simple as plumbing issues or going out to a bar alone, the confidence to say that you ‘belong’ somewhere is not recognized nearly enough.

My first day alone in Budapest I went out to lunch and ordered food on a street I didn’t recognize and in a language I couldn’t understand. And despite having known that this was the plan and having prepared for it all along, it was a terrifying moment. But it was only a moment.

An hour later I was driving a moped I’d rented for $20 over a bridge on the Danube River. Fear can be paralyzing, but, damn, it’s a waste of time.

The Yes Man Mentality

Yeah, the Jim Carrey movie, it’s awesome―go away. Now saying yes and confidence actually go hand in hand a lot more than you’d think. Now I don’t mean to say you should be stupid when you travel―obviously, you shouldn’t be, but traveling isn’t about saying no and being ‘smart.’

Traveling is about saying yes. And sometimes saying yes can be kind of stupid. Saying yes means going out when you might really want to sleep or watch Game of Thrones.

Going out can also mean accidentally staying out till 4am with someone you’ve only known for a few weeks. Staying out too late is ‘stupid.’ Traveling alone is ‘stupid.’ Going out with strippers is ‘stupid.’ Hell going into film is usually considered ‘stupid’ too but it’s what I love. My point here is everything worth doing is probably (not probably, definitely) considered ‘stupid’ to someone.

So, if that’s what being stupid is, then sign me up.

Being stupid and saying ‘yes’ is the beginning of every great story. It’s also the beginning of lots of bad ones though, so do use some discretion.

Tinder

Tinder- the best travelers’ tool ever invented.

So let’s get to the real crux of traveling alone. The stories you tell when you get home to your friends aren’t going to be about some beautiful building or monument you saw. And they’re sure as hell not gonna be about some Picasso exhibit.

No, the stories you tell will always be about the people.

When I was in Israel about a month ago I went out with three Israeli soldiers and had an amazing night. They took me to bars all over Tel Aviv and we danced and drank at one point we accidentally ended up meeting a famous Israeli rapper. And his dog.

Naturally, I took pictures.

Okay, so I only took pictures with his dog.

To me, that’s a story worth sharing. Because traveling is often more about the people you meet than the places you go.

Tinder provides a couple of things for the random traveler, first and foremost, it provides a way to get out.

Don’t let yourself stay in every night when you could be going out with people from all over the world, whether it’s locals or other travelers like you. Let’s address another thing, too. Tinder doesn’t have to be about dating or one night stands, in fact the app allows you to give some information about yourself and what you’re looking for.

Want to make friends?

Want to date?

Want to party?

Want to travel?

You’d be shocked at how many people from all over the world would love to get a coffee and hang out. Since using the app, I’ve met and talked to people from Russia, China, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Finland, and England. In the entire time I’ve had the app, I’ve only talked to one American on it.

Tinder does another thing too, it completely shatters your view on the world. Honestly, go out with someone from any other country in the world and actually talk to them.

Learn what they think about America, or what their country is like. Ask them what shows they watch and what they love doing.

Meet people different from yourself who you never would have met before.

One night, while I was in Vienna, Austria, I matched with a Russian girl who was also traveling alone. We had talked for a bit and decided to meet up. So we met at a small wine bar near the city centre in Vienna. And we talked for a few hours.

She had never been to the United States before.

She had never had an American friend.

She was from a small town in Russia and was one of the only people who spoke fluent (fluent is a bit too strong of a word here) English. She explained to me that most of her English had been learned from YouTube and shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock. Which happen to be some of my favorite shows.

So we discussed them.

I didn’t really realize how cool of a moment that was until a few days later. An American and a Russian arguing about the shows that we both love as we drank wine and sat in a bar thousands of miles from our respective homes.

At the end of the night I hugged her and wished well with the rest of her trip across Europe. I don’t think I’ll ever see her again and that’s totally okay.

It’s a story worth telling, from a place worth remembering, with a person worth meeting. And that’s what traveling is all about.

Thanks, Tinder.

Just a Pinch of Fear

Over confidence is stupid and not the good kind.

So let’s not sugarcoat it, traveling alone has its risks. But, everything does.

So be smart.

Listen to people when they tell you to be careful, avoid places with travel warnings and use some common sense.

Also, listen to your parents. They sometimes know what’s going on.

A week or two ago I texted my parents letting them know I was planning on going to Istanbul. I was literally on the webpage about to buy my plane tickets when they texted me asking me not to.

At the time, I saw no point in not going but decided I’d travel elsewhere until they changed their minds or I found someone else to go with. Here are some actual texts:

So, thanks Mom and Dad for looking out for me from thousands of miles away. I appreciate it.

Okay, that’s it. Now, go have an adventure.

Yale Fried is a student at Emerson College. He studies directing and screenwriting. In his free time he can be found making movies or blogging at YaleFried.com. He’s the eighth of ten children and for that reason, he speaks as loud and as often as he can. He loves to read, write, travel, and watch and make movies. He also loves to sleep.

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