Solo travel might seem intimidating at first, but it allows you to have an incredible, personal experience while abroad.
If you have ever travelled in a group, or with another person, you know how incredibly special it can be to share the experience of living in a foreign culture with someone else. Traveling with company can be an incredible bonding experience that creates shared memories; and I have definitely enjoyed this through my experiences studying abroad. Despite this, I definitely believe that the best moments abroad were the ones spent traveling alone.
When I started planning my trips abroad, I considered myself incredibly lucky to be involved in a program that enabled to return to a campus where I could be surrounded by my native language, and people from a similar background. While having this group to rely on helped immensely with initial culture shock, the best and most memorable moments of my five months away from home were when I strayed away from the group, and finally became brave enough to venture off alone. Those trips were defining moments in my life and pivotal moments in my growth as a person.
Here's why I fell in love with solo travel:
1. It helped me make incredible connections: Taking a step away from those you know very well can help you make new connections with people from all different types of backgrounds. There's something about being alone that leads to open-mindedness, and the friends you will meet abroad will likely tell you so much more about their culture than you will probably be able to learn otherwise. This will likely lead to you forming a list of new places to visit, foods to try and activities to visit that many tourists may miss out on. Most importantly, you'll leave with a friendship that can last well beyond your visit.
2. It forced me to become more independent: It can be easy to fall into a bit of a routine while studying abroad, especially when you stay in one city with your classmates and friends. When I was in Rome, I got a little restless, and was tired of visiting the same coffee shops, restaurants, and staying within the neighborhood where our school was. I knew there was so much more to see, and experience, but they had no real desire to explore. One Saturday morning, I decided to go off my own, and that started a trend. I would take little walks along the Tiber River, cross bridges, and slowly learn my way around the city by going to a new place each day. By the time we left the country, those friends had not even visited the Coliseum, while I had taken charge of my own experience abroad.
3. I learned how to spend time with myself: At times, there can be such a negative stigma about being alone; but travelling solo can help you really distinguish between being alone and being lonely. Who you are when you're alone in an unfamiliar context can often be surprising in subtly pleasant ways. The times I ventured off on my own, I was able to learn about the best parts of my character, as well as acknowledge flaws and challenge myself to work on them. I realized that I was far more adventurous, open-minded, and brave than I had ever imagined myself to be, and continued that personal growth even after I returned home. Solo travel led to a better sense of self.
4. It helped me learn about closure: There are so many experiences in life that you have to go through alone. This does not necessarily mean that you'll have to go entirely without support, but the emotions and stressors associated with the event may be entirely your own. While travelling alone, I had to learn how to say goodbye to places and people I had become learned to love, all while being aware that I alone bore that sadness. Shared memories lived on among my study abroad group; but I was forced to quickly learn how to make my own peace with leaving my favorite neighborhood teashop, and saying goodbye to the Frenchman I had grown so incredibly fond of. I had to learn how to find my own closure, so that when I returned home, I was content, strong and filled with so many lovely memories I was lucky to have in the first place.
Even if you choose to travel in a group, I encourage you to take moments to yourself to explore. I appreciated the familiarity having other American students afforded me, but honestly, the people who reveled in that familiarity might have just cheated themselves out of the best parts of the experience of being in another country. Traveling alone helps you break out of your shell, immerse yourself in a different culture and form an incredibly strong and personal connection with new places. You just might be surprised by how versatile you could be.
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