Traveling alone overseas was, I think, one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
It’s hard to put into words why. I think that’s pretty common for the experiences that shape us…they’re hard to adequately describe. The things that mold us are uniquely ours and ours alone; our travels become part of us. Explaining them to others always comes off a bit clumsy, because others will never be able to fully grasp how we felt in that moment. They’re only experiencing it secondhand.
But in spite of that (or maybe because of it?), traveling alone internationally is, I believe, an essential experience. Here’s why…
Figuring out the whole “selfie with a landmark in the background” thing on my first evening in London
It’s wholly different than traveling internationally with friends or family.
The thing about traveling alone is that it takes you 100% out of your element, no matter how practiced or comfortable you are with the art of traveling itself. For a few days, not only are you taken out of your “natural habitat” (the little slice of the world you occupy), but you are also completely separate from the people with whom you routinely interact. This means that you experience everything differently…from the mundane (pictures…your choices are: selfies, asking a stranger, or taking a regular old landscape that looks like something you could have pulled from the internet) to the biggies (not having anyone to share the-thing-that-just-took-your-breath-away with). It means your day is completely up to you (you can see everything you want and nothing you don’t at YOUR pace!), but that you also will likely be eating alone. Which leads me to the key the experience…
Breakfast alone at the uber-moody Blakes Hotel. The best eggs benny I’ve ever had, and extended time to just sit, be, process, and experience.
It’s the most alone you might ever feel.
You need to be alone. With yourself, and nobody else. Your thoughts, your brain, your loneliness. For some people, that sounds amazing. For others, that sounds like absolute punishment. Before I traveled alone for the first time, I didn’t think much about it…I wanted the space to think. And, hey, I’d done this tons of times domestically, so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Turns out, although I am used to spending hours each day alone (working from home with only the pets to talk to), I underestimated how alone I would feel in a city of 8 million people.
I will tell you this: I haven’t found anything else that has made me feel so wholly alone as being on the other side of the planet by myself. Regardless of the fact that I met up with different people every day (people I had at least a cursory relationship with prior to the trip).
Here’s why: even if you have people to meet up with for a meal or two, there are approximately 22 other hours to fill, WiFi is sketchy, and it’s just not possible to call / text your “normal” people at the drop of a hat (if you have an international plan, you’re cheating. #justsaying). That said, feeling alone like this is key. Embrace it; sit in it…because without it, you’ll never reach what’s next.
Luckily, this sign wasn’t too hard to figure out 🙂
It will show you what you’re made of.
Disclaimer: when I traveled alone, I went to London.
In the past, I’ve traveled (with others) to cities where I don’t know the language…so going to one of the world’s major cities, filled with first-world amenities and English speakers should be cake, right? Honestly, it kind of was…I admittedly chose a place I wasn’t too worried about navigating around or communicating in (although that’s not actually why I chose it).
But the thing about it is that when you’re alone, everything is up to you. You have to pay attention to things around you differently. You have to be more attentive to signs and markings because there’s nobody around to catch your mistakes if you, say, get on the wrong bus or ride the Tube in the opposite direction. And, as a woman at least, you need to be hyper-aware of every single person around you.
Every wrong turn you take is your fault…but everything you do well is your victory. Navigate the subway / metro / Underground for the first time by yourself? Winning! There are hundreds of these moments. And each small win gives you a little more confidence in yourself. It’s more proof that, yes, thank you, you can actually do it, no matter what other people think or believe about you.
Take this confidence, this empowered feeling, and hold onto it once you get home. Pull out those memories of “I did that thing I never thought I could do” when you’re up against a deadline, when there’s a problem staring you down that you just haven’t figured out yet. You figured out something completely foreign before, remember? I’m pretty sure you can do it again. Strive to keep surprising yourself…because once you do it a few times, it almost becomes a habit. Don’t lose it. #grit.
Ran across this sign walking home from dinner one night in the rain. So appropriate…and so true.
It will make you realize what you want.
Before I went to London, I never had the desire to travel alone. Granted, I didn’t really think about it too much until the opportunity presented itself. I had extended time off, I had the budget, I had a reason, but none of my friends could go. Was I supposed to sit around and wait for another time? That seemed irresponsible, and I knew I would eventually regret it if I didn’t go.
Interesting thing is, now that I’ve traveled alone, I don’t necessarily want to do it again.
But I am SO glad that I did, because it kicked off a highly introspective time in my life. And while I worked through many things about myself after the trip – what I truly want, who I want to be, and where I want to be – my solo trip to London set the stage for much of it to take place. Some of it was realized through prayer (I had a lot of time to sink into prayer and reflection), and some of it was felt though real, raw experience in the city. Regardless of “when” those realizations occurred, though, I know that London prepped my heart to receive them.
As much as the world has to offer – and as crucial as it is to me to explore it – I realized that, for me, half of the beauty of traveling is sharing it with someone close. It’s great to accumulate experiences, but if it’s only you that holds them, what’s the point? Somehow it rings more hollow. Put another way, as much as we may think it might, the “world” doesn’t hold what we’re really looking for. People do. Community does. Life is meant to be lived and experienced together.
In the end, what I’m saying is this: you may think you know the things that are on and in your heart. I sure thought I did. Then again, traveling alone might just bring something else entirely to the surface.
But, you won’t know until you go, will you?
Top: Paris, Iceland, Ireland Middle: Rio, London, Napa Bottom: Haiti, Vermont, Chicago
Have you ever thought about traveling alone? If so, where would you go? What’s holding you back from booking that ticket?