The number one question I am asked when I start talking about traveling is: ‘Who went with you?’
‘Myself,’ I answer.
Okay, so I went alone. But in today’s world that is not an acceptable answer for a teenage girl. We think that outside our country is a world filled with crime and terrorism. And who is a girl to protect herself and make her own way?
Next comes a series of questions: ‘Why? Couldn’t you have found a friend to go? Weren’t you scared? How did you do it? Were you lonely?’
Honestly, I went by myself because that was the only way to make it happen. Since I funded all of my travels myself, I didn’t have the money for any of the gap year programs available. All of my friends were set on going to college straight-away and my parents certainly couldn’t take off work to come with me. That just leaves me. I was so set on traveling and taking a gap year that I told myself the things I would see would make up for any loneliness I felt.
But here’s the thing--I was rarely lonely. ‘Traveling solo’ is a misnomer. Traveling without anyone else meant that I met so many great people as I went. Because I didn’t have anyone I knew to talk to, I would start up conversations at hostels or wherever I was staying. Soon, I was going on day trips with strangers and making life-long friends. When I stayed with hosts or volunteered I made even closer connections, with my fellow volunteers or with the families I stayed with. I went on a 6 hour road trip with some amazing people I met in the South of France (it wasn’t supposed to take that long) and I explored Rome with a pair of Canadians I met over coffee in the hostel kitchen. If you go in with an open mind and a willingness to meet new people, you will make more connections with those around you then you would have if you were not alone.
In spite of that, sometimes I would rather do something alone. While I was traveling by myself, I became spoiled. I did just what I wanted. If I wanted to spend all day in one gallery of an art museum, no one was spurring me to move faster. When I decided to cafe-hop and ramble around a city with no aim, no one was opening up a map and directing me. Even now, when I am not traveling, I can really appreciate a day by myself, doing exactly what I want to do. This made me more independent than I already was and pushed me past my comfort zone, as traveling tends to do.
To answer how I managed alone, it could be said that it is just my independent personality. Although I am young, I had no trouble planning where I was going and how I would get there by myself. I heard a funny story when my friend ran into my mother at the grocery store. Apparently he asked which cities I was planning on traveling to and my mother said that she didn’t really know. She knew some of the countries I wanted to visit, but all the particulars were managed by me. The only advice I can give for this sort of planning is to do your research, such as to find out which hostels are safe, and to have confidence that you will make everything work out. Life finds a way of happening no matter where in the world you are.
Lastly, I am very frequently asked if I was scared while traveling alone. I won’t lie. There were moments when I felt unsure of what was going to happen next or if I was safe. But I was fine. I relied heavily on my gut instincts as well as taking as many precautions as possible. If I didn’t like the way it felt to walk down a certain street, I would quickly move to a busier area. If I needed to find something, I would ask a stranger for directions. When my overnight bus connection in Phnom Penh, Cambodia seemed a little sketchy, I stuck with the rest of the people transferring and spoke up when the new bus driver told us we were on the wrong bus. (We weren’t.) I kept my valuables in the bags I could keep close to me and always had a hand on my purse. Some things you cannot stop from happening, but you can do your best to be aware and take precautions against edgy situations.
I’ve come to love traveling on my own. Despite anything that gets in my way, I’ve had amazing experiences abroad and by myself. I also take pride in the fact that I’ve become a person who can function independently. I believe that solo traveling has strengthened my character and capabilities.
So next time you want to get away from work or school, and nobody can go with you, don’t let that stop you.