Last summer, I crossed the ocean and lived in an eight-hour difference time zone. I accepted an internship that allowed me to explore two vibrant cities in Europe. This adventure marked a lot of firsts for me—including the first time I had ever traveled alone. Like many, the thought of traveling by myself was full of mixed emotions.
There were countless moments that tested my limits and forced me to deal with situations I would typically avoid back home. I got lost at night without a map in cities where English wasn’t spoken. I missed a flight. I battled with a spider the size of my fist and even dealt with an exploding curling iron. I did all these things while not knowing a city of 8.67 million.
During that time, I also devoured a delectable cone of churros and ate too many bowls of ramen. I admired the visions of artists, musicians, and designers. I met unforgettable people, and questioned multiple times if I ever wanted to go home. And that’s simply the highlight reel.
After a few months of digesting the trip, I believe I can offer some advice for those of you who have caught the travel bug, too. While traveling with others is unbeatable, going solo gives you a confidence and an experience you can’t quite get from a family vacation or a road trip with your best friends.
Here’s what I learned through the process of traveling alone:
Take the long way home
Literally. The outcomes of the times I took side streets, cut through parks, or rode a different tube line were rewarding. I met people with beautiful stories, and found small art festivals and breathtaking views. If you feel safe, take a chance and explore lesser known areas–I guarantee you’ll be able to add an extra handful of experiences.
Breathe, reassess, take action
Oftentimes it’s easy to be reactionary and jump to conclusions or think the worst about situations. When I missed a flight I immediately assumed I’d be stuck forever or never find a way to get back. There’s a method to fighting back this kind of panic. Force yourself to stop and take a deep breath. Then, reassess your situation–is a friend awake back home? Is there a service agent you can ask for help? As soon as you figure out your resources and allow yourself a moment to calm down, problem-solving will become much simpler.
Breaks are important
There were some days of my trip where I felt mentally exhausted. Big cities have high-energy, and for me it can be draining rather than invigorating. It’s important to remember that if you need a break or a day or two of relaxing at your Airbnb, that’s okay. There is no shame in recuperating and taking a day to recenter—your trip will be more fun if you feel good.
Remember and appreciate your talents
Whether you travel for fun, school, an internship, or a combination of all three, recognizing your talents can help you through challenging moments or give a new perspective to the people around you. Getting lost in a city without a map or a working phone app can be scary, but you may realize that one of your skills is a strong sense of direction or may force you to rely on your foreign language skills to ask for help.
Seeing the world is important. So is getting to know yourself. I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone, travel solo, and learn a thing (or 27) about yourself in the process.
Have you traveled alone? Let us know what you learned in comments below.