France, Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland were calling with promise of adventure, and I couldn’t deny the deep yearning to embark on a voyage into unknown cultures, cities, and experiences. I traveled alone to these five countries from August 31st to September 18th prior to beginning school at the University of Westminster in London. I’ve learned that traveling makes you a storyteller as well as teaches you more practical, lifelong lessons than anything else. It is through this month-long solo trip that I was able to compile stories and reasons why every human should take a solo trip at some point in their life–a trip sooner rather than later because, like the mountains, the world is calling for adventure. You just have to pick a trail and start climbing. Here are the top ten reasons why you should follow that calling on a solo trip.
- You master the art of taking selfies.
When you visit unique, beautiful new places, you want to document your experiences through photographs. However, when you’re alone, you quickly learn that you have two options in regards to taking photographs. One: ask someone to take your photo, or two: set up a contraption to place your camera on so you can get the right angle and utilize the self timer. There is, however a third option: shamelessly have a selfie stick and a big smile. I always opted for the selfie stick or setting up some sort of wild contraption out of things in my backpack in order to get the pictures I wanted. No matter how you choose to take photos on a solo trip, you’re always guaranteed a funny story of how you eventually got your photograph. This particular one was taken at the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium, and miraculously only took one try. However, there were plenty of times that it took me six or seven tries to get the picture I wanted or some kind person, with a smile and usually a little bit of a laugh, offered to just take the photo for me.
- You learn how valuable and precious community is.
When traveling alone, crowds of people often surround you, but there isn’t one specific person that you get to share your experiences with or look over at and see a familiar look of awe on their faces. However, you become ever grateful for the friends and family back home who make the time for a phone call or FaceTime date. These are the people who will listen to all of your stories and in a way share the experiences of your day even though they aren’t physically there. In realizing the value of community, you also master the art of long distance communication, which is just another perk and life lesson learned through traveling alone.
- It forces you to have expert organizational skills.
It is up to you to figure out your flights, how to get through customs, how you’re going to get to and from the airport, where you’re going to stay–all of which takes quite a bit of premeditated thought, research and planning. After organizing a month long trip with no one to consult except myself, a long research paper or daunting exam for class doesn’t sound too bad! This is a photograph from Engelberg, Switzerland; which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. However, I came to Engelberg, Switzerland from Nuremberg, Germany, which took a 7 ½ hour train ride, 5 train switches, a currency change, and a new language.
- You learn how to cope, react and stay calm in stressful situations.
There’s no point in denying that at some point on your solo trip, you will probably get lost, take a wrong turn somewhere, or get on the train going in the opposite direction you intended to go, and all of that is okay! It’s all part of the experience and adds to your collection of stories. Getting lost in a foreign country teaches you to stay calm and think critically. It is during these moments that you learn you’re never truly alone. In cities that thrive off of tourism, like Brussels, Paris, or Amsterdam, there are maps frequently posted. English is also spoken nearly everywhere in the world and you can always ask the ticket agent at the train station or just another person walking by for directions. If all else fails, there are always cafes or restaurants with free WiFi, and you can go there to look up a map, directions, or call your hotel and ask for help. I always kept a map of the city I was in with me as well as directions saved in the “Notes” on my phone on how to get to my hostel or hotel. My stressful situation happened, however, not at the train station or on the streets of some incredible city, but on Lake Trubsee in Engelberg, Switzerland. I decided to take a rowboat out and the wind picked up while I was in the middle of the lake pushing me far away from shore. I am quite the inexperienced rower and was considering hopping into the lake to swim my boat to shore when a kind Swiss man ended up paddling over in his own rowboat and towed me safely back to shore.
- You meet other travelers and make new friends along the way.
Whether it’s your fellow hostel bunk-mates, another person who’s on the same tour as you or someone you strike up a conversation with on the bus, there are always plenty of other travelers out there who are seeing the same gorgeous sights you are. While I was in Germany, I took a bus to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and met another young woman who was also traveling solo around Europe. We ended up touring the Memorial Site together and have been able to keep in touch even after we parted ways. Another example is that when I was in France, I stayed with my friend Sonia who had studied abroad at Union University, my American university. It was fun to reconnect and reunite with Sonia after we had parted ways in the States.
- You are forced to be independent and make decisions for yourself without other’s influence.
You will make lots of decisions abroad, from the simple (what you’re going to eat for dinner) to the semi complicated (what kind of medicine you’re going to take and what you’re going to do if you get sick abroad) to the complicated (what train to get onto when the map and signs are in a foreign language to you). All of these decisions fall onto your shoulders. That’s not meant to sound intimidating but should be posed as a fun challenge. Traveling alone gives you a chance to think 100% for yourself, and you get to practice utilizing your common sense, navigational skills and independence. However, if you are confused or don’t know where to go, there are always kind people or employees around who are willing to answer questions and point you in the right direction.
- Time Management is MASTERED.
It is your job to make sure you get to the airport or train station with adequate time as well as your job to make sure you fit all of the activities and sights you want to see into your schedule. This can take hours of preparation, research and work prior to leaving on your trip, but the more details you have planned out before you land on foreign soil, the smoother your trip will go. I promise! Along those same lines, coming from America, I was used to a mentality of having access to everything, like 24 hour grocery stores every day. This is not the case in some countries. In Engelberg, Switzerland, and parts of Germany, grocery stores close at 6pm, which was surprising the first time I found that out. However, you learn to adjust and manage your time.
- Solitude allows you to learn a lot about yourself.
When traveling alone, it’s just you experiencing the sights, the food, and the culture. Since you are the master of your schedule, you learn how much sleep you need, when exactly you need to eat, and how much energy you truly have to exert every day. You also learn the differences between your wants and needs because you are also the master of your finances when you are abroad alone.
- You learn financial responsibility.
You are responsible for managing your finances and keeping track of your spending while you’re abroad. There is no one to encourage or discourage you from purchasing dessert three times a day, purchasing a pair of shoes that are far outside of your budget or splurging on a paragliding course at the last minute. When a solo trip falls on your own budget, it is important to be very conscientious of what you’re spending each day as getting out of a financial bind in a foreign country can be quite difficult. One of the best things I did for myself before I took this solo trip was work out a budget down to the very cent I was allowing myself to spend on a snack and dinner every night. This pre-made chart held me accountable to stay within my allocated budget as well as hung over my head as something I checked before I spent any money. Thinking through your budget also gives you a realistic idea of how much money you’re going to be spending on the sights like the top of Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Belgium or on activities like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as well as day to day necessities like food, housing and transportation.
- You are capable of writing a novel about life lessons, funny stories and experiences you have had.
To ensure that I was able to remember the details of this month-long adventure, I took a Polaroid picture every single day and put it into a photo album where I wrote a description of what I did each day. When I flip through this photo album, I immediately recall experiences, emotions and stories from my time abroad. I can vividly remember the 10-mile hike I did in Switzerland and the feeling of triumph when I reached the top. I can recall as if it were the yesterday the awe-struck feeling and hear myself gasping when I stepped off the bus and into Zaans Schans, a working windmill town in Amsterdam. I have stories, descriptions of the beautiful places I’ve seen, and lessons I’ve learned forever etched in my memory. I can honestly say that I have learned more about myself in the past month than I ever have before.
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