Those final days of a study abroad semester can be a bittersweet time. Part of you is excited to return home to your family, friends and your pets. Of course, the other part of you knows that a piece of your heart has been ripped out by the beautiful city you spent the past four months in.
At the end of the semester, I bought a plane ticket to Rome and planned out a two-week backpacking trip across Europe, alone.
Believe me when I say that I really did try to find other travel companions and I had more people tell me how unsafe and unwise that it would be to travel alone than those who didn’t. Traveling alone in a foreign country can be dangerous. Then again, every time you drive down the road can be dangerous as well. There was a world out there to explore, and I wasn’t going to let the thought of going alone stop me when the opportunity was at my fingertips.
Yes, I was nervous. I was visiting countries where English was not the first language while relying completely on my own ability to successfully make it to the next destination. I was more excited than anything though to take on this challenge alone. My route? Through Italy, up to Austria, over to Hungary and on to Dublin from there. It was the adventure of a lifetime. My experience would have been completely different if I wasn’t alone. Not only did I prove to myself that I could do it, I discovered things that I would never have discovered otherwise.
Also, when you travel alone you play by your own rules. You make your own schedule. You get up when you want to get up and go to bed when you want to go to bed. While in Budapest, I took a bus to the Pál-völgyi cave where I proceeded to put on a jumpsuit and helmet and descended into Hungary’s longest cave system for some adventure caving. Commonly known in the United States as “spelunking,” I had ample opportunity to practice “The Worm” while crawling through the caves of Hungary. When traveling alone, the world is your playbook.
I found in my two weeks traveling solo, there was plenty of time to take it all in. From watching the sunset at the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence to standing atop the Untersberg Mountain near Salzburg, I constantly had my breath taken away while thinking about how lucky I was to be where I was in that moment. I became less distracted while I was alone, revisiting the tough questions and searching my thoughts for answers.
If you ever find yourself with time to travel but no one to do it with, I highly recommend taking on a solo trip. Chances are you won’t be completely alone the entire time. You would be surprised at how many solo travelers you will meet on your journey, and how many memories you will make with them. To my Chilean friend who conveniently had the same itinerary as mine to my new Canadian friend, thank you for eating gelato and staring at masterpieces with me. Challenge yourself to strike up conversation with the person next to you on your tour bus. Sometimes that person might be a fellow Minnesotan and while the person in front of you happens to go to college with friends of yours from high school. While some of the people I met I may never see again, some of the most fun times I had were spent with them.
Don’t let your budget scare you from going on a solo trip either. When going alone, your budget is in your hands. There is no pressure to eat out for every meal or pay the museum entrance fee to a museum you couldn’t care less to see. During my stay in Italy, my bank account told me I couldn’t afford to take a private gondola ride through the canals of Venice. I can never thank the nice, Spanish family from the Canary Islands enough for allowing me to share their gondola. The expensive 80 euro ride quickly dropped down to 13 euros with a bonus of great conversation and a bucket list worthy experience.
Setting out on your own gives you a newfound sense of responsibility and confidence. It is your responsibility to be at the right place at the right time while navigating a city you barely know. Not to mention a city that speaks a language not even remotely close to English. If you want to see something, then it is up to you to do the research and figure out how to get there. Reading maps becomes second nature and the subway becomes a breeze. If you tend to be a shy person, you quickly work up the courage to ask the necessary questions. Simply making it to the desired destination is something to be proud of.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to have traveled across Europe alone. Not many people can say the same at the ripe age of 21. The memories I made and experiences I had are priceless, and the stories will surely be told years down the road to my children. While the plane ride home was bittersweet, I was already thinking of the next adventure I might have. Needless to say, my travel bug has not been cured, and to be honest, I am 100% okay with that, even if my bank account isn’t.
And like that I traveled Europe with the best companions around … me, myself and I.