Lessons Learned From Traveling Solo

     I had never so much as taken a flight by myself. I had always traveled with family or friends. Since I grew up only an hour away from Seattle I never even had to fly to SeaTac to get to school. Even when I arrived in Spain for my study abroad last semester I flew there and spent a week traveling around with my dad and brother. But I had a goal for myself; while in Europe I wanted to visit at least 4 new countries I had never gone to before. However, the longer I was in Spain, the more I realized how difficult it was to plan trips with other people. So I decided to travel by myself. By December, I had visited six countries by myself, and I don't regret it at all. I learned more about myself and the world around me than I thought I ever could.

     My first solo trip was to London; well it wasn't entirely solo, but it was a step. My plan was to fly there by myself and meet up with a friend who lived in London. I flew out from the airport closest to where I was in southern Spain, then stopped at Madrid and got on another flight. My flight to Madrid went smoothly, except for the fact it was 45 minutes late and I had only 15 minutes to get to my next flight. As soon as I realized how little time I had, I started to panic. I remember standing there with tears running down my face and I was shaking. I ran between terminals and had to go through security again. At that point I was sure I wasn't going to make it, I almost just gave up and would've tried to make it on the next flight. As I got to the right gate, they were closing it, almost ready to take off and as soon as I ran up crying, trying to explain myself in Spanish they opened the gate and let me be the last one on. I spent half the flight trying to calm down, but it taught me that it's ok if plans change, and I need to learn how to accept delays and go with the flow.

     My second solo trip was similar to the first. The plan was to take a bus from southern Spain to northern Portugal, spend two days in Lisbon by myself, then meet up with my friends, and later travel back by myself. I was going to leave Halloween night at 11:55 pm, and the bus was going to arrive in Lisbon at 6:00 am. I almost didn't go to Lisbon, at the time I had a sinus infection and a double ear infection and couldn't stand the thought of traveling around while sick. But I fought through. I arrived in Lisbon with a full schedule of museums to visit and places to see before I met up with my friends. But I couldn't do it, by 5:00 pm on the first night I went to a park on a hill to watch the sunset, and was so sick I feel asleep outside laying underneath a tree. I ended up missing all my scheduled plans for that night, and the next morning I slept in until 11:00 am. My trip to Lisbon taught me that sometimes you need to take time for yourself, and that self care is important no matter where you are.

     The very next weekend I went on my first truly solo trip. I spent four days traveling through Northern Italy, Austria, and Southern Germany. I visited a few small towns in the Italian Alps, Innsbruck, Austria, Salzburg, Austria, and Munich, Germany. I flew into Milan, Italy and flew out of Munich. To get between the cities, I spent over 16 hours on buses that weekend. On one bus, I was supposed to arrive in Salzburg at 2:00 am. The bus was scheduled to arrive at the central Salzburg train station, which I made sure was only half a mile from my hostel. I feel asleep on the bus, and when I woke up I heard an announcement entirely in Germany, and all I understood was the city name Salzburg, so I got off at the next stop. The only two people to get off were me and a old Austrian women. As soon as the bus drove out of the station, the lady looked at me and started asking me questions in German. I just shook my head, and then she asked if I spoke English. When I said yes, she turned and said “this isn't Salzburg.” I pulled out my phone, which had about one bar and opened up Google maps. Sure enough, we weren't in Salzburg, but in fact were dropped off about 10 miles south of Salzburg at a small station on the side of the highway. The lady began to look at signs around us, and told me that there was a sign pointing to a train station that was a mile away. We began to walk towards the station, hoping we could catch a train to the city center. She told me that Salzburg was a great place to visit and gave me recommendations on things to do the next day. As soon as we reached the train station we read a sign that the next train would not arrive until 6:00 am, almost four hours later. Because it was snowing, under 30 degrees outside, and there was no indoor seating area in the train station we had to try to find a way to leave. I didn't have international calling and the other lady's phone was dead so we couldn't call for a cab, or attempt to use Uber. There were no nearby gas stations that were open and no restaurants we could go sit in. I remembered that we saw a few taxis driving by on the highway, so we walked back over to the highway and stood there trying to flag down a taxi. After 15 minutes, a taxi that was full pulled over, and they said that even though they were full they would call another taxi for us. After another 20 minutes, a taxi came to pick us up. The lady I was with gave the driver the address to my hostel and we drove there. When we arrived, I offered to pay for part of the taxi ride but the older lady told me to enjoy my time in Salzburg and that she hoped the rest of my journey would go better. During my solo trip to Austria, I learned to accept help from others and not to be scared when things don't go great, because there will always be people willing to help you.

     My final solo trip was to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I decided to go when I found a plane ticket for only $30; I bought the ticket Sunday night to fly out on the next Thursday afternoon. I had almost zero plans for things to do or places to see while in Scotland, I just knew Scotland had always been on my bucket list of places to visit. When I arrived in Scotland I almost wasn’t allowed in the country, as they believed the visa in my passport was a fake. I spent almost 20 minutes in a side room explaining to them what I was doing in Scotland, and my practically nonexistent plans for the weekend. After they let me go, I was free to explore Scotland as I pleased, as long as I made it back to Edinburgh Sunday afternoon to catch my flight back. I went on hikes in the hills outside Edinburgh, I drank mulled wine at the Glasgow Christmas market, I stayed at a hostel that was located on the street that was JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, and walked down a street where they filmed a fight scene for Avengers: Infinity War. I learned that it’s so much easier to travel alone, because you can do what you want, when you want.

     In my experience, traveling solo teaches you more about yourself and the world around you. Although it may seem daunting at first, you come to realize the total and complete freedom you have when you choose to travel alone. You can spend all afternoon in an art museum without anyone complaining about being bored, or you can take your time and sip coffee in a park while people watching. And yes, it does get lonely sometimes, sometimes you want to make a funny joke and no one is there for you to share it with, or you just want to talk to someone and no one is around. But if you put yourself out there, you can make friends anywhere. I tried to go on tours that my hostels offered and would go out and get drinks with my hostel mates. While traveling alone, I meet tons of people from all over the world and learned their stories because they were the ones there to talk to, not people that I already knew. If you ever get the chance to travel alone, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Even if you’re scared, as long as you go in with a flexible and open mind, you’ll learn to love it.