This spring, a group of my close college friends came to visit me. On the first night back together, we obviously had a lot to talk about! One of my friends asked me how I feel so comfortable traveling by myself. I had, after all, just traveled through Eastern Europe for two weeks by myself. Her question is natural – it does seem strange to feel comfortable doing such a thing. As I answered her, I realized that at some point over the past couple of years it had just become normal for me.
When I studied abroad for 6 weeks, I made sure to coordinate with another student so that I wasn’t flying by myself. Four months later, when I returned to France to be an exchange student there were no other students to coordinate with! My mom was freaking out about me going alone, so I basically put on a brave face for her sake. Fake it ’till you make it, right? I nearly missed my connection flight, but everything else went relatively smoothly. At my residence, I was immediately taken in by other international students who introduced me to peers and helped me with my bank account and phone plan.
The exchange program definitely put me outside of my comfort zone, but I quickly made friends with other international students so it didn’t really feel like I was there alone. I mostly went on trips with other students. However, during that semester I ended up taking a few trips by myself. At that time, I never thought I would do something like that! It started with a short day trip to Chartres. My professor in the fall had recommended I visit the city to see the cathedral. I tried to coordinate with another student to go, but eventually as our schedules weren’t matching up I just decided to go! I totally rode the regional train without a ticket (not understanding the distinct difference between RER and TGV at the time) and spent the afternoon walking around and exploring the city! I returned home so happy with myself for going.
However, a simple day trip versus a weekend trip – surely that wouldn’t be so easy?
Later in the semester as I was searching for cheap tickets, I found a really great price to visit Nice for the weekend. My plan was always to get someone to join me, but as the date approached I hadn’t found a travel partner. I was determined that I wouldn’t waste these train tickets so I went ahead by myself!
My first evening in Nice, I walked along the beach and took in the amazing coast. I found a tiny restaurant – 6 tables maximum – and ate a three course meal by myself. This is the first time I can remember eating out by myself. As I sat there, I felt entirely at peace. Eventually I got the wifi password and texted my brothers for a little cyber company. 😀
Through the rest of the weekend, I got lost multiple times. I tried and failed to visit Eze. I went to Monaco without my passport (border hopping!) twice. Then, I visited Antibes and Cannes. Three whole days by myself! I met lots of locals who gave me great advice on places to visit or food to try.
After this accidental solo trip, I decided mini trips by myself weren’t such a bad option. About a month or so later, I spent four days in Barcelona alone. I absolutely fell in love with this city. I was so deliriously happy all weekend! Traveling in France alone was one thing, as I speak French. But being in Spain alone was a little intimidating because I don’t speak Spanish! During one morning I couldn’t even think of how to say Cafe con Leche!! But it ended up totally fine. One day, I even went up the coast to see a flower festival in Girona and the Dali museum in Figueres. Of course, there were moments when I was lost and frustrated. I walked around in circles in Old Town Barcelona trying to find a museum for almost an hour one day! But overall, I did everything I wanted to do and felt amazing for being able to navigate completely by myself.
If you have been following my blog, you know that I just lived in Lille for 8 months. Through the several holiday breaks we received during the school year, I got to travel quite a bit. Some trips I met up with others, but the majority of the time I went by myself. I would return from solo trips with new friendships and amazing experiences. Most of my favorite memories this past year include moments with complete strangers – friends I made at hostels or on walking tours. I made a friend one evening with my server in the Netherlands! We kept in touch and I returned to Rotterdam to visit again later in the year.
Of course traveling with friends is also very fun. Traveling alone can seem really scary or risky. However, I truly believe that you learn so much about yourself and your own preferences when traveling alone. Studying and then working in France by myself allowed me to meet so many amazing friends! If I knew more people ahead of time, I think that I might not have been so open to meeting others.
So why am I so comfortable traveling alone? Because I forced myself to be!
And it is so worth it.