This post is coming a bit later, because I traveled alone right after Easter weekend, but I’m getting to it now. At the beginning of my study abroad experience I had contemplated the idea of traveling alone, and I thought about doing it for a weekend sometime during the semester. But I didn’t think I would actually do it. It kind of happened accidentally, I was meant to be traveling with a friend, but there came to be personal reasons why that friend couldn’t travel with me during that time so I was left with a decision: Stay in Ireland for the week (which I would have been happy to do to), or seek an adventure, and go to two countries that I had really wanted to visit, Austria and Poland. I took a leap and booked the flights and the hostels. With the click of a button, came a sense of freedom and independence. I wasn’t just thinking about it, I was doing it. I was traveling alone for 6 days through two countries in Europe.
The most common questions I have received from people regarding this solo travel experience have been: Were you nervous/scared?, and Did you ever feel lonely?. Now to answer those questions.
I was really only nervous a bit before the trip, because I was left to my imagination and thoughts of possible scenarios of things that could go wrong. But I was also dreaming about things that could go right. Once I got on the plane to Vienna, there was no turning back, and from that point on the nerves sort of just wiped away. I felt the most empowering confidence come over my body and mind. I think if I were to travel solo through Europe at the beginning of this experience abroad, I would have been a lot more anxious. But over the course of the semester I have traveled and stayed in hostels. I have experienced challenges and miscommunications especially where English is not the native language. I have come to realize that I can explore a new place with energy after the failed attempts of sleeping on a night bus. I have come to grow in patience especially when things do not always turn out as planned, but I have learnt how to make the most out of everything, even the little things. But most importantly, I remembered that I jumped into this study abroad exchange feet first, not knowing a single person. And it has been the most amazing experience ever since. Once I thought about all of that, I felt ready.
Now on to feeling lonely. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is a state of seeking what you need and crave. One can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd or a group of friends. Loneliness is more of an emotional state. Being alone is neither positive or negative necessarily, it is just being in the presence of yourself. As I continue to grow up I feel more comfortable with spending time alone. Don’t get me wrong I love people and human connection and affection but there is something to be said about loving yourself and not being afraid of being alone. Through all my experiences, but especially this one I have learnt that I can rely on myself. I can make decisions and I can change my mind. I can be independent. Once I arrived in Vienna, I didn’t have much plans to stay in the city. My main place of interest was Salzburg, and I had a hostel bed booked there for 3 nights. But when I arrived into Vienna late morning, it hit me that I was really alone, there was nobody to make decisions with about how we were going to spend the day or what we were going to do. Then with that, I realized that even though I was set to go to Salzburg for the evening, there was no rush, I only had myself to turn to. So I spend the afternoon walking around the city of Vienna and enjoying its beauty. This is something that I may have not gotten to do had I not traveled solo. Then I made my way to the train station to hop on a train to Salzburg. All of the transportation to and from places, and from Austria to Poland was figured out by me, there was nobody to split the work with, and this added to the feeling of independence and autonomy and I loved it.
Something that crossed my mind while traveling alone was also the opportunity of meeting new people. Of course I had to completely rely on myself for this as well. There was nobody holding me accountable to starting up a conversation with a new person but me. So that first night in Salzburg, I was ending the evening at the bar in the hostel, going through which table I was going to approach and getting up the courage to do it. I ended up meeting a girl from the States who was about to start her exchange in Germany. She was also a solo traveler and we engaged in a wonderful conversation to which I am so thankful for. The next day I woke up when I wanted to, explored where I wanted to, and stayed at a certain place for how long I wanted to. I can’t tell you how liberating this was. In the afternoon I went on a Sound of Music tour because it is my favourite movie and of course an inspiration behind my decision to go to Salzburg. During some of the best 4 hours of my nerd life, I met another solo traveler from Canada (woop!) but who is living in Germany. Her and I connected quite quickly and went on to sit on the bus together, be each others picture takers and even have dinner together. It became clear to me that meeting people while traveling solo is not as hard as I thought! That evening her and I were enjoying the Mirabelle Gardens (where the Do-Re-Mi sequence is filmed) and we accidentally met another solo traveler who coincidentally was also staying in our hostel. Then we all met up in the hostel that evening and planned to do activities around Salzburg the next day. It was wonderful, because we all wanted to do similar things. But by being alone, I didn’t feel obliged to go with them either. But the next day I ended up having the time of my life seeing things with them, enjoying meals together and just getting to know one another. It is a day that I will always treasure and would have missed out on otherwise.
Once I arrived in Krakow the next night after a days worth of travel and train connections, I was sitting in my bed at the hostel planning out what I wanted to do and see during my couple of days there. There were four friends from Germany in Krakow for the weekend staying in my hostel. They invited me to go out with them that night. While I was terribly exhausted and tired I kept an open mind and went out with them. You don’t meet new people when you sit around in your room! I had no regrets, I had such a fun time that night, and again, this is an experience I probably wouldn’t have encountered had I not been traveling alone. The next night I ended up going out with them again, this time on a pub crawl, and I ended up meeting a ton of other new people from around the world and having another amazing night.
Now I have traveled with wonderful, kind, fun people over the course of my time abroad. I have had incredible experiences everywhere I have traveled and memories that will last a lifetime. My positive experience from traveling alone does not mean I do not enjoy traveling with company, it just means I am completely fine on my own as well.
Essentially traveling alone taught me to just say ‘yes’. It taught me that meeting new people in these circumstances is one of the most enriching experiences. It taught me I can sit in and have a meal alone and be completely content, but I can also speak to anyone and within hours be planning an activity to do together. While I met new people and engaged with them I wasn’t always in company. But it became more clear that this not a bad thing and more of an opportunity to grow, learn and accept myself, from this the rest is easy. But most importantly I came to realize that I have faith in myself and that has been the most rewarding part. I can definitely say I will be traveling alone again.