Truly Life-Changing Things I Learned from Traveling Alone
Easily one of the best moments of my life thus far happened somewhere between Paris and London on a train. I was alone, with a book, some headphones, and exactly enough money for one more pain au chocolat. Nothing remarkable actually occurred; I didn't fall in love or cancel my flight home or change my career (although the pastry was a revelation). But it was my first trip by myself—and my first international trip ever—and it didn’t turn into a sequel of Taken, despite my mom's many initial fears.
Here are some things I picked up on my travels; but you don’t have to have a solo adventure booked to benefit.
No one cares that you’re alone (except maybe you)
The first time you go unaccompanied to a restaurant (or a concert, or a movie theater, or any other place most of us never venture solo), you’re going to feel like everyone is staring at you. But they’re not! Or even if they are—maybe you're wearing a really cool top—they couldn’t care less that you’re by yourself. So ignore that self-conscious feeling until it goes away, and instead just enjoy yourself. That’s what you’re there for, after all.
Listen to your whims
The most liberating thing about being alone (in life in general tbh, but especially on trips) is that you can do what you want, always. If you don’t feel like going to yet another museum that everyone tells you “you just have to see,” then you can just...not. Do things you want to do—and only things you want to do—because you don’t have to consult with anyone else about your itinerary. Or even have an itinerary. I didn’t! Instead, I spent entire days wandering around neighborhoods I’d otherwise never see. It was glorious.
Wear exactly what you want, when you want
Did I wear the exact same black t-shirt, black jeans, black leather jacket, and Converse (hey, at least they were white!) four days in a row? Only I know the answer to that, and I’m certainly not telling any secrets now. When you’re sightseeing all by yourself, you’re not focused on Instagram-gold photo ops—you’re focused on seeing what you traveled halfway across the world to see. You’re also not worried whether your friend’s going to judge you for wearing the same pair of pants yet again, because you don’t have any friends. At least not here and now. Unless you make friends! Which brings me to…
Go ahead and talk to strangers
It is never easier to talk to strangers than when you are entirely alone and realize at 4pm in the afternoon that you haven’t heard your own voice out loud yet. Not everyone is friendly, of course, and there are definitely some strangers you should probably not talk to. Like anyone trying to sell you anything on the street. Or anyone who asks you for money. Or anyone who makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable. But it’s surprisingly easy to make fast friends when you’re traveling, especially if you’re staying in a hostel. Just speak up! Or, if you like a little more structure, do one of those tourism group trips. You’ll still be technically solo, but you’ll have a built-in social network.
Sometimes you don’t want to talk to strangers, so until it’s socially acceptable to hand someone a business card that says, “please kindly do not speak to me,” headphones will have to do. Besides, your trip deserves a soundtrack, doesn't it? And since you’ll be by yourself, you can listen to any song you want, as many times as you want. (I still can’t listen to Zayn’s leaked demo without feeling like I should have a caffè macchiato in my hand, because I listened to that track on repeat for a week straight.)