Having just returned from a trip to Europe solo, the question I encounter the most is: “So how was it, traveling alone? Was it scary?”
There is no easy way to sum up seven weeks of traveling alone in five countries in a proper sentence with appropriate punctuation. Instead, you would see dozens of run-ons, an unorthodox amount of onomatopoeias, and you would find yourself in circles, each story interrupted with another story that somehow brings you back to square one. So instead I will break the question down into a few categories to soothe your eyes and slow my typing to a sane cadence.
Traveling alone did not feel like a vacation, because in my situation, I had little money to spend. If someone asks me, “How was your holiday?” my face contorts into an awkward, confused, one eyebrow up, one eyebrow down, “Picasso-mess” as I try to find the words. “Well, traveling alone is hard…really hard. It really didn’t feel like a vacation…really more…just living life in a new place.” Don’t let me disparage my experience however. I may not have partied with friends in Ibiza, but “worth” is a word of many meanings.
Money, or truthfully lack of money, played a big part in what my trip became and how being alone played out. A surplus of money will have you staying in fabulous hostels and hotels, spending nights out at clubs with high cover charges, buying drinks for sequin-clad compatriots, and purchasing food to your heart’s desire. A lack of money leaves you spending hours roaming the city on foot, reaching out to friends-of-friends-of-friends to stay with, and eating whatever is left in the grocery bag from your last run to Tesco’s. (One night I ate a container of mushrooms for dinner; I don’t recommend this.)
When alone, there is no one to prod you with a beer bottle to urge you to go out, or to raise their eyebrows at the blanket and Friends episodes to urge you to stay in. When traveling with someone else, even briefly, that person affects every decision you make: what you do, where you eat, how you get to your next destination. Everything must be discussed. When you are alone, you have solely your budget and your preferences to be attentive to. You learn an immense amount about what you like and don’t like when there isn’t anyone around to make the choices for you.
When people say traveling alone helps you “find yourself,” this is what I learned to be the meaning. It may not be an epiphany of self-discovery (or it may be), but alone you will discover what you value and what you can do without. You may decide that the donor kabob is worth it and the Mucha museum isn’t, or vice versa. You may realize that going out isn’t worth the money for you, or that your best moments abroad were spent out until 7:30 a.m. You may spend your favorite afternoon lying in a park on a sunny day, or in the city center amongst the cars, cafes, and skyscrapers. Whatever you choose to do with your budget and time, you have only yourself to thank and berate when you get home. But at least you know a bit more about that self.