As I am writing this blog post, I am sitting in the bedroom of a beautiful Dutch flat/condo in the city of Leiden, South Holland. I found this room through Airbnb and came alone. Prior to coming to this wonderful place, I visited the cities of Venice, Italy and Copenhagen, Denmark- also alone- and beyond sharing my experiences in those places, there is one thing that I need to share: I am having the time of my life. Yes, I am by myself and yes, I was unsure of how it would work out. However, making the decision to travel alone came in a strange way because this wasn't how I would have pictured spending my fall break, but honestly, I'm glad things worked out that way. After 6 days of solo traveling (for the second time this semester, actually), I've learned a few things that I feel are necessary to share. You may be weary of the idea of going on trips alone- I will admit that certain places probably would have worried me a bit more than others- but I'm here to tell you just a little bit about what solo traveling can do for your traveling experience, or just development as a person and immersion in the culture of a place. This is what it has done for me thus far, and here's what I believe it can do for you:
1. I've become more interested in learning how to blend in with the locals. Seriously. I think that this is something that everyone who wants to travel the world and experience culture says, but can sometimes have a skewed idea of. When we travel with friends, we can go to all of the local places and see the sights, but we still are dependent on the people that we are with and normally would like to blend in more with them than with the locals. That may not make sense, but see it this way: walking around with a group of friends doesn't mean sticking out, but it means that we're blending in with the familiar faces and actions that we know of our friends. When I went to Copenhagen, I found myself paying more attention to the way that people dressed and their mannerisms, so when I went on my adventures for that day, I tried to follow what I had seen as much as possible. Sticking out with a group is different than sticking out as an individual- and in some places (such as Denmark), fitting in is beautiful. Regardless of where you are traveling to, you don't want to be the person who stands out in a way that tells people that you're likely not from there. You may not speak the language or understand the customs, but personally, I tried to understand them a little bit more while I was by myself because I wanted to ensure that I didn't look or act in a way that would tell people I'm not from around there and you can probably try to take advantage of me as a tourist and be successful. Trying to blend in with the locals also really just helps with the cultural immersion- with friends, you still use the manners and conversation topics you're used to- maybe adding in a few "oh my god! this is the best city ever!" kind of comments, however, you're still conversing in the way you would if you weren't traveling. When you're traveling alone, you want to make sure to use the same types of manners as the locals, and find yourself conversing with locals about what makes their culture unique- and how you can bring it home with you to make your life better.
2. You notice the little things, just a bit more. Whether it's a trend of shoe style amongst young adults in Germany or the way that people greet each other (or don't) on the street, you tend to pay a bit more attention to it because you aren't exactly focused on staying with a group all the time. It's not that you won't notice this traveling with friends, but I noticed more tiny details in Barcelona more than I did in Paris because I spent a bit more time with myself trying to soak up the idea that I was in an amazing cultural center. Whether you're looking for these things or you're running into them by accident, the point is that you're seeing them. I know that when I go places with friends, I'm more focused on making amazing memories that we're going to laugh about together in 10 years, but when I'm alone, it's not as much about memories of what we did, but it's the memories of what I saw when I came out of my own bubble.
3. You're more likely to make friends along the way. People tend to be cliquey where ever you go; it's not always a bad thing, but we tend to stick to the familiar. In every hostel I've stayed at, I've had conversations with strangers and ended up perhaps getting dinner or spending outside time with them. In Copenhagen, I made a friend in my room and even though we only had less than 24 hours together, we decided to make the most of that time together and go on a canal tour of the city, as well as visit some other neighborhoods together (all on my last morning there). In Barcelona, technically I booked the weekend to meet up with people who's Airbnb was already full by the time I decided to go. Turns out, I didn't meet up with them once, because the people I met in my hostel were either in the same boat as me, or much more willing to be open, because chances are, they've been in the same boat as me at some point. We didn't spend every waking moment together, but I had new people with new ideas and views of the place to contribute to what I planned to do. These were the people I went to some museums with, ate some meals with, partied with, and sat on the beach at 4am with. Being by myself meant that I didn't quite have that cushion of the familiar faces- and meeting people at my hostel or even making some local friends allowed for some interesting stories and new people to call "familiar." I fucking loved it.
4. And last but certainly not least; you do what YOU want to do, because you are there for your own experience, not for that of others. I'm always willing to try new things and in most cases, my friends and I want to see a lot of the same things. However, it's hard to be 100% on the same page about every place we want to go, all the time. Had I been with my friends, maybe I wouldn't have made it to Leiden, this amazing city that I'm visiting because my grandpa went to medical school here some 60+ years ago. I knew that going with friends meant that they likely would've wanted to spend more time in Amsterdam than here, which is fine- but this was a place I considered to be a priority on my list- and I wasn't going to let a lack of similar interest from my friends hold me back. In my opinion, there is no worse excuse during study abroad traveling or general traveling than "I didn't go there/do that because my friends didn't want to." I mean come on, its your life that you need to worry about, not theirs. It's your experience, and they'll have their own. When you're writing your life story, you'll be able to say that you did or didn't what you wanted to do because of your own choices, rather than because other people held you back. Plain and simple.
So there you have it, some of the things I've learned and experienced from solo traveling. Eat your heart out.
I'm off to go catch the next train to Amsterdam for the next couple of days. I'm doing it for myself because I wanted to do it, and there's nothing else to it.