Going It Alone: The Take-A-Ways from Traveling Solo
I am a traveller by nature. I visited 38 states and 7 Canadian provinces before my 10th birthday. And I’ve travelled around three continents since then. I love planes. I love trains. I love packing up a bag with all my belongings - spending weeks making plans, and then throwing them away when I get there.
I want to know, not just read about, how people live in other parts of the world. I need to feel the sea breezes of the Irish coast, let the tang of curry tickle and tantalize my taste buds, wake up to Big Ben chiming as my alarm.
I am a traveller by nature. But, often, that means venturing out on my own.
The first time I travelled solo I ended up two states over, in Missoula, Montana. Even though I could have been back home in a few hours, the criticisms I received for traveling alone, as a woman, were enough to make me question my decision. People told me how brave/crazy I was to Couchsurf and how dangerous it would be. When I finally stepped on the Greyhound bus, I had to take a deep breath – I was shaking. That trip was the foundational stone for how I travel now. It taught me that, as an independent woman, I could make new friends, experience life and plan successfully without assistance.
A year later, I was sitting in my apartment planning my next trip: backpacking around the UK and Ireland. Initially, I was planning with my roommate, but she unexpectedly had obstacles that prevented her from going. I was left with two options.
1. Delete my Pintrest boards and curl up on my bed in disappointment.
2. Take a deep breath, pack my bags and buy some maps.
I chose the latter. On my 23rd birthday I bought a plane ticket to Ireland.
The first time I told someone I would be traveling to the UK by myself, I think they thought I was joking. When they realized I was serious, a look of surprised shock crept across their face, traveling down slowly from their eyes to their gaping mouth. While they stood in stunned silence, I explained my ideas for the trip, ignoring their obvious discomfort.
Over the next two months I was, “Brave” “Independent” and “Gutsy” for traveling beyond state borders by myself. But I didn’t feel brave. I felt like I was about to walk into a world of abductions and pickpockets. Like I had a giant target on my head that said, “Tacky American.” I was excited, but I was also scared, nervous and felt completely unequal to the task.
A procrastinator by nature, I didn’t start planning the trip until two weeks before I left. I sent out Couchsurfing requests – and got barely any replies. I looked up hostels, crossing my fingers that I picked the right ones. I reserved trains, ferries and buses, having no idea how I would get to the stations.
Over the course of my trip I learned some very important lessons. The first being: go on your own path, not just the one that everyone has travelled. One of the best decisions of my trip was going to Glasgow, Scotland (instead of the popular choice, Edinburgh). I was able to stand a foot away from works by Monet, Cezanne, Rembrandt and (my favorite artist) Van Gogh in the Kelvingrove museum, and I made some amazing new friends while I was there. The experience changed my entire outlook on life, art and my own place in the world as an artist.
Another lesson is to take every opportunity that is offered. Over the course of my trip I ate Haggis (sheep intestines), went Scottish dancing and saw Wicked in the front row of London’s Apollo Victoria theatre. I penciled stories while on trains, planes and apartments with Big Ben chiming in the background. I made new friends. I met up with old friends. I went to concerts and plays; sketched and painted to my hearts’ desire. But, most importantly, I lived. Ultimately, that’s what traveling is about; being able to step outside your daily routine and remember what made you happy before the world told you what you needed.
Traveling alone allowed me to take time to think. To really reflect on what I valued, what I loved and what I needed to change in my life to ensure that I would be just as happy when I was back in my day-to-day life.
If you want something to change in your life, change it. If you want to see Big Ben, buy a plane ticket. If you want to drink wine in France, save dollar by dollar until you’re sitting under the Eiffel Tower.
The first step to making any ambition a reality is gathering the determination to achieve it. There will always be people telling us we aren’t capable; to travel, to explore, to adventure into the unknown.
But, I want you to do something for yourself - refute every person who tells you you’re incapable. And next time you listen to someone, let it be that inner voice that whispers, “Let’s go.”