I think one of the strangest things people ask me when they inquire about my journey to grad school, is if I am going with friends. “No… I am going alone…” is always my answer, to which they always act surprised and almost confused at how a young woman could go to another country by herself, without anyone to accompany her. Well, as an introvert, as well as someone who can’t keep waiting around for a “friend” to join me on an adventure, I am actually completely fine with traveling alone.
There’s some sort of stigma surrounding people going away alone. It’s assumed that we’re loners or unfriendly or something of that nature. But in reality, how long can we wait to be lucky enough to find someone who actually wants to go to the same location as us, at the same time, and can actually afford to go as well? Yes, I have a lot of friends, I have a lot of friends who want to travel, and I also share the same locational dreams as many of my friends, but there comes a certain point where I can talk all I want with these amazing people about our travel dreams, but I have to actually make it happen, whether it includes them or not.
Not everyone can afford to go on an extended trip or wants to study abroad, so in these cases, then it comes down to traveling alone, and there is nothing wrong with that. Seriously, there isn’t. Perhaps for the more extroverted personalities, the thought of venturing off alone is too terrifying, but it’s really not scary at all. When I studied abroad in 2011, I went over alone, but made friends fast and it didn’t matter that I had no one to share a flight with, because even as a shy person, I connected with other exchange students immediately, as we were all in the same, nervous, emotional-about-leaving-home, group.
All of my favorite adventures have actually taken place when I traveled solo. Not to say I don’t enjoy a friend or two to go with, but in my own wanderings and explorations, I’ve not only cliche-ly learned more about myself as a person, but I could go at my own pace and enjoy things without worrying about having to deal with someone else. I am a people pleaser. I go out of my way to make other people happy and keep the peace. In turn, if I am with other people, I usually end up putting their wishes and priorities over mine, and it makes the trip less fun for me. Being alone means pleasing only myself and being content with the choices I make on my journey.
I’ve always been that person who is too afraid of eating at a restaurant alone. What if people think I’m a freak? Any true FRIENDS fan will remember the episode where Rachel Greene takes herself out on dates, and how it backfires when a guy she likes sees her out alone and doesn’t call her again because, to him, it’s strange for a woman to eat alone at a restaurant.
Normally, for me, it feels embarrassing to go out by myself to a place typically frequented by couples and groups of friends. But for some reason, there’s something about being anonymous in a city in a foreign country that takes that fear out of me. Why would I miss out on eating at a place I’ve wanted to try just because I am on my own? I got a full English breakfast at Speedy’s Cafe in London (the location used to film 221B Baker Street on BBC’s Sherlock), and I wasn’t going to let my single status stop me from going in there and getting myself some food. And it was lovely. I could sit and enjoy my meal and the surroundings, and if I had been too afraid to do that, I would’ve missed out on a nerdy tourist opportunity.
So don’t let the fact that you are a solo traveler stop you from enjoying an English breakfast somewhere. But more importantly, don’t let the fact that you are traveling alone stop you from taking that trek across Europe, or studying abroad in that unique program in Thailand. People are important, but your dreams and ambitions need to be more important, even if people aren’t involved in them. If your friend can’t afford to study abroad with you in Italy, still go without them. You will not be lonely, you will make new friends, and you won’t miss out on creating fantastic memories.