[A story from the heart].
At 20 years of age with a year and a half of my Bachelor’s degree under my belt, I made the decision not to wait any longer and to take the plunge and travel solo.
Having already traveled to Hong Kong a number of times, crossing the border into China, taking the ferry to Macau, and traveling to France, Italy, Poland, and the Ukraine just a few years earlier, I had the travel bug yet again. Young, ambitious, full of energy and eager to see more of the world – I began to contemplate where I was at in life and what it was I wanted to do (again, again, again). I had been studying law for the past 1 and a 1/2 years and had already reached what we Westerners like to call a ‘rut’ – whereby I would go to work, go to uni, eat, sleep, and repeat. Granted, I was working 60 hour work weeks alongside studying so it’s not hard to comprehend that the mundane lifestyle had eaten away at me quickly. I had just gone through my first ‘real break up’ (so clichè) but it had honestly prompted me to reconsider where my life was headed and why I was so unhappy.
When the overthinking subsided and I finally reached the point of hacking into my savings account, I booked a spontaneous ticket from Melbourne to Paris with Cathay Pacific. This would be my second visit to Europe but traveling solo was a completely different experience from the day I booked my ticket.
Step 1: Planning
Here I am with a sinking feeling in my stomach – I had just booked a solo trip to the other side of the world. I’m 20 years old. What have I got myself into?
It wasn’t long before the excitement overwhelmed me and I was thrilled by the idea. I began researching potential destinations – should I visit Belgium? How about a trip to England? After all I’d love to see Oxford. And visit Oxford I did.
The planning phase soon took over much of my spare time – to the point where I had booked my entire adventure – all my internal flights, accommodation, day itineraries – you name it, I had it planned. By that time I still had 2 months before my departure date – so I began to do more research into other countries in Europe I’d like to visit…… bad idea. I ended up changing my itinerary and started from scratch, which was a lesson learned as many of the hotels I had booked were non-refundable but with a burning desire to visit places such as Salzburg in Austria and Hungary’s capital Budapest, I decided to wear the expense and re-book much of my trip.
Step 2: Getting on the Plane and taking the journey
While I wasn’t particularly frightened or concerned, the idea of a 20 year old traveling solo to the other side of the world didn’t sit too well with a few family members and even friends. After a while I became immune to the comments and gave up trying to explain myself and instead decided to stay positive and brush those comments aside.
When you first step foot on the plane and settle in for your first long haul flight theres a sense of freedom – certainty – and excitement.
Step foot on foreign land however and it’s a whole different story. You’re here. You’ve arrived. And you’re by yourself. You collect your bags, find your way to your hotel, and battle the jet lag by forcing yourself to head outside (in the freezing cold) for the day. The first day is exciting – new places, new faces, and there’s certainly not going to be anyone in Belgium that knows me so I’m virtually a nobody. As the day passes and I make my way home to bed I begin to reflect on my exciting first day in Brussels, Belgium. It’s not long until I realise there’s no one to share stories with, no one to tell about the amazing falafel I had for lunch, and no one to plan with for the day ahead.
You’re alone. It’s just you, your suitcase, and a bundle of mixed emotions.
After a few weeks on the road I realised a common theme – the loneliness only really overwhelms you of a night time when you were eager to reflect on your day but unable to do more than upload a Facebook status or send your mum a quick email. But by the time you sit down to write, you really don’t feel as though you can convey your feelings through empty words on a computer screen and the excitement of sharing your news shortly wears off and you’re ready for bed instead. Night turns in to day and before you know it you’re pumped with adrenaline once again, ready to see new things – try new things – and meet new people.
Step 3: Reflection
The most common questions I get asked about solo travel generally follow along the lines of ‘Why did you decide to travel solo?‘, ‘What was it like?‘, and ‘Weren’t you afraid?‘.
Solo travel has opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world. There are highs, lows, lessons and battles, but all in all I can certainly conclude that I have done a lot of ‘growing up’ by going out and seeing the world on my own.
When I left I was in a confused stage of my life – I had started university and was supposed to know what I was doing with my life but in all honesty I never really knew if studying law was the right thing for me. Sure, it had more benefits than I could imagine – job security, unparalleled opportunities across the world, a sky high income…. but as it turns out, it wasn’t for me. Until I went out there on my own two feet – struggled to read a German map; asked for directions in French; went without talking to my parents for weeks on end – I had not truly learned who I was. I don’t believe ‘who I am’ is completely definable but it certainly doesn’t resemble a 9-5 office job with a too-good-for-you attitude and a willingness to kick others down in order to reach the top.
I decided to travel solo and it was undoubtedly the most grounding experience of my life. Much more challenging than the trip to Hong Kong with 30 other choir members to stay in high-end accommodation and be shuttle bused around from performance to performance. Much more challenging than the visits I made to Thailand to lay in the sun and read novel after novel. Much more challenging than my earlier trip to Europe with my dad which – if I am to be quite honest – was actually quite challenging.
There’s no conclusive answer for whether you should travel solo or not – it’s completely answered on a case by case basis. But if you feel the desire to see the world by yourself then I would personally say yes, take the plunge. Traveling solo is a whole new way to see the world and it’s one of the most rewarding experiences to embark on and face the unknown. It’s a little scary sometimes, a lot frustrating, but there is certainly never a dull moment.