Originally published September 3, 2013
The first time I traveled alone was just over a year ago. I took a last minute trip to New York City and it changed my life. Now that sounds a bit cheesy, I know, but bare with me. Imagine getting off a plane alone, unfamiliar with what is around the corner, with the people around you, and not knowing what the next several days will bring. I had no plans other than to enjoy my time. There’s a perfectly usable 24 hours in a day, and they were all mine. I still remember the subway ride from JFK to Brooklyn, I felt free and in complete control of my emotions and life, and it was liberating. I got off the subway and started walking towards the direction of the hostel I had booked. I had no clue what I was about to experience in the next 5 days.
That trip inspired me in many ways. I met some great people from all around the world, toured a local artist’s loft studio whom I met randomly on the subway, talked for hours with a man who was in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit, stayed up all night sipping whiskey on the streets of Brooklyn, and soaked in the magical sights that are New York City. I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of. And I gained a new respect and understanding of people and life.
After that, I took solo trips to Milwaukee and San Francisco, and both were great experiences. Nine months after New York, I found myself on a flight to Europe… alone. Here I was again, not knowing what to expect, unfamiliar with my surroundings, the culture, and often the native language. I spent 15 days backpacking 5 countries. I met people of all ages, genders, and nationalities. I overcame many obstacles, was challenged in numerous ways, and learned that no matter how boring life may seem at times, there’s always something new to learn, see, and experience.
"Challenge is good, as is stepping out of your comfort zone, which in itself can be challenging."
Traveling alone might not be for everyone, but the experiences I’ve had have given me a new energy and a new outlook on the world. That doesn’t mean I don’t like traveling with others. I do that too. I simply enjoy seeing new places on my own and have had some really great experiences doing so. I suppose it’s the “I wonder if I can do that” mentality I often approach life with. Challenge is good, as is stepping out of your comfort zone, which in itself can be challenging. Traveling alone is both of those things. Additionally, it’s fun, and the fun starts with the decision of where to go. It’s all up to you, and only you. And when you get there, you get to see the world through one pair of eyes; your very own. There are no expectations hounding you, and there is no pressure.
I’m often questioned by family and friends why I travel alone. The most common concern is “won’t you be lonely?”. No. Alone, yes, but barely. I’ve always met friendly people in my travels, some I have spent days with, some only a few hours with. The first rule of travel is always go with someone you love, which is why I travel alone. You have to be comfortable with yourself. And if you’re not, there’s no better way to get there than by traveling alone.
So give it try, and maybe you’ll find yourself in Brooklyn eating pizza and drinking a beer with a complete stranger, or riding a bike through the alleys of Barcelona, or walking to the Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam with a fellow American you met that morning, or hanging your feet off the Cliffs of Moher tossing rocks into the sea like a child. The entire world is yours, and there’s a lot to see. Don’t let anyone hold you back. One thing I can guarantee is that you’ll go home to normal life feeling a little changed.