I travel by myself a lot. It's not something I ever actually did until I was doing my study abroad semester in London in the spring of 2012. My semester was finishing earlier than most school semesters, and I wanted to visit other European countries while I was already over there. While my friends liked the idea of traveling to other fantastic cities, none of them really seemed to want to plan out trips to these places. So I had to choose between going home early and doing nothing, or just saying screw it and travel by myself. I didn't know anyone my age who was traveling by themselves, and I was scared shitless: would everyone think I was a loser with no friends or family who cared enough to go somewhere with me? How would I spend my days without anyone to talk to? What if I'm robbed? All of these questions would keep me up at night before I left my small London flat that I had called home for four months. I would send my parents freak-out emails (i.e. I would send long rants full of questions and thoughts about why I shouldn't go), and of course being the wise people they are, they told me that not many people get chances like this to travel around Europe, and I was already over there, so why not take advantage of my surroundings? Thank god I listened to them.
I ended up visiting Stockholm, Barcelona, Geneva, Budapest, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Krakow, Vienna, Salzburg, and Reykjavik (in that order), and I loved every minute of it. Even when I was horribly ill in Prague and the hostel I stayed at lost power for four hours. Having this solo travel experience allowed me to feel confident enough to apply to teach in Thailand, and travel around Southeast Asia on my own as well.
Don't get my wrong: I also love traveling with my family and friends (thought I should throw that disclaimer in there in case any of them are reading this), but solo travel is a fantastic and liberating feeling that I have only ever replicated when I went skydiving in New Zealand.
Solo travel also helped me grow up (a little bit anyway. I still have a long way to go):
- You learn to budget. I thought I knew how to budget, but there's budgeting as a college student, and then there's budgeting as a pseudo-adult (which I still proudly am to this day). I got a crash course in finance when I traveled. When I would book places to stay, I usually went for hostels, but there were a few times I booked hotels. Hostels are incredible, and it's a great way to meet people. However, what people don't often see on websites is yes there is a low price for a bed, but usually there are many incidentals that you end up paying for, thus spending more money. When I was looking for places to stay, I wanted cheap, but I also had to think about all the extra money that I would probably end up spending. For example, I found a great deal at a five star hotel in Krakow, which was centrally located, had free wifi and breakfast, and many other great amenities. A hostel I was looking at in Krakow was about $10 cheaper, but I checked out their site and saw that they were charging for keys to the room, towels, pillows, wifi, soap, and many other basic things. Also, this hostel was further away, so I would have to spend more money on transportation. I figured out that I would be spending more than $10 each day than if I stayed at the hotel. I also saved more money because I didn't have to worry about paying for one of my daily meals and I was able to walk to all the major sites in the city. Basically, when you travel in general, and when you're by yourself, you definitely need to think a bit more about cost (unless you're a Rockefeller), and definitely don't jump on the first, cheap deal you see. Of course, there are a lot of great hostels that don't have extra, crazy charges, but it's always great to do some research.
- You learn to be accountable for yourself, and not place blame on others. When you travel by yourself, there's no one around for you to blame if something goes wrong. You're in charge of waking yourself up early to make your plane or train; if you get lost, it's up to you to find a map and get yourself where you need to go.
- You learn to carry your own bags. This might sound silly, but when you grow up in a family as one of three sisters with a typically doting, Jewish father (like I did), you don't usually end up carrying your bags around--your dad does it for you, or tips someone well to take care of them. And yes, I am aware that this makes me sound spoiled (which I am in many ways), but it wasn't until I was seventeen and spending my summer at Oxford University that I really had to be in charge of my own bags. I.e. I had to carry them up three, creaky flights of stairs.
- You don't party so much. It should be obvious by now that I love having a drink, but being by yourself, you need to think about your safety, so basically going out every night and partying with strangers isn't the best way to do that. Also, you usually end up feeling like shit the next day and don't want to do anything. Also, drinking can be very expensive, and you will definitely find other ways to spend money. Of course, plenty of solo travelers do party like it's 1899 (see what I did there?), but I'm not one of those travelers. I usually love having a cocktail or a glass of wine when I'm traveling on my own because I like sampling the local booze, but I figured out early on that deciding to party when you're in a strange city on your own, and especially if you're a woman, is not always the best idea.
While I usually do think about and contemplate on my travels, and have wanted to write about my love of solo-travel, I felt particularly inspired to write this because I rewatched Summertime (1955) the other night. It's a pretty amazing movie. It takes place in Venice and shows some amazing shots of the city. It will make you want to run to an airport and go to Venice right away! I only get that impulse from this movie and Midnight in Paris.
Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) is a single, middle-aged American who goes to Venice for her dream summer vacation. She stays at a pensione run by an Italian widow where she mostly meets other Americans, none of whom are traveling by themselves. After not finding anyone at the pensione to spend time with her, she wanders over to the Piazza San Marco, and starts feeling a bit depressed after seeing so many couples, young and old. Jane then notices an Italian man (Rossano Brazzi) watching her, which causes her to abruptly leave. As fate would have it, she walks into an antique store that belongs to the same, handsome stranger. After some time, despite Jane's rejections and hesitancies, they get together, and Jane seems to come alive from having a lover while on vacation. However, like vacations, the love affair comes to an eventual, somewhat dramatic end.
Besides the gorgeous photography of Venice, why I like this movie is that not only does it show a handsome man being attracted to an older, not very sophisticated woman (which is not something we even see in the 21st century), but Jane also decides to end the relationship when she finds out he's married, and decides not to stay with him just so she can have a man in her life. Again, that's something we don't always see on screen, or even in real life.
While I do love solo travel, and was praising it above, I also like how this movie shows the slight loneliness and depression that can come when you're traveling by yourself. I genuinely love solo travel, but there have been plenty of days when I have a felt a twinge of loneliness, and sometimes there isn't anything you can do except ride out your emotions.
What about you readers? Do any of you enjoy solo travel? Have you ever tried traveling by yourself? Do you have any fears about it?