As we take this week to look at alumni from our past years, we were struck by a similar theme that could be found in many of their testimonies: the gratitude for deciding to travel alone. So what is the allure of traveling solo? We’ll explore a few reasons why so many do it and are glad they did.
- You’re the Boss – With a plethora of options for programs abroad, finding a program for two or three people requires quite a bit of compromise.
Rather than limit your vision, set up your situation so you have one customer – yourself. With only yourself to please, you get to explore passions and dreams that are yours alone. Have you wanted to visit Ireland ever since you were 7 and saw a picture in a magazine? When you were 12 did you dream of flamenco dancing in Spain? Beyond the first few decisions about where to go and what to do, there are all of the daily decisions once you arrive. Should I sit on the beach or explore a book store? Take up knitting or meet the host families extended clan? By traveling alone you get to make decisions that honor your interests, leave room for spontaneity, and provide for an authentically personal experience without much negotiation or compromise.
- It Builds Confidence – When it comes to solo travel, the first step can be the hardest. It’s natural to have anxiety about starting the journey alone. After all, the unknown can be more than a little daunting. But nothing feels better than spending a day exploring and navigating a new place by yourself. Without a friend or family member to lean on, you become the leader. There is a rush of deep satisfaction as you realize you are far more capable than you imagined. What happens when you hit some bumps in the road like a lost ticket or an undecipherable menu? Learning how to reach out and ask for help is an invaluable life skill to develop and brings its own reward of increased confidence. Most people are more than happy to help and find all kinds of creative ways to give assistance.
- You Aren’t Really Alone – Though it may feel like you are prepping for a solitary journey up Everest, the truth is, you are heading off to a new community of people. You might have a host family to connect with, or an internship team that helps show you around your new city. You may have roommates or fellow volunteers working with you. Many of our alumni talk fondly about meeting new people who made there experience magical. They even return home with the expectation of seeing those friends again on a return trip or meeting up in another location! What happens if the friends are hard to find? Some participants revel in having a good excuse to focus solely on themselves! They throw themselves into a bag full of books or a knitting project or fill their time with photography or journaling about their experience. Rarely do we speak with a participant who felt truly lonely even if they were spending a lot of time alone. And more often, our alumni came home with an expanded network of new friends who widened their world view.
- It Opens Your Mind – Without your familiar cast of characters observing and sharing about the world, you get to use your own lens to view what is happening around you. It’s a great opportunity to observe the world and its inhabitants without judgement. As a visitor in a new community, you will have a chance to reach out and explore your curiosities about another culture. Patience, humility, kindness and a better sense of humor all develop faster in this personally enriching and challenging environment. In the end, it makes you a better person and certainly a better traveler.