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How to Travel Alone ““ Or, That One Time I Went to London By Myself

Last summer, I lived in London for an internship. It was my first time taking a big trip alone and I. Was. Nervous. Fears included, but were not limited to, the following: forgetting my passport, losing luggage, getting on the wrong flight, missing my flight entirely, becoming distracted at the souvenir shops in the airport and wasting all of my money on peach rings and magazines, only to render me broke for the rest of my trip.

But I digress.

My time abroad last summer was scary, but one of the most important things I have ever done. When I left London in July, I felt so proud of myself for doing it “on my own.” I felt like a real adult! And it was incredible. The rest of my time abroad afforded me many new experiences and valuable lessons, a few of which I’d like to share. Indulge me.

1. Talk to anyone who will listen.
Two summers ago, I went to Europe with a friend from home. We stayed with close friends the entire time and were constantly surrounded by people we knew. Last summer, I was by myself 90% of the time ““ going to and from England, going to and from my internship, traveling to Norway for a week”¦ you get the idea. When I first visited Europe, I didn’t meet many new people, simply because I stayed by those I knew. Last year, I talked to EVERYONE. Because of this, I became good friends with a London bus driver (hello, Jason!), two lovely Norwegian women in the airport, the man selling papers in front of Putney Bridge ““ the list goes on. I forced myself to talk with people so I would have people to talk with. I made friends, met interesting people, and learned more about my surroundings because I was talking with people FROM the area I was in. Mind blowing!

2. You will be forced to learn about your surroundings.
Having friends in the countries I’ve visited has been a beautiful thing. In addition to the food and shelter they have provided me with, they have also been built-in tour guides. Thing is, they have also (unintentionally) turned me into a sheep, just following with no clue where I was going. Knowing I’d be alone a lot last summer forced me to learn London’s geography and how to get around. I felt empowered knowing where I was going. Hokey? Sure, but it’s true. Being by yourself in a foreign country gives you no choice but to figure out where you are. You are forced to get in touch with your inner Lewis and Clark, your inner”¦ person who can book an Easybus from the comfort of her own home. Anyway. It felt great to know that I could get around by myself.

3.  When traveling alone, you are exactly that ““ alone.
The freedom of traveling alone was something I had never experienced before. To be able to so freely dictate what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go was incredible. I loved knowing that I could spend time with new friends (see #1) or, if I really wanted to, set out by myself. I liked waking up each morning knowing that I was the only person I had to worry about when figuring out my agenda for the day. No contending with individuals for which museum was more important, which restaurant was better, which route we should take ““ I loved it. Each day was my own personal Choose Your Own Adventure book. Please, Library of Life, let me read it again!

Traveling anywhere should be a requirement for Growing Up (see also: Existing). Traveling alone? Even better! My two months abroad were two of the most fruitful of my life. I learned, I grew, and I became hyper-aware of my capabilities (spoiler: I am capable of a lot!). I would have been happy to have simply made it there and back without getting lost, but I did that and so much more! And you should, too. Board that flight, get behind the wheel of that car, hop on that train and just go somewhere. You’ll be glad that you did, even if all you come home with is a bag full of magazines and peach rings.

By Caitlin

25 years old. Proud Michigander. Lover of Scandinavia, feminism, the Detroit Tigers, and perusing unaffordable real estate.

Du har. Du vil. Du burde.

6 replies on “How to Travel Alone ““ Or, That One Time I Went to London By Myself”

I love travelling alone. I did it for 5 weeks, which is the longest ever, and I’ll be honest in that I did get a bit lonely at times. But I can do small talk, I socialised a bit (ahem), and moments like getting to the top of a volcano by myself I wouldn’t exchange for anything. I’m hoping to make Iceland my next alone trip but we’ll see.

A bit of a mix can be good too – if you’re visiting friends but they can’t take too much time off work, you can get the alone-holiday during the day and meetups at night.

I absolutely agree on not exchanging certain moments for anything. When I was able to make it from London to Oslo completely on my own, I felt so, SO proud of myself. It took a lot of different forms of transportation, an airport I had never been to before…just lots of ‘firsts.’ It would take a lot for me to give up how I felt upon finally landing in Norway – it was incredible!

You can also learn just how strong you are in a crisis. I was robbed when I was alone in London about 10 years ago and while I had a complete and utter meltdown after having my money and passport stolen, I ended up working through it, getting what I needed to get back home, and ended up being quite proud of myself in the end. So if you tend to rely on others in a crisis, take a trip alone and marvel at your ability to deal with canceled flights, getting lost and getting by in a place where you don’t speak the language. It sounds nightmarish, but can be very empowering.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have never experienced something like that – and I’m sorry that you did! – but I can only imagine what it’d feel like to come back from something like that. Good on you for staying strong and making it after that. I’d like to think I’d be able to let it roll off of me and get past it, but I have a feeling I’d have a bit of trouble working through the initial ‘WHY ME?’ feeling. (Imagine the ‘Why me?!’ accompanied by me crumbling to the ground.)

This came just in time, as I will take my first alone-vaca next week.

I generally learn how to get around places, because I don’t normally take tours, but I never talk to strangers because I am painfully shy. Maybe I’ll branch out next week. We’ll see.

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