I spent the spring semester of my junior year of college studying in Freiburg, Germany.
A couple months into my semester, I booked a 10-day trip to Spain and Portugal — five days in Spain with a friend of mine, and five days in Portugal alone.
Then the friend who was supposed to come to Spain with me told me she couldn’t go anymore.
It was a last minute drop-out, so by that point I had already booked my flight and made my hotel — actually hostel — reservations.
I wasn’t about to lose all the money — and not to mention time — I had put into planning and booking my trip.
So I made the decision to go on a 10-day trip with just me, myself, and I.
I will admit I had a fair amount of previous travel experience, having lived in Zurich, Switzerland, for five years when I was younger. But all of that travel was with other people: my family, my friends, my classmates and teachers.
This was the first trip I went on where I was truly on my own.
And I’m really glad I did it.
Here’s why I highly recommend taking a solo trip at some point in your life.
You get to see the things you want to see.
If you’ve ever been on a trip with friends, you know it’s rare that everyone wants to see and do the same things. You only have so much time, so compromises need to be made, and sometimes your activities get pushed to the wayside. There’s also the chance that the friends you travel with aren’t the most motivated of travellers, and you may end up spending the whole trip lounging at the beach when you really wanted to do some sight-seeing.
When you travel alone, you’re in charge. That means you can plan your days however you want, and not have to worry about compromising and making sacrifices. When I was in Malaga for example, I decided to take a day trip to Granada, and I took a 6am bus in order to make it to the Alhambra on time for my tour. Chances are, a lot of my friends wouldn’t have been up for doing that, but I was, and it was more than worth it.
You get to know the area you’re travelling to better.
Much to my father’s dismay, I can’t read a map to save my life. So when I travel with others, I always leave the directions part up to them. But when I was in two countries where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have a travel buddy, it was up to me to figure out the lay of the land. I can’t say I always took the most direct route to get where I was going, but I can say that I figured out the route mostly on my own — save for consulting a few locals in English (in Portugal) or in very broken Spanish (in Spain).
I’ll never forget the little old Spanish ladies who helped me on my bus ride from the Malaga airport to my hostel. They spoke no English, but they started giving me pointers the minute they saw me pull out a map.
By the time I left both Spain and Portugal, I could make my way around much better than I had when I arrived — and that was a really rewarding feeling.
You’re more likely to meet new friends and experience the local culture.
Travelling with people you know creates a comfort zone that can be hard to get out of. Why try to meet new friends if you’re already surrounded by your existing friends? The people you’re with can also block you — not intentionally — from really delving into the culture of the place you’re visiting because it’s so easy to get caught up in your travel companions instead of getting caught up in the actual travel experience.
Throughout my trip, I interacted with multiple people, locals and tourists alike, that I probably wouldn’t have interacted with had I not been travelling alone. My hostels, the Flamenco dance show I went to, the tours I went on, and the restaurants I ate at were just a few of the places I met new people.
You’re more careful about what you spend.
Travel is expensive. When I used to travel with my family, my parents covered all the expenses, so I never really thought twice about costs. When you travel with friends, it’s easy to succumb to peer pressure and just spend money on what your fellow travellers are spending money on. But when you’re alone and you’re paying for travel expenses out of your own pocket, you become much more aware of how much you spend and where you’re spending it. This is why I stayed in hostels — clean ones, but still hostels — throughout my whole trip.
It makes you realise that doing things alone is ok.
Yes, dining out solo or visiting sights by yourself can seem weird or awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more you realise it’s just not that big of deal. In fact, it can be really nice because sometimes you just don’t feel like talking to other people. And if you’re really nervous about the whole solo idea, what better place to try it out than somewhere you’re not likely to run into people you know?
You take more ownership for the trip, and feel more accomplished after taking it.
By the time I arrived back in Freiburg after 10 days of solo travel, I was more than ready for some quality time with people I knew who spoke my language. But I also felt a strong sense of pride for having organised a whole trip by myself, planning multiple cultural activities, and making it back in one piece.
When you travel solo, your trip is 100% in your hands, which can be stressful at times, but when it turns out to be a successful trip, you can thank yourself for it.
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