“I can’t believe you’re going to Belgium by yourself!” “I want to do a solo trip.”
These are some of the things people said when I told them I was doing a four-day trip to Belgium by myself.
“Aren’t you going to get lonely?”
??????? Okay, I don’t understand this one. I go shopping alone. I go to the bank alone. I spend hours alone in my room reading or writing. Going on a trip alone is really not that different. Just because I am going on a trip alone doesn’t mean I’m closing myself off from all social interaction.
We live in a world of constant contact – a place that’s losing sight of the importance of being alone. Offices are abandoning cubicles in favor of wide-open common spaces, and rather than sitting at their desks working independently, school children are placed in groups. Nowadays, we are strongly influenced in favor of being with people, or at least constantly interacting with others. We are always going somewhere, doing something or making plans with someone to go somewhere and do something.
When I was thirteen, I had a really rough time fitting in. Sure, I got a long with all my classmates and I never had a problem finding people to do group projects with, but I felt like a phony. I styled my hair differently, bought clothes from Aeropostale and American Eagle, and listened to the kind of music that everyone else liked, in hopes that it would make me feel connected to everyone else. I was doing these things for the approval of others instead of for me. It took me three years (THREE YEARS!!!!) of self-hatred and anger to realize that I was changing every part of me for people I would lose contact with after I graduated. At a crucial time for kids to grow into their own person, I discovered that I wasn’t spending any time truly investing in myself – I didn’t even want to be my own friend!
I have this theory that the most important relationship you can ever have is with yourself. At the end of the day, YOU have to deal with YOUR actions and YOU have to live with YOURSELF for the rest of your life. Why not take some time to disconnect from others and reconnect with yourself?
Which brings me back to the perks of traveling alone.
Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing things for others and to #TreatYoSelf. As fun as it is to spend time with other people, it inevitably leads to compromise. You’re constantly modifying your ideas to accommodate other people’s desires and opinions. Traveling alone, you are the pilot of your own life.
MEETING NEW PEOPLE
As I mentioned earlier, just because you travel alone doesn’t mean you’re cut off from social interactions. In fact, I find that by traveling alone I am more inclined to meet new people. You seek small connections to keep you company, and these interactions are what make your experience so unique. In Brussels, my hostel roommates only spoke French. Luckily, I had nine years of French immersion in my back pocket, so I spent the weekend re-immersing myself in the French language. We exchanged experiences on what it was like to live in our home countries and about how amazing Belgian waffles are.
LIVING IN THE MOMENT
Waking up in an unfamiliar place with nothing to do but explore is both invigorating and unnerving. Traveling with others is often predictable and every day is scheduled with activities; when going solo, you become more comfortable going with the flow. I arrived in Bruges with a handful of places I’d seen on Instagram that I wanted to see for myself. Not really knowing what the city had to offer, I started every morning by picking a street on a map and exploring it all the way down.
My dad often says that vacations are the optimal time for self-reflection. I thought this was just something you say when you’re getting older, but I’ve come to accept and welcome it. Life is full of distractions and it’s difficult to live in the moment. We need time to sit with our thoughts and process it all. Perhaps the best aspect of traveling alone is that while you discover the world, you also uncover your truest self. Traveling with others allows us to latch onto the familiar, but during solo trips we have no choice but to step outside of our comfort zones and venture into uncharted territory. In the process, you re-evaluate what is important to you in all areas of your life: relationships, life goals, beliefs… all of it!
Studying abroad, it is inherently more difficult to find people who want to visit the same places as you and to coordinate schedules, so I am fully embracing the solo travels. After this trip to Belgium, I encourage everyone to try traveling alone at least once in your life. All you need is 90% courage and 10% money. It’s an experience in itself. The life experiences you gain from it are worth way more than the cost of a plane ticket.