Traveling to any foreign country by yourself always seems a little scary at first, especially if you’ve never done it before and most — if not all — of your prior trips were accompanied by family or friends. Your mind will wander to every possibility, and every worst-case scenario will go through your head: What if I get lost? What if I miss my flight and end up paying thousands of dollars for a new ticket? What if someone steals my passport, my money or my phone?
As someone who had never traveled outside of the United States before studying abroad in Florence, Italy, I can affirm that these pre-departure paranoias may be discouraging. But I can confidently say that stepping beyond my comfort zone by studying abroad was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made. Although these scary situations can definitely happen, it’s entirely dependent on you and how well you take care of yourself. In fact, having these fears itch at you can help you prepare. As long as you find the confidence to board that plane, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn about the world and yourself. Here are some reasons why:
You will have a heightened sense of awareness.
Traveling by yourself means doing everything by yourself — you won’t have a trusted buddy or loved one to protect you from pickpockets or help with directions. In Italy, pickpocketing is very common — especially around major tourist attractions — and the relentlessness of the Trenitalia system can easily cause someone to miss their train if they’re not punctual. As with any other country, you will have no choice but to pay attention to everything from your flight number to your surroundings. Although it sounds stressful, it’s infinitely gratifying. When you arrive at your destination and come home in one piece, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Wow. Maybe I can do this.”
You’ll be able to absorb more of your surroundings.
Your heightened sense of awareness will allow you to immerse yourself in the environment you’re in. Listening closely and observing your surroundings will allow you to protect yourself, as well as hear the locals speak their language, listen to the street musicians playing in the distance and admire everything around you.
You don’t have to compromise your plans.
There’s nothing worse than traveling with a group of friends and having each person with their own plan that doesn’t align with yours. But when you travel alone, you can make your own itinerary and won’t have to rush through anything to accommodate what anyone else wants to do. Want to spend three hours in a museum? Go ahead. No one’s holding you back.
You can interact with more of the locals.
When I decided to go to Rome for a day by myself, I was a little intimidated by the largeness of the city and having to navigate it alone. But when I arrived and found an available taxi outside of Rome’s main train station, I made small talk with my driver. He asked me where I’m from and why I’m in Italy. I told him I’m a student in Florence and that I’m studying Italian but that in the United States I study English and sociology. He responded with, “Che bella! (How nice!)” When we arrived at my requested destination, he asked me to wait before I exited the cab. He pulled out his phone, showed me pictures of his family and said his son recently graduated with a degree in sociology. With a kiss on my hand, he said, “Piacere e congratulazioni, buona fortuna per tutta la tua vita (Nice to meet you and congratulations, I wish you good luck for the rest of your life).” My first day in Rome couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than with such a warm sentiment from a short interaction.
Wherever you travel, think of yourself as a guest. You are visiting a place that many people call their home — so why not get to know your hosts? Sometimes, a simple question could lead to a friendly conversation, and always remember that being kind and courteous goes a long way.
Disclaimer: This does not mean talk to everyone (including those who might seem a little sketchy). Use your discretion!
Sometimes, the memories you make by yourself are the most precious.
When you’re strolling down cobblestone streets or having a croissant at a quaint café, you’ll be able to sit with yourself and all your thoughts and emotions that the foreign land evokes. If you get lost, don’t panic — sometimes a wrong turn could lead to unexpected wonders and spontaneous adventures. You’ll learn to be patient with yourself, and you’ll understand the value of being entirely present in the moment. But most importantly, going solo abroad will help you unlock new levels of potential and make you realize that you are capable of more than what you expect.
Contact Claudia Huynh at [email protected].