I met plenty of other solo travelers all over Europe and Morocco, so I never felt like what I was doing was too out of the ordinary. But when I got back home, a lot of people seemed totally shocked when I told them I had spent the better part of a year traveling – not just because I went for so long, but mostly because I did it alone for so long. People thought I was crazy. They had all kinds of concerns – didn’t you feel unsafe? Isn’t it scary to travel alone as a woman? Didn’t you get lonely?
Yes, I felt unsafe sometimes. I had more awful encounters with creepy men than I care to mention on this blog. And yes, there were plenty of times when I was very lonely. I had my share of unpleasant experiences, but I thought it was a fair price to pay for the total independence I enjoyed throughout my travels. Being a nomad for nine months helped me become a more self-reliant, adaptable, and open-minded person.
But it wasn’t always a walk in the park. Before I left, almost everyone who knew about my trip warned me to be careful because traveling as a single woman made me an easy target for all the unsavory folks out there. It sucks, but it’s true – as a woman, you do have to be extra wary. I never felt like my actual life was in danger or anything, but I got very tired of men overstepping their boundaries with me. It happened time after time after time, and it was exhausting – everyone from couchsurfing hosts to friends to hostel managers to people who just came up to me in the street. Unfortunately, stuff like this can happen no matter where you are – in your hometown or abroad – so it shouldn’t really be a reason to stop you from traveling somewhere. Use your common sense and be careful who you trust, just like you would at home.
Aside from occasional safety concerns, traveling alone can be, well, lonely. This probably wasn’t as much of an issue for me as it would be for others – I need a lot of alone time, and I usually prefer to do things on my own. Still, I got really lonely sometimes, especially in cities. I often arrived in a new place alone and didn’t meet anyone I particularly liked. Usually I made friends easily, but sometimes I just got tired of having the same superficial conversations with random people. There were a lot of moments when I desperately missed my friends from home, but not having any friends forced me completely out of my comfort zone, which in turn resulted in endless spontaneous and incredible adventures.
Traveling by myself for nine months was, without a doubt, the best thing I could have done for myself after graduating from college. In many ways, I felt like I learned a lot more about life than I ever did in college – I was no longer trapped in the university bubble, where I had never felt like I belonged. I was out in the open, all by myself, in one strange land after another with no home.
Doing this on my own blessed me with all the pleasures and responsibilities of total freedom, and it was wonderful. I could do whatever I wanted, and I could go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted (as long as I followed the pesky visa restrictions). I didn’t have to compromise with anyone else, and I never got stuck with the same person for longer than I could stand them. I did everything on my own schedule. I sorted out all my transportation and accommodation by myself, and became quite a savvy traveler.
But the best and most meaningful part of being a nomad was, like I said, constantly being forced out of my comfort zone. Most of the time, I didn’t know anyone in the places I went – I had to make new friends all the time, which got to be exhausting, but the connections I made brought me to Seville, Granada, Newcastle, Vienna, Upper Austria, a mountain village in Switzerland, up and down mountain roads in Morocco, and several times to Madrid. I don’t know if any of that would have happened had I been traveling with a group.
I know for a fact that if I hadn’t been on my own, I would never have been able to build an unlikely relationship with my lovely boyfriend, who I met in Spain. I wouldn’t have been able to spend nearly three months living with him in Madrid, and I wouldn’t have gotten to spend the holidays in Newcastle with his family. Come to think of it, out of the 200+ days I was in Europe, I only paid for 15 nights of accommodation (not counting Morocco). The rest, I either spent with work exchanges, couchsurfing hosts, or people I had befriended. Being a nomad forced me to be a social butterfly, and I massively benefited from it.
Though the idea can be daunting for many people, I think traveling alone is one of the most fulfilling things you can do for yourself. I know it sounds awfully cliché, but I changed so much as a person during the nine months I was abroad, and I really have never felt more like myself. Although I went everywhere alone, I collected new friends in each place I visited, and it was through their generosity that I was able to stay in foreign lands for so long.
So what made me decide to finally come home? Though I did miss my friends and my family, homesickness wasn’t the reason. I simply felt like I had done what I set out to do – I had built a community for myself across several countries, I had learned how to completely fend for myself without any real guidance from anyone else, I’d learned to speak Spanish, I’d fallen in love, and I’d overcome my fear of going to Morocco alone and loved it so much that I went for a second visit. After nine months, I started to get bored, and I figured that I was better off doing more traveling in some other part of the world where I didn’t feel so comfortable.
A surprising amount of people have told me, “I wish I was brave enough to do what you did”. Well, I’m here to tell you that going to a foreign country alone is really not as scary as it may seem. I know it’s hard for some people to let go of their need for control and familiarity, but I think there’s no better way to overcome it than diving headfirst into a strange setting and figuring out how to make the best of it. Just try it, and you’ll see.