I met plenty of other solo travelers in every country I visited, 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 should never be a reason to stop you from traveling somewhere. Just use your common sense and be careful who you trust.
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. This was a good thing, as it 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. The advantages of doing it all on my own were incredibly worth the risks. I had 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 strong 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 eight times to Madrid. I don’t know if any of that would have happened had I been traveling with friends from home.
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 the love of my life. 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 were either with work exchanges, couchsurfing hosts, or people I had befriended who invited me to stay with them. Clearly, being a nomad forced me to be a social butterfly.
I think traveling alone is one of the most fulfilling things you can do for yourself. I changed so much as a person during the nine months I was abroad, and I really have never felt more like myself – I don’t care how cliché it sounds! And although I mostly went places by myself, I collected new friends pretty much everywhere, and it was through their generosity that I was able to stay in foreign lands for so long. So, if anyone is ever hesitant about going somewhere alone – you have to just go, and an adventure is sure to ensue!