During a semester abroad in Italy, I went on my first solo trip. I planned a five-day stay in Copenhagen but, only after 48 hours there, I was sobbing on my hostel bed. I called my mom and told her how miserable I was. Feeling consumed by loneliness, I cut my trip short and booked the next available flight back to Italy. It wasn’t until after I received the flight confirmation email when I realized that I had been doing the whole traveling solo thing all wrong.
As I was sitting on my bed, brooding over my self-induced feeling of isolation, some fellow travelers came into the room. We started to chat and I was soon invited on my first pub crawl.
Even though I’m not a big drinker, that pub crawl was some of the most fun I had while traveling in Europe. That night completely changed my preconceived notion of traveling alone because I realized that traveling alone didn’t mean I was supposed to feel lonely. Heck, the reason people go to hostels and on pub crawls is to connect with others. I’ve always been a social and outgoing person and that shouldn’t change just because of my GPS location.
While I didn’t keep in touch with anyone from that trip, the memories remained. I had deep, theoretical conversations with strangers, shared laughs with fellow Americans, and danced awkwardly with slightly (and more than slightly) intoxicated university students.
In truth, I love having independent adventures. Yet, I need a balance of experiencing the world on my own and sharing it with others. As Chris Candeless said in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, “Happiness is only real once shared.” (The film is also genius with superb music by Eddie Veder.)
Since this realization, my travels have been enhanced beyond measure. I’ve learned to seize every opportunity and cherish each moment.
It’s still hard. My gosh, sometimes, I still feel lonely. In those moments, I try to remember what my mom used to tell me: “This, too, shall pass.” I try not to fight against the current, instead, allowing myself to drift and weather the storm. I try to be buoyant, bouncing on the crests of the high seas, until I collide with another drifter.
So, this week, consider taking a solo trip, even for a day. Go on a lengthy mountain hike, venture into an urban jungle, or drive to that small town you’ve always wanted to check out but haven’t.
Stay afloat, my friends!
(Pictured are the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis and Harris in Scotland. Erected by Neolithic people 5,000 years ago, it’s a truly mystifying place!)