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Can confirm: Travelling solo will change your life

Illustration by Twylamae
WORDS BY MARIAH PAPADOPOULOS

From someone who got confidently lost.

A couple of months before my 21st birthday, I boarded a flight to London. It was the start of a month-long solo travelling expedition around Europe that I had been contemplating for the better part of three years.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, this was about as close to a ‘dream trip’ as I had ever come. For months I had researched where I would go and what I would do. Finally, November arrived and I found my way to the airport, checked in my bag and got on the plane.

And I was utterly miserable.

After spending so long looking forward to the opportunity, I found myself anxiously questioning – would I actually enjoy the trip as much as I had predicted?

There were, of course, many reasons behind my decision to travel to Europe, and to do it alone. I had previously visited relatives and travelled extensively through Greece with family, but there were other European destinations on my list that I wanted to tick off. I had been studying French for eight years and hadn’t yet been to France. I wanted to see Venice before it succumbed to rising sea levels. I had never visited my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in Switzerland. The list goes on.

I had also travelled solo once before and reaped the benefits, albeit only for a few days.

After a month-long study abroad unit in Indonesia had ended, I had lingered a few days longer in the country, spending a little more time on my own. I enjoyed the feeling of independence and freedom and, after boarding my plane home, I found myself energised and excited to spend more time travelling solo.

I knew firsthand how rewarding it is to travel, even if none of my friends or family were available to come along. Despite the (often self-imposed) stigma attached to appearing alone in public, I realised it was healthy to spend time solo.

But still, I felt uncomfortable boarding the plane alone.

Eventually I realised this discomfort was the very reason it was so important for me to go alone — and why I now run around telling everyone I know they should definitely travel by themselves, at least once in life, if they can.

The discomfort I was feeling wasn’t necessarily fear, and it wasn’t loneliness. It was the result of being accustomed to filling up my life with interactions, down to the last second — whether it was seeing people in person, or scrolling through social media.

I had an entire month ahead where I didn’t know who I would eat with or speak to (save for a couple of brief visits with family). I wasn’t used to having time solely allotted to myself.

But once I realised that the challenge I was grappling with was actually getting comfortable with myself, rather than with a foreign country, it was significantly easier to lean into the experience.

I didn’t spend every second alone. I met some Americans at a crêpe kiosk in Le Marais who took their children to Paris every summer. Shopkeepers in Athens were curious as to why I spoke their language but seemed to be foreign. Italians spoke to me on the train and were surprised when, despite looking European, I didn’t know Italian.

I would be lying if I claimed that I put my phone down completely and refrained from posting on Instagram or messaging friends and family back home.

But I did make a point of wandering around by myself, exploring gardens in London’s late autumn, sipping hot chocolate on a cold afternoon in Florence, zipping around in cabs in Milan and walking up to the Acropolis in Athens.

All of this is not to completely romanticise the idea of travelling alone. It’s not to say that dragging your suitcase across a continent’s worth of train stations and apartment staircases is easy, or that everything will go smoothly, without any hiccups.

But taking time out to travel isn’t just about having fun. It’s about testing your reliance on your comfort zones, and then breaking out of them.

If you’re planning a trip and are unsure whether travelling alone is for you, be advised that it’s nothing but worthwhile.  And home isn’t going anywhere.

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