I knew that I wanted to study abroad ever since I was in middle school. I wanted to travel the world more than anything, and I knew that doing it through school was my best option, so a school with a good study abroad program was the determining factor in looking for where to go, which led me to Arcadia. Before I had even been accepted into the program at Queen Mary, before I had even chosen what city I would actually be going to, I had already started making plans to travel. I also knew that, unless I met someone who would be able to match my plans exactly, I would probably be doing most of that traveling alone. In theory, this wasn’t something that bothered me; I’m fairly introverted and know how to function by myself. Yet, it was the same reason the concept made me nervous. Having read other people’s stories of solo travel online, I learned about how they had no trouble jumping into conversations with strangers and meeting people while they were out; I knew this was something I wouldn’t be very good at.
Still, that couldn’t quell my excitement. I threw myself into planning a three week trip across five cities in Europe, from which I have just returned. I researched obsessively, planning nearly every detail, and hoped for the best. I went to Greece, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, and Madrid and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. I wrote a previous post on getting the hang of public transportation in a new city and how it all came down to trial and error, and honestly, this trip was like that multiplied by 100. Sometimes the confidence that I put forth was an act to tell myself it would be okay, but the further I got into the trip the truer it became. All my worries about not being able to meet people or standing out went away almost immediately. Staying in hostels like I did, I had an almost guaranteed conversation starter since everyone else is also traveling from everywhere across the world. I had so many conversations consisting of the questions "where are you from?", "where did you come from?", "where are you going?" Even when I went out by myself, no one looked at me twice. I would sit in a restaurant when I went to dinner with a book, and it wasn’t awkward or weird at all. I went on many peaceful walks on my own just enjoying the world around me.
That’s not to say the trip was without incident, not at all. There were all the minor inconveniences and misunderstandings that came from having a language barrier in each country. I missed my train from Rome to Venice by ten minutes because my friends and I underestimated how long it would take to get across town, costing me an extra £60. I almost missed my flight from Barcelona to Madrid, even though I gave myself more time because of the train mishap, because, not once, but twice I couldn’t find the bus stop I needed. Maybe I could’ve prevented these from happening, I definitely was telling myself that at the moment when I was frustrated at the circumstances, but looking back it just made me more likely to be careful in the future. I’ve learned that I will never schedule a flight before 11 am ever again and that even though trains don’t have the same security that flights do, don’t cut it close.
Even being back for only a couple days at this point I know that I’ve grown as a result of this trip. The moment it stood out to me was when I was going through border control to come back to London. When I had first arrived, I was on the verge of tears, riddled with anxiety at crossing the border on my own, terrified even though I knew there was nothing at all I could’ve done wrong; whereas now, I breezed straight through without a second thought. The me that came back on Monday was vastly different from the nervous girl that came to England in January. I tried new things, like renting an ATV to drive around Greece, I embraced the embarrassment of a selfie stick for better pictures, and met new people from all around the world. It was freeing to be able to go where I wanted, when I wanted, and not have to worry about anything else but myself. To anyone who might want to travel, but feels held back because you’d be by yourself, just go for it. It might be tough, but it will definitely be worth it.