Studying abroad is an amazing time for students to get out and explore the world around them. They take trip with friends to places across England, and even travel to other nearby countries. During these travels, there is a common warning heard by students:
“Don’t travel alone.”
This is especially emphasized to female students, who are constantly warned of other people’s intentions and told to travel with other men. When I told my host family here at Harlaxton that I was traveling, they let out a sigh of relief when I informed them that some of the people, I was traveling with were male.
In general, though, traveling alone is seen as dangerous. It can be easy to get confused, lost, tricked, or attacked. At least this is the commonly held belief. Sure, these things do happen, but they can happen anywhere. Fear of something bad happening shouldn’t stop someone from solo travel if it is something that they want to do. Of course, some people just aren’t interested in solo travel, which is perfectly fine! Just like how some people are introverts and others are extroverts, some people just enjoy traveling with friends rather than taking trips alone. Yet, if it is something that sounds exciting, don’t let fear get in the way of that.
My second week at Harlaxton, I went on my first solo trip (not counting driving myself to school back in the US) to Scarborough, England. I planned and executed the trip by myself. It wasn’t a long or complicated trip, but it was enough to get a taste of what independent travel is like. Through this trip, and by comparing it to trips taken with other people, I figured out that I prefer to travel alone, or at most with very small groups. With the school-sponsored trips, you can’t always control how many people you travel with, but you can always find a small group of people to explore with, or even go by yourself if you’d like. The trips may be structured, but you are not forced to hang out with everyone all the time. The trips still allow you the freedom to explore in your own way!
For me, traveling by myself allows me to go at my own pace. I have full control over the places I go visit, what to do, where to eat, and how much time I spend at different places. I didn’t have to follow a strict schedule, or even have everything planned out. Because I wasn’t talking to friends over the course of the trip, I could put in my earbuds and listen to music as I walked down the streets of Scarborough.
Additionally, as a woman, even though I was by myself, I surprised myself with how comfortable I felt. When I got off the train in Scarborough, it was already dark, and I had around a fifteen-minute walk to my hotel. Usually, this would be an intimidating trek for women, or tourists in general. Especially for people who have anxiety, like myself, it is easy to be flooded with thoughts of who else is out on the streets, or who might be looking at you wrong. However, there wasn’t really any point that I can say I was overly worried or fearful. I’d say the same thing about the entire trip honestly. While trying to find my hotel that first night, the entrance wasn’t where the map on my phone was telling me. So, I ended up walking through a dimly lit alley looking for the hotel. During this, I walked past a couple working on their car outside. Hungry and knowing that I still hadn’t found my hotel, I thought to myself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” I walked over to them and asked them if they could help me find where I was staying. And guess what? They smiled and pointed me in the right direction, and 5 minutes later, I was checking into my hotel. Maybe Scarborough is just a friendly, welcoming space, or maybe I just got lucky with who I talked to, but I know that during my trip, I walked around with a surprising air of confidence and comfort that I didn’t think I would have while traveling alone.
Now that I’ve shared my experience, I want to share some tips with those of you who are interested in solo travel and thinking about doing some yourself!
Whether it’s a last-minute trip or one you’ve been planning for a while, take some time to investigate where you are going. What do you want to do? What are they known for? What kind of food do you want to eat? Make a list of places that look interesting, so you have options to pick from once you’re there. This will save you from wasting time once you arrive. Even if you do this on the train on your way there, it’s good to travel with some understanding and knowledge of the place you choose.
Whether you are naturally anxious or if you walk around with confidence and not a care in the world, it is important to stay aware of what is going on around you. Unfortunately, tourists are often seen as easy targets, especially if they are alone. If you choose to walk around with headphones in like I did, be extra alert. Noises help us know what is happening, so if you cannot hear the world around you, take extra care to visually take in your surroundings. Maybe even walk around with one headphone in instead so you can still hear your surroundings.
Phones are helpful for every aspect of traveling: maps, phone calls, photos, and even payments. Because of that constant use, it’s easy to drain your battery quickly. When traveling with friends, you know that other people have phones that you can rely on, but that’s not the case when traveling alone. Keep a charged portable charger with you while you’re out, so when that low battery notification pops up, you don’t have to panic.
Even if you research the place ahead of time, don’t confine yourself to the places you pick out online. Maybe you found a restaurant online that looked interesting, but you know that the pub across the street sounds really appetizing right now. Maybe you saw that there is a popular museum that everyone online says is a “must-see”, but that park in the middle of town center looks more your speed. Do what excites you and allow plans to change.
Traveling alone can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it before, but it is an amazing opportunity to try new things. Instead of thinking of new experiences as something out of your comfort zone, it can be helpful to think of them as ways to expand your comfort zone. Don’t let fear stop you from trying new things if they interest you. However, don’t let the fear of missing out push you to do things you know make you uncomfortable. At the end of the day, you know yourself best, and you know what will be most enjoyable for you.
Solo travel can be a wonderful experience, and I would recommend that more people take trips by themselves, even if it’s just a day trip. Still, there is much to be appreciated about traveling with friends. You can split cabs and hotel costs. You can take pictures for and with each other. Maybe you go visit places that you wouldn’t have chosen if it was just you. Overall, you have people to share memories with. In the end, it’s impossible to say that one type of travel is better than the other. It all depends on what you as an individual enjoy about traveling, and it can even vary depending on what kinds of trips you take and where you go.