Kelly Davis is a Psychology student at Providence College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the National University of Ireland, Galway in Ireland in 2015.
Everyone knows traveling is a huge part of the study abroad experience. It’s something that every student looks forward to, no matter where they go, taking in new sites and experiencing as much of whatever part of the world they find themselves in. For most students, such trips are usually undertaken in groups of friends. Sometimes the groups vary trip by trip, and sometimes there’s a set group that forms and they always travel together, no matter where they’re going. Traveling with other people can be very eye-opening, as they will sometimes take in different details than you would on your own, and on a basic level, there’s comfort to be found in traveling in a group of people. That being said, I’m going to talk about why you shouldn’t feel like you need that group to travel, and some bonuses I discovered of traveling alone.
Traveling Alone Can Be Daunting
When I was studying in Ireland a year ago, the first big international trip I made I did completely on my own. I spent three days in Barcelona, Spain, and those three days almost taught me more about myself than the rest of my entire five months abroad put together. First off, let me make it perfectly clear that I was a nervous wreck as soon as I sat down in my seat at 6am on a RyanAir flight to Spain.
I started freaking out and calling myself crazy for choosing to undertake such a trip, especially my very first trip while abroad! I worried about being safe, I worried about the fact that my Spanish essentially ends at ‘Hola’ (plus they actually speak Catalan in Barcelona which is a whole other level of complicated), and I worried about doing things on my own in general. Then the flight took off, and I was committed, so I set about trying to figure out how to keep myself sane during this three day solo adventure.
The Best Plan You Never Have to Follow
I’m not always a super organized person naturally. I like to know where my stuff is and to make plans ahead of time, but in general, I’m not nearly as planning/organizationally focused as many people that I know. For this trip though, I put every “Type A” planner to shame. I did more thorough research on what to do and where to go in Barcelona for three days than I’ve done for some twenty page research papers. I created a list of things I wanted to do, plotted where they were in the city, and drafted a rough time line I wanted to follow in which to get things done. Planning and having structure to a trip on your own helps keep you motivated to keep moving and helps fight feeling aimless. The structure helped me feel more secure as a young woman traveling alone, because I had a plan.
I made that trip happen. Every amazing thing I saw, good meal I ate, and even slip-up that occurred was entirely of my own doing.
All that being said, I didn’t strictly stick to my personal itinerary. A big part of the joy of traveling alone is that you don’t need to cater to anybody else. When I was overwhelmingly struck by the beauty of the gardens around Park Güell, in the end significantly more so than the famous bench and view I had gone there to see, I was able to sit there for hours just soaking it all up. I spent a perfect afternoon wandering in and around arches and landscapes reading, writing letters to people back home, and being in an amazing place with no pressure to move on to the “main attraction” of the spot. That flexibility of being alone is something to cherish.
One thing I learned later that same night after leaving Park Güell was that I apparently have a problem with eating substantial meals alone. I stopped off at a café in the morning and got something small to start my day, and then I ate at a sandwich place near the park for lunch. By dinnertime, I was starving and knew something small and quick wouldn’t cut it. Yet, when I was looking at my options, I found myself nervous to go to any “real” restaurants and eat alone.
At that point though, a piece of advice my Mom had given me before going on this trip came back to me. She said that when in doubt, when you’re hungry and traveling alone, always go to a little bit nicer of a place than you would in a group. Her logic for that was that if you have an actual waiter/waitress, your comfort level goes up immediately, because to be frank, they take care of you. When you’re on your own and trying to figure out food, it’s easy to just shrug it off or munch on little, quick things, but when you’re seated at a real table with someone taking care of you, ordering real food becomes infinitely easier. I ended up having the best meal of my trip that night thanks to her advice!
I Made It Happen
I learned a lot on that short trip that I took alone to Barcelona. I learned about some of my own fears, I learned to plan things out to a “T”, and then I learned that it’s okay to ignore some of those plans. On a funny note, I also got much better at taking selfies without someone there I trusted with my precious camera! Being in Barcelona alone for three days gave me an extreme confidence boost. I could’ve gotten there and been too nervous to do anything on my own and just sat in my hostel all day out of fear. But I didn’t.
I spent three days in Barcelona, Spain, and those three days almost taught me more about myself than the rest of my entire five months abroad put together.
I went out and experienced a phenomenal city and got to do it completely on my own terms. I made that trip happen. Every amazing thing I saw, good meal I ate, and even slip-up that occurred was entirely of my own doing. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally boarded my plane back to Ireland was something that I will always remember. In short, I recommend traveling alone while you’re abroad at least once. Making good friends and experiencing new parts of the world with them is amazing, but so is learning how to completely rely on yourself and truly seeing a new part of the world unfiltered through your own two eyes.