Traveling Alone

As the study abroad chapter of my life came to an end, the solo travel chapter was just beginning. Studying abroad is an amazing way to experience a new culture, make friends and to travel to new places with those friends, and often times doing things in a big group can be loads of fun, but it can also be frustrating. Despite my excitement to see new places in Eastern Europe, I was a bit scared to embark on my travel alone, with only me, myself and I to call on if anything bad happened. I left my program friends early in the morning with a small batch of butterflies in my stomach.

Now, after three big cities and over a week and a half of exploring Europe solo, I can safely say that traveling alone is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. It has taught me more about myself than I ever could have learned in the company of another, has forced me to make new friends from different countries of different backgrounds, languages, interests, the whole gamut of human existence.
I didn’t tell my mom I was planning on traveling to Eastern Europe alone until the day before, mostly so that she wouldn’t have time to worry and nag me everyday that I should just come home and not travel by myself. Probably lost daughter points with that one, but for the memories I’ve made, it was entirely worth it.

There is a stigma or attitude against female solo travel, and after this past week I really don’t understand why it exists. The fear is superfluous, there is no reason to be afraid of being a woman alone in a new place. Sure, some places have very different cultural norms and expectations, but overall I don’t think the real danger is anywhere near what our society thinks it is. Americans are extremely paranoid, quick to develop fear of the unknown while ignoring real dangers in their everyday lives. I’m more likely to be murdered or robbed in Minneapolis, my own hometown city that is considered “safe,” than I am in most of the cities one could travel to abroad. Our media wants us to be afraid of everything, especially anything “foreign.” I believe some of the xenophobia in Americans comes from this media-complex cultivation, stimulating our fears by focusing on extreme cases and anecdotal situations that are so far off base with reality it paints a picture of foreign countries that is essentially a lie. Sure, you have to be smart about where and how you travel, but being alone is not a guarantee that something bad is going to happen. When I briefly discussed my plans on going to cities farther east in Europe before leaving for study abroad, I got the classic response with reference to the movie “Taken” and each time I had to fight the urge to punch the nearest wall. “Taken” is a movie, made by HOLLYWOOD to make MONEY not to actually illustrate the reality of how sex trafficking rings work. I never ran into a problem, all it takes is some common sense and trusting your gut. If I would have been fearful of making new friends, I would have had a terrible experience traveling alone. Thankfully, people who stay in hostels almost always have the same mentality. We are here, strangers in a new place just looking to have a good time. Taking advantage of being young and having access to youth hostels and the mobility of not having life-changing commitments is so important. One thing I did that made my traveling alone experience much more enjoyable was to make sure every hostel I stayed in had security lockers, so I could share huge dorm rooms with many people and feel secure that my things were locked up. I made so many friends along my journey and learned quite a bit about myself. The next adventure I’m craving is a solo Asia trip, but that may take a bit more planning and convincing of Mom than Europe.How many of you have traveled alone? Where did you go and what was your experience like? Any tips or tricks to avoid possible bad situations? Leave in the comments below xoxo

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