I’ll never forget the moment I opened my acceptance note from an English teaching summer camp in Italy. After more than 20 years of dreaming and two years of studying, applying for scholarships and hounding professors for recommendations, my goal had finally come to fruition. My dream of not only visiting but working in Italy was coming true.
This is how I ended up on a solo journey to the Middle of Nowhere, Italy, for six months. No seriously, the mountain town I lived in had a population of roughly 20 people. I knew that Rome, Florence and all of the other beautiful cities would be great places to live, but I wanted to explore someplace off of the beaten path.
Traveling alone made me uncomfortable, frightened and thrilled all at once. It opened my mind up to new ideas and ways of life. What I didn’t realize while is how many of the those learning experiences are shared by other solo travelers. Here are five of the incredible things that happen when you’re traveling alone:
You become a better person.
When traveling alone, you’re thrown into a multitude of new experiences at once. Unexpected mishaps happen, getting lost is constant and, if you can’t speak the native language, you’ll find yourself banging your head on a wall more often than not. Traveling alone forces you to experience uncomfortable situations—without your friends or family as your crutch. You learn to accept that bad things may not really be that dreadful, but rather setbacks that require a different approach. You force yourself to learn new things, whether it be a language, cultural customs or gestures. You find yourself doing things you didn’t realize you were capable of, because, well, there’s no one there you’re worried about making mistakes in front of. Traveling alone makes you more susceptible to change and teaches critical thinking and patience, qualities that are important both at home and abroad.
Your learn the world is bigger than you and your home country.
This is common sense, of course, but it really is something that must be learned. The world is a lot bigger than the U.S. While many are fascinated with American culture, not everyone wants to be like us, and that’s fine.
You learn not to miss out on life-changing experiences.
The worst thing to do is to spend thousands of dollars to go somewhere new and do the same things you would do at home. There are new foods, new landscapes and new experiences to enjoy when traveling. Even if you’re scared of heights, do the canopy walkway across the forest. Eat the part of the animal you may never have tried. Stay out an extra few hours during the week. You’ll only regret the things that you don’t do. Allowing yourself to break the rules opens up opportunities for adventure and personal growth.
You become more resourceful.
When you’re on your own in unknown lands and you run into problems, you get creative. Without family and friends around, you become much more independent, because you know your well-being depends it. For example, you become a lot better at reading maps, because Google Maps requires wifi, which is probably not available near the piazza you’re trying to find.
You learn to put down the technology.
As a typical child of the ’90s, my attachment to tech at times goes overboard. At the beginning of my travels, I wanted to make sure that my friends knew what I was doing through social media. But in the end, I found that while it’s important to keep in touch with loved ones, there’s so much more you get out of travel when you put the phone down. The cities you’re exploring open up, and you see the world differently when you’re not trying to show it off on your Instagram account.