(Kelsey Shackelford is the Community Events Liaison at Boone County Public Library.)
I’ve always loved to explore new places. About a month and a half before I got married, I went to Northern Europe alone for two and a half weeks, including Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, and France. It was a part of the world I had wanted to visit for some time and knew my future husband did not want to visit that area. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could make it solo in another country before “settling down,” not that being married keeps me from doing anything I truly want to do. I learned so much traveling alone, but these are three of the biggest things I took away from the experience.
Everyone always asks me if I felt safe in other countries alone for the amount of time I was gone. My answer: I chose my locations partly due to their safe reputations. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime lists the homicide rate in Northern Europe between 0-2.99 per 100,000 people, while the United States is 3-4.99 homicides per 100,000 people. I felt safer being by myself in most of these countries than I do walking around with my husband in some places in the U.S. I learned that the little blue dot on my Iphone map, which does not require data, greatly assisted in getting me from Point A to Point B, sticking to main pathways as I walked and kept me around other people. As long as I didn’t put myself in an isolated situation, I was fine.
Meeting New People
Traveling alone forced me to branch out and meet new people. I honestly didn’t think I would want to, but after being by yourself for a couple days, you crave some human interaction. I learned staying in hotels is a must if you are traveling alone. I met people from all over the world who were visiting for many different reasons, especially when staying in fully booked rooms with anywhere from 3-18 other people. Many major cities offer free walking tours, such as this one I took in Copenhagen that provided me opportunities to talk to other travelers in a casual setting. As a side note, I learned to always tip the guide at the end of these tours. Not only is that how they make money, but they were more willing to pass on very useful “locals only” information!
Learning How to Be Alone
Though I did meet other people during my time traveling by myself abroad, I spent the bulk of my time alone. Unless all I wanted to eat were ham and cheese sandwiches from the local grocery, I had to quickly become comfortable eating alone at sit-down restaurants. Visiting museums and other points of interests and having no one to share it with was sometimes a little lonely or made me feel like people were staring at me. The more I looked around at these public places that people typically attended in groups, the more I realized no one cared that I was by myself or gave it a second thought. I was the only person that noticed. I learned traveling alone meant I was experiencing most things by myself, but it also meant I got to choose everything I wanted to do. It was a time I could be totally selfish and not feel guilty.
I would definitely encourage anyone to try a trip by yourself if you are able to, even if it is a close, local day trip. I learned a lot about myself and noticed more about my surroundings traveling alone for two and a half weeks than other large trips. I would still prefer to go places with at least one other person, but I would never trade the time I had with any other type of experience.