The concept of tackling overseas travel when you’re in your late teens is an ever-optimistic one for a lot of people. Some see it as a must-do once graduating from the restraints of high school, some as a way to step out on their own away from their parents (maybe for the first time).
For me, the idea of packing my bags and going travelling after school was born out of a desire to leave the small town I’d spent those formative years in.
However, I found myself taking a slightly delayed route and wound up taking my first ~proper~ overseas trip at 24, once I had finished Uni. I spent some time wandering around New York, falling in love with the city, its museums and galleries and having some experiences I hadn’t thought possible until I was out there having them.
Before I’d left and after I’d come home, I’d had some people almost incredulously asking why on Earth I’d decided to visit one of the biggest and busiest cities on the globe, on my own. For someone like me, young and experiencing it for the first time, it seemed odd that I chose to wing it and fly solo.
I thought it strange that this was even a question I was asked, but the more people I began meeting each time I would return to the U.S. had similar stories – sometimes travelling on your own isn’t as scary a prospect as it may seem when you’re still making the baby steps to get on the plane itself.
Now, I love seeing new places and doing new things with friends and family, (five weeks travelling through Europe with Mum recently was excellent), but there are some major, definite perks to going your own way.
FREEDOM TO EXPLORE ON YOUR OWN
Depending on the type of traveller you are, certain things are going to appeal to you that may not appeal to others if you’re in a group. With a solo itinerary, you don’t have to worry about stepping on other people’s toes if you don’t want to go to Art Gallery #5 and vice versa. If you’re a tourist who enjoys getting every single detail out of an experience, you’re also not going to have to worry about holding up a group or rushing through to make others happy.
Often, a good dynamic generally works itself out and you can split up and do your own thing – but there’s something comforting in knowing you’ve got that space to explore and take your time doing what you want.
This was one of the main things I loved about visiting big cities abroad on my own, particularly following some trips back to the U.S. I would make for work in the year or so since. Sometimes you just want to go off grid for a moment, where nobody knows who you are. You can meet hundreds of new people every day, where you’re equally as foreign to them as they are to you.
There’s an odd sense of relaxation that comes with being able to walk around a city for hours just taking it in, especially New York, without people taking notice (unless you’re taking up sidewalk annoyingly slowly, then best move). It’s even better once you’re settled in and have gotten your bearings, you almost feel like a local.
DISCOVERING YOUR STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
It sounds like it should be torn right out of a self-help book, but it’s true; the more you’re left to your own devices, the more you find out about yourself along the way. These things can be good – for instance, having to navigate my way around predominantly non-English speaking countries for almost a month taught me a lot about my sense of patience, confidence and intuition. The experience also taught me how little I actually knew about some languages (compared to how much I thought I knew) and where my weaknesses as a traveller lay.
Sometimes you find out that in some contexts, you really do crave the company of a friend or family member and the sense of isolation can really hit hard. And a lot of the time, in a roundabout way, you also learn how to overcome the feelings of homesickness on your own – at least long enough to tide you over until the flight back – which is a talent in itself.
The other inevitability that comes from overseas travel is the fact that something will always go wrong or against original plans. It could be a simple forgotten hotel booking, a missed train or, at the other end of the spectrum, your luggage not following you home. It’s amazing how quickly you can turn panic into lightning quick logical thinking when in you’re in a situation where you have nobody near and familiar to depend upon in person.
THE TRAVEL BUG
No, not something you need a vaccination for beforehand, but it can hit you super quickly without you realising it. Once you’ve weathered the ups and downs of solo travels successfully the first time, there’s that rush to do it again. After all, you’ve done it before, right? It’s like getting tattooed – oftentimes you’re spending a decent amount of time figuring out how much money you’re going to need for your next session (I’m five in at present).
You might want to take your friends and/or family back with you the next time, show them round your temporary hood and introduce them to the same setting you found yourself settling into for the time you were away. Or maybe you want to return to a favourite place you didn’t spend nearly enough time in. Perhaps it’s a job that’s got you wanting to hop back on a plane, or a whirlwind fling that’s turned into something else.
For me, this is how I felt about Berlin. I’d studied German throughout high school and had many missed opportunities to visit before last year. The first thing that jumped out at me was the number of Australians living over there; in some places, it was like a mini-Melbourne. The second, was the affordability and the history of the city that endeared so many to set up a permanent residence.
For young people especially, I believe there’s so many options when it comes to spending those first years after school that it can be overwhelming. Kate Cole recently detailed some awesome ways to spend a gap year, working overseas or volunteering being some great ways of working such unique experiences into your travel.
Still, there’s that saying – sleep when you’re dead – and I feel that’s the best way to approach the idea of travelling when you’re younger. You’re in (or entering) possibly the best decade of your life to get a bit loose, be wholly independent and figure out what direction you may want to go in.
There’s a newfound sense of confidence that returns home with every traveller, understandably; you’re full of stories to share and each souvenir, ticket or receipt you’ve brought home with you has its own memory attached.
That little travel bug will soon be in your ear, urging you to go out and make some more memories soon enough, regardless of if you choose to go it solo or bring more into your travel wolf pack.