Author: Emily Neuharth
Location: Cambridge, Enlgand
During my semester in Cambridge, I have been very fortunate to travel beyond Cambridge and even the UK. Most of these trips have been with at least one other cohort member and which has had lots of benefits: multiplied memories, always having someone to be your photographer, splitting costs, etc. And some of my favorite trips ended up being to the places that my fellow cohort members really wanted to go to; the spontaneity and lack of expectations has always added to the fun.
On the other hand, a lesson that we have collectively learned is that it can be really hard to travel with a group. In addition to everyone having different hopes and wish lists for what they want to accomplish or see on a trip, it is just a fact that everything will take longer when in a group— from getting from point A to point B, to deciding on where you want to eat dinner.
Personally, I think those challenges often will outweigh the costs, and that learning how to communicate, compromise, and give each other the benefit of the doubt are just as important to take-away from a trip than any souvenir. That being said, another lesson I have definitely gained while abroad has been in finding enjoyment and fulfillment in solitude.
And even aside from the pros and cons of traveling with a group, sometimes because of our different bucket lists and class schedules most of us did travel alone at some point. I have grown up in a culture in which “women traveling alone” has always been approached as either reckless, a last-resort, or incredibly brave. Still, I felt ready, and I didn’t think it was fair for my gender to hold me back.
I had hopes for a solo trip through France, but it didn’t work out mostly because I was running low on time and money, and that’s okay. I did end up traveling on my own a few times when on trips with fellow cohort members and our paths split up. During Spring Break, I left Liz and Jasmine at Florence, Italy and went by myself to Marseilles, France where I met up with Nolan for a few days. He then went on to Spain and I traveled back to London.
Then right before I came back to the States, Jasmine, Liz, and I took a trip to Spain to celebrate completing our semester abroad. We were together from London to Ibiza, to Valencia. Liz and Jasmine went ahead of me to Madrid and then London. I followed the same path but spent a little more time in Valencia and Madrid. The second-half of that trip felt like the first time I really traveled alone; i.e. not just on my own when traveling from point A to point B but alone when exploring a new city.
I learned a lot about myself throughout the semester, and my time alone in Spain gave me the perfect mind-space to reflect on my time abroad. Additionally, it felt really good to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. Below are some tips for anyone else making plans to fly solo.
Do Your Research
There are a lot of helpful websites that can give you an overview of how safe a city or country is, especially for women, foreigners, at night, when traveling alone etc. Look up reviews of hostels beforehand and try to figure out anything you can about their public transport before you get there. Even if you can’t find out that much, or if it’s nothing different than what you’d see in person, it can be really helpful for your peace of mind.
Another thing I learned is that traveling alone can end up being more expensive than traveling with others, so be sure to factor that in to your budget. For example, you can’t buy food or drink in bulk and split the cost, and there were a couple times where I had to pay for an Uber when it wasn’t safe for me to walk alone in the dark but would have been okay if I had been with others.
Alone ≠ Isolated
“Alone” does not have to mean “lonely.” Try to find fulfillment and enjoyment in being alone. Use it as a time to reflect, and as an opportunity to feel proud of yourself! Acknowledge that traveling alone is no easy feat, and that it takes a lot of courage, independence, and confidence.
Additionally, traveling alone does not even mean you have to be alone! Throughout the semester we always met solo travelers in our hostels and sometimes they’d join us for dinner or even on the rest of our journey (which was a really common thing for young travelers to do in Europe).
You can also make plans to go to places where you either can meet other people or where you won’t feel as noticeable if you’re on your own. I really loved going to museums and open markets for these reasons.
If you can, solo travel in countries where you can speak the language (at least some basics). Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way when in Spain but thankfully there were a lot of very kind people who were willing to struggle with me and use a lot of gestures. I highly recommend downloading an offline translator app and Duo Lingo.
If you do not get an International phone plan for the semester and plan on just using Wi-Fi (which is what I did), it will be totally fine. BUT, if I had known I was going to be traveling alone or if I had done any more of it I definitely would have made sure to get phone service. Especially in a country where you don’t speak the native language very well, it makes it 100% more difficult to not be able to use Google translate or maps.
Also, make sure you always keep others updated on your plans for the day and where you’ll be (e.g. your cohort, your mom, etc.). You can also use Find My Friends and share your itineraries etc., and especially if you don’t have phone service where you wouldn’t potentially be able to call someone for help if you didn’t have Wi-Fi.
I truly think the key to successful solo traveling is “treat yourself”!! It helped me feel less lonely and self-conscious about being on my own, and helped me feel proud of my accomplishments. Another perk of traveling alone is you don’t have to find restaurants and plans that make everybody in the group happy— just do whatever makes you happy!
I love wandering slowly and taking a very long time when exploring artsy neighborhoods, art museums, and bookstores. I hate feeling rushed, but I hate even more making the people I’m with wait on me (even if they’re super nice about it and really don’t mind). So when I traveled alone Florence and Madrid I savored taking my time in museums, and it made me appreciate the art so much more and feel refreshed.