By: Mica Soellner
Travel is the best cure for a broken heart. But a broken heart isn’t always limited to a break up, and when you find yourself in a position in life when you are unable to grow, it’s time to pick a place, pack your bags and go.
Solo travel has shaped my perspective on the world in the most inspiring of ways. While I was studying abroad in the UK last spring, I took a lot of time to develop a better relationship with myself and broaden my independence. The best way I did this was by spending a lot of time on my own, whether that meant going out to a restaurant that I had been wanting to try or heading off somewhere that sparked my interest.
I had always been interested in the idea of solo travel, but was nervous about the reality of it. It was an alluring thought in an Eat, Pray, Love kind of way, but I felt fearful of the rare circumstances that could happen. What if I get lonely? What if I get lost? How will I communicate with people or know where I’m going with my poor sense of direction? What if there’s an emergency? But these are the kind of anxiety-driven questions that follow us throughout life—the ones that stop us from doing things out of built up fear.
My first trip alone was when I took the train across borders just from England to Wales. It was a small achievement, but the catalyst to the rest of my solo trips. I spent the entire weekend doing things at my own pace—visiting castles, drinking coffee and getting lost in a new setting and meeting people I may not have met had I been with others. The weekend marked a celebration of solitude in ways that I haven’t experienced before—unaccompanied freedom boundless in the ambition to discover the unknown.
From that weekend on, many of my European memories would come from spending time with myself. I explored big cities and small towns, sat seaside and climbed mountains with the desire to know myself in every capacity. I explored the history of cities while getting lost in what was absolutely the most present I could be in the moments I spent traveling. My aspirations led me to France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and all over Britain. The more places I visited, the longer my list became of where to visit next.
The one narrative about solo traveling that gets lost, is the human connection of it. Though my independence focused a lot on discovering things about myself, it’s the people I met along the way that made my journeys special. When you’re alone, there is so much opportunity to engage with people in ways that you may not be able to do when you’re already committed to being with others.
During my first trip on my own, I met a girl that spent a year traveling alone across Europe. She left her home in Australia to discover other parts of the world, picking up odd jobs along the way. This girl became one of my consistent friends throughout my travels and a mentor to me as a solo traveler. Most of the places I’d seek out, she had been before and she often became my guide and inspiration to self-discovery. A year later as we’re both resettled into our home countries, we still keep in touch.
Being alone, I sparked conversations in the most unexpected places often times, despite a language barrier. There was a tiny restaurant in Lisbon around the corner of where I was staying that I kept coming back to. I’d wind up there exhausted after a full day of being out to sit down at a table with a beautiful view of the city’s curvy roads and read a book in peace. I started speaking to the owner of the restaurant who was one of the friendliest people I met during my travels—an older woman who spoke little English—she was so welcoming and guided me through the world of Portuguese cuisine. She remembered me whenever I went in and despite how small a gesture it was, I still fondly remember the uniqueness of her restaurant, her hospitality and the wonderful meals I had there. I talked to shopkeepers and servers, street performers and like-minded hostel stayers. Starting a conversation with someone came naturally and likewise, meeting people with similar ambitions from all over the world.
I often miss the time I spent solo traveling, but there are lessons I cultivated during that time that I still keep with me today. I started having meals out on my own with a journal or book, or attempt to discover new places right at home on my own. My experiences gave me the momentum to continue the journey because there is no relationship more important than the one you have with yourself as it influences the one you have with others. So even without jet-setting somewhere new, I pursue to practice being unafraid of complete independence and embracing a personal friendship with myself, as strange as that may sound.
About the author: Mica Soellner is an American freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Independent, various media platforms across South Wales, and has been featured on the BBC Asian Network radio.