As I have mentioned here before, one of the best ways to make the most out of a semester abroad is to travel as much as you can, whenever you can. But, what if your fellow study abroad students and roommates (or travel companions) don't prioritize sightseeing and traveling and, instead, would rather sleep all day and party all night? This situation happens all of the time and I see it every year. Even when put in this situation, however, most students rarely embrace solo travel. I can't even get students to wander around Florence on their own. I think this is because as a society, we often conflate being alone and being lonely.
I first met Emily a couple years ago in Florence. She was studying abroad with NYU and was so frustrated with her roommates and program cohort. No one else was interested in getting up early to explore, splurging a bit on food, or prioritizing cultural experiences over drinking and partying. At first she tried traveling with her suite-mates, who seemed like the natural group to travel with. Most students attempt to travel with their roommate or housemates, but just because you live with them, does not mean you will travel well together. Emily cycled through several failed weekend trips (and one really disappointing spring break trip) with roommates and others in her program before she reached her breaking point. That's when she booked her first solo trip to Vienna. I love hearing Emily recount this experience:
"My first big solo trip was to Vienna, one of the places I’d been wanting to go so badly, but no one else was interested. I stayed outside of town and my room was in an attic of this cheesy tourist hotel, with slanted ceilings and all. I arrived late at night and took a cab in, then woke up super early so I could see as many of the sites as possible. I must have walked most of Vienna… I had this app on my phone that would let you plan the sites you want to see and help route you to them and according to that app I saw 21 of the top sites in the city. I ate Sacher Torte at the Hotel Sacher, I got yelled at in the Belvedere for trying to take photos of the Klimpt artwork, I wandered through the Schonbruun Palace and Gardens, I walked past St Stephens Cathedral, the opera house, the oldest ferris wheel in Europe, and more. The highlight of the trip was the VIP seats that I’d treated myself to at the Spanish Riding School show — I have been obsessed with the lipizzaners since I can remember and I actually teared up during the show from sheer awe and excitement. It is still one of my all time favorite experiences in my entire life."
Of all the memories Emily made on that Vienna trip, feeling lonely wasn't one of them. Like the majority of people, Emily was most afraid about dining alone. But as she quickly realized, eating by yourself is "no big deal," especially in Europe. Simply select a restaurant with outdoor seating and great people watching! After her first solo trip, Emily, like so many others (including myself), felt empowered. And she started traveling on weekends and exploring Florence alone.
Honestly, traveling alone is not only empowering, but it is also a ton of fun. You get to do and see what you want, when you want, how you want. I have traveled to Santorini, Istanbul, Cappadocia, London, Paris, Berlin, and, of course, all over Italy by myself! And I loved every moment of it. You can read more about how to travel alone here.
The moral of this long story? Don't conflate being alone with being lonely. If you find yourself without a travel buddy because of differing interests, timing, money, etc., don't be afraid to go it alone. You might be surprised at just how enjoyable solo travel can be.
Would you travel alone?