For the last three weeks, I have been solo traveling around Europe. I have done small-scale solo travel through the U.S. in previous summers, like camping or road trips. However, this involved much higher stakes.
Three countries, five cities and not a single other person I know for 17 whole days.
After spending almost every waking second of Prague with friends the previous month, suddenly being alone was a shock to the system.
My first hostel in Strasbourg, France, was not very social. In fact, I don’t think I saw anyone my age for the first two days that I stayed there. My room was supposed to have five other guests, but only one other bed was filled my whole stay.
For the three days I spent in this city, I was incredibly lonely. I spent a lot of time in parks, wandering aimlessly and not talking to anyone. I tried not to let it get to me, but after a while, I started to feel like I had made the wrong choice in choosing to solo travel.
I was terrified that I was going to spend the next three weeks lonely and miserable. I suddenly didn’t believe in myself to make friends and socialize.
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On my final day in Strasbourg, I sat on a pier near the river, and I cried. I didn’t know how else to convey all the emotions I was feeling. I journaled for a while and listened to music. For the first time since being alone, I didn’t attempt to shove all of these emotions down and pretend they weren’t there.
After an hour or so, I told myself I had to give it one last attempt. I made a goal to speak to at least one person. It didn’t matter if it sparked a conversation or if I simply complimented them and then never spoke to them again. As long as I made an attempt, I would feel accomplished.
As it turns out, my hostel was hosting a drag show that night for Pride month. People from all over the city came to see it and I ended up talking to people all night long.
Suddenly, the next few weeks didn’t seem so bleak. I had hope.
My next three locations were some of the best experiences of my life. I met dozens of new people and got to listen to each of their stories from life and how they ended up in Nice, France. We all shared a passion for traveling and adventure.
I met girls I would go cliff jumping with the next morning. I met a guy who had been solo traveling for nine months and we celebrated his last night in a hostel before heading home. I met three people who happened to be traveling to the same city as me on the same day and staying in the same hostel.
Everyone I met impacted my life and changed my view of the world.
I was able to take moments alone as well. I wasn’t lonely if I had to go explore by myself for the day. In fact, I enjoyed the time to myself. I could take a minute to breathe and appreciate what was around me in full.
I learned that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. I learned to find solitude in the quiet and to value the experiences I shared with only myself. Those moments didn’t need to be shared because I was there. I experienced it.
I used to feel this need to call my mom or send a video to my friends whenever I was in a cool place alone. I would be so excited that I would want to share it with somebody. I still love sharing those memories with people, but I have learned to treasure my own company and be enough for myself.
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I found pieces of myself in the last three weeks that I never knew I was missing. I found a way out of darkness on my own, 3,000 miles away from my loved ones. I solved problems without the help of anyone but myself.
Independence is terrifying, but it is also incredibly freeing.
The art of being alone is not one that comes easily. It takes practice, time and patience, but it is the greatest gift you can ever give yourself. The greatest skill you’ll ever acquire.
Gentry Keener (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and political science.