Everyone loves vacations. That’s actually pretty indisputable. We all talk about our last one, dream about our perfect one, and plan our next one. It’s usually one or two weeks in some relaxing paradise with a group of friends. Or maybe ten days traveling around a European country or two, taking in the historic sights and dining in romantic restaurants with our significant other. And for a few brave people, they can be even longer, and potentially alone. Some people love this last option. I can say for certain that I am one of those people. But I can also say with certainty that it isn’t easy.
Very little in life goes completely according to plan. Even my very wishy-washy plans usually get upended one way or another. A few months ago when I started preparing for this long solo trip, I had a vision in my head of how it would go. I’d have my rail pass, I’d trek around Europe for three months seeing all the countries I hadn’t already visited, and I’d fit it all in because three months is an incredibly long time to travel. And I LOVE being by myself, so I knew loneliness wouldn’t be an issue. I also have a VERY high tolerance for ridiculous amounts of walking and don’t really mind moving around every few days.
There were a few things that I acknowledged beforehand would be tough. I place a pretty high importance on diet and exercise. So giving up my gym membership and knowing that I’d eat out a lot and probably be sacrificing my usual salads and smoothies was something that I already knew would be happening. I figured I’d try my best: healthy choices at restaurants within reason, maybe cooking in my hostel or kitchenette, paying for pricey day passes at local gyms. Plus all that walking, swimming and surfing was decent exercise. I also knew I’d miss my friends and family a ton, but I’d see them soon enough and I’d make some good new friends in hostels.
There were also a huge amount of factors that I didn’t foresee. For example: life goes on at home even though you aren’t there. Major life events don’t get paused just because you aren’t around to see them. Your younger relatives will be a few inches taller the next time you see them. The older ones still get older. People get hurt. I also discovered that there wasn’t a CHANCE I was going to be fitting everything in that I wanted to. Even if I took a new train every two days and was constantly exhausted, I still wouldn’t manage to make it happen. So many of my original travel plans have changed since their original conception. I’ve added a good amount of time to that three months in Europe. I ended up going to Sri Lanka for 6 weeks before even starting the European portion. I decided to add a few weeks in the British Isles at the end of it. I figured I’d never want it to end.
In the worst cases, you might even have to change your travel plans mid-journey because of a tragedy. I’m about halfway through my trip now and I needed to come home last-minute for a week. My amazing, loving aunt who taught me so much about creativity, being a free spirit, being a little crazy and recovering from mistakes was unexpectedly taken from us. But sometimes family and “real life” are far more important than adventure. I’m very thankful that I have the ability to come home at a moment’s notice. And 2.5 months into my trip, I was actually very ready for friends, family and home. Even if the circumstances are horrible, an intermission was greatly needed.
When I start my trip back up in a few days, I’m going to keep on adventuring and keep on learning. My mindset has changed so much since my first plans from months ago. I was in a REALLY good place before I left, I thought. So I’d just be traveling around and enjoying myself. But I’ve ended up learning a ton about who I am and what I need to work on. I’m not as good by myself as I thought I was. I get lonelier than I anticipated. But I’m figuring out how to be even better at rolling with challenges, failures and setbacks. I’m working on being better at being alone, but I’m also acknowledging that there is NOTHING wrong with reaching out to your friends and loved ones when you’re having a hard time. That’s one of the many things that those amazing humans are in our lives for.
Traveling alone is hard. It can be sad. It can be so lonely. It can be scary. But it is also the best thing I’ve ever done and it is incredibly important to remember to be grateful for the opportunity. There are obviously amazing daily sights and discoveries, but the stories, new friends, strengthened friendships at home, and personal growth will last a lifetime.