I recently went on an amazing two-week adventure in Europe. What made it amazing is not as obvious as you might think. Yes, I saw beautiful sights, ate delicious local cuisine, and savored that sense of freedom and perspective one experiences far away from the day-to-day cares and concerns that typically feel sooooooo important. But it was the totality of the trip, and all the creativity and diligence I invested in planning it, and what I learned (and re-learned) about myself by traveling solo that brought the greatest joy and rewards.
This isn't the first time I'd been a solo traveler. The first time I traveled alone was on a 10-week backpacking trip through Europe in my mid-20's. All that I had available for guidance and communications back then was a dog-eared Let's Go book and an AT&T phone card: no cell phone, no social media, no widespread internet in those days. And certainly no WiFi. Email existed, but I wasn't an early adopter.
That backpacking odyssey helped to shape a core part of me. While the overall trip went really well, some things happened to me that were less than ideal, or I made less than ideal choices that got me into a couple of less than ideal situations, and I had to figure my way out of them, language barriers and all.
And I did. And everything turned out fine. I learned how to adapt when a plan falls through. That there's no point in getting upset. You can always figure out a Plan B, C, D, E, or F, and then you just make the best of that new plan. And more often than not, that Plan C or Plan F? It often turns out to be just as good -- or maybe even better -- than Plan A would have been.
I've traveled solo to some foreign places since that epic backpacking adventure. However, the last time was back in 2010. A weeklong trip to Paris, a city where I've traveled numerous times over the years, and have some command of the language. So, as this latest trip finally approached, despite my previous travel experiences, I was admittedly a little anxious. I was going to be staying with family in Vienna, so I knew I had support there, but for the other two legs of my trip -- Budapest and Prague -- I knew no one, and certainly didn't know the languages.
And, again, everything turned out fine (even with a handful of mishaps along the way). Better than fine.
Like my backpack excursion all those years ago, I planned everything on my own. But now, with cell phones, the internet, social media and email, everything was a lot simpler this time around. Although, there is also a lot more information out there to sort through, so it's easy to get overwhelmed. I soon learned to do research up to a point, and then just make a choice, and be okay with the results -- end of story. (Another traveling lesson that will now apply to other areas of my life!)
Perhaps the most surprising thing I discovered about myself on this trip was that I am not addicted to travel. I thought there would be a good chance that I'd be despondent when I got back to New York City. But when I arrived home, despite all the experiences I will remember for a lifetime -- I was really glad to be home. Glad to get back to my life, my family, my friends and all the mysteries and messes that lie ahead.
I love travel and experiencing new adventures -- especially on my own. This trip reminded me of that. I've begun making a list of cool places around the world I've never been to, and I plan to visit at least one new place every year. Just knowing that I have the freedom and fortitude to travel solo, if and when I choose to, well, that was this trip's most valuable souvenir.
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