Benefits of Traveling Alone | POPSUGAR Smart Living – POPSUGAR
OK, so I’ll be honest here â€” I didn’t exactly intend to travel to a foreign country by myself. The problem is that I’m a little more impulsive than I may be willing to let on, and it got the best of me.
So, when I booked a round-trip flight to Ireland solely based on the fact that it was insanely inexpensive, I hadn’t totally thought it through. All I knew was that I was booking a flight. What I hadn’t thought about was the whole “going by myself with no travel experience whatsoever” thing. It didn’t hit me until far after I had purchased the ticket, received confirmation, and told my boss that I would be out of the country during certain days. And it only hit me because he asked, “Who are you going with?” And for the first time I had to think about the fact that the answer was “no one.”
Ultimately I’m really happy I went by myself. It was such a good learning experience. And while it scared the daylights out of my mother (“You’re so young! You can’t go by yourself to a foreign country! What’s going to happen to you?”), it was the best choice for me, and I’m really happy that I did it.
In the future, I might look to do my next international trip with a friend, but I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Here’s what I learned.
1. It’s pretty badass to travel by yourself.
This is one thing that I didn’t realize until I was in it. Almost everyone I encountered â€” from the older woman I sat next to on the plane to the 20-somethings that I met on the trip â€” was shocked and impressed that I was going it alone. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought that part through. I didn’t really have the time to think about that. But it’s pretty cool to be 22 and traveling to a different country, just because. Own it. Be proud.
2. Pack light . . .
I know, you’ve heard this before. But it’s true. I was gone for a week so I only had a carry-on and a personal item, and I may have even overpacked. Dress for the weather, but even in the cold you won’t need much unless you’re climbing Mount Everest . . . but I don’t think that’s something that you would do by yourself. Maybe. Anyway, it’s a good idea to bring clothes that will match each other so you don’t need to waste time thinking about your outfits.
Check the weather channel to see what typical weather is like. It rains almost every day in Ireland, so I made sure I had a pair of rain boots and a rain jacket. But that might not be something you would need in San Diego.
3. . . . but also do your research.
Yes, you should pack light. And you should check the weather. But if there’s one thing I wish I had packed, it would be a pair of heels. I went to Dublin and Galway, and I quickly learned that Irish young adults get dressed up for a Friday night out. Like, really dressed up compared to what I’m used to. I went out in jeans, a sweater, and combat boots and wore my beanie into the bar (it was cold!). I stood out like a sore thumb.
That being said, I wish I had known that everyone gets dressed up for casual drinks on Friday night. I would have at least classed myself up a bit. And maybe put on some makeup. I wasn’t expecting it at all, because everyone is so modestly dressed during the day, and they’re definitely not demonstrative of class in their dress so I figured going out would be the same. Culture guides are super easy to find on the internet and will make preparing for a trip a lot easier.
It will also be important to know what people dress like if you’re going to a country with strict traditional customs surrounding their dress. You don’t want to attract attention to yourself that might put you in a controversial situation, and you want to respect the traditions of those countries.
4. Don’t be afraid to meet people . . .
I don’t think there was a single day when I wasn’t with someone doing something. It’s so easy to be social when you’re traveling by yourself, but it’s also really easy to be antisocial, and you can easily get stuck in the trap of being antisocial if you don’t want to put in the effort.
If you want to make friends, you have to do a little legwork. And I’ll tell you, Tinder and Bumble are your friends! If you’re worried guys will think you’re just trying to hook up and that’s not what you want, say straight off the bat that you’re a foreigner in town for the week. I started most of my conversations with “Hey! I’m American, in town for a week â€” what’s the best place to go around here for dinner?”
Most people will be cool with it and won’t mind playing tour guide for the night. And if you make it about your travels more so than what most people use dating apps for, then you’ll be fine. And if a guy does make it seem like he’s more into sex with a foreigner than bringing someone out on an adventure, don’t meet up with him.
If you’re staying in a hostel, you’ll easily meet other people around your age traveling. If you’re staying in a B&B, you’ll be likely to meet some locals. When I landed in Dublin, the first thing I did was stop for breakfast and made friends with my waiter. I’m telling you, it’s way easier to make friends than it seems â€” especially since when people hear your accent, they’re likely to be friendly and ask what brings you to their country.
5. . . . but don’t be afraid to take some alone time.
I had my days to myself, and it was so lovely. I’m really impatient, and I don’t like feeling like I need to stick to a structured plan in case something comes up (like I said, I’m impulsive after all), so traveling without friends made it easier for me to do the things that I wanted to do without feeling exhausted afterward. I could leave the museum when I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I needed to spend money on every sight there was to see. I could take a nap when I was tired.
Being by myself also gave me a great amount of time to just sit and think. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of practicing mindfulness every day, and doing so while traveling made my experience really wholesome and worthwhile.
6. Don’t cram things in.
You’re never going to experience an entire city on vacation. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to squeeze every last museum and statue and obscure historical site into your day. When I was in Galway, I had plans to go to the museum, but I ended up walking along the coast and the causeway for two hours and didn’t even care that I didn’t make it to the museum. Don’t be afraid of missing out on something because something else comes up. Hey, everything you missed will just be another reason to go back.
7. You’ll learn more about a city from its people than its tourist attractions.
I wish I had spent more time talking to everyone that I could. I met a lot of people while I was in Ireland, but there were definitely so many more people I could have met had I just asked them simple questions about themselves.
I learned so much about the city through its people. I went there thinking it would be kind of like America â€” after all, they speak English and it’s a country influenced by Western traditions â€” but it was so different in so many beautiful ways, and that was ultimately what I loved so much about being there.
8. Take time zone change into consideration.
Jet lag is seriously real. It didn’t help that my phone was on airplane mode and the time didn’t change, so I had to do the math when I set my alarm at night and do the math when I woke up in the morning. Ireland is five hours ahead of New York, so it wasn’t difficult to do the math, of course, but when you just wake up and it’s 7 in the morning but your clock is saying it’s 2, it gets pretty confusing.
The worst part, however, was that the first place that I stayed in Dublin didn’t have any windows. It was a tiny Airbnb that had everything I needed, and it was so cheap that I couldn’t complain, but the fact that I was adjusting to a different time zone and I stayed somewhere that had no windows really made it difficult for me for the first day or so.
9. Eat, eat, eat.
Food is different everywhere. We can know this simply by looking at the United States. Pizza from New York and pizza from Massachusetts are not the same and never will be. The food is going to be different everywhere you go, and you should absolutely relish in it without being concerned about your weight for the duration of your vacation. Sure, if you’re living in a different country for an extended period of time, that’s one thing. But if you’re only there for a week like I was, take it all in.
I don’t eat meat very often because it makes me just so sick, but my first day in Ireland, I saw a plate of a full Irish breakfast speed past me to a neighboring table, and the bacon looked so beautiful that I needed to have it. It didn’t even matter how my body felt afterward.
Ask the locals what they like. Ask your waiter what the best thing on the menu is. A week of indulgence is not going to kill you, but looking back on it and wishing you hadn’t missed out on all the good bacon very well could.
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