By Meron Medhanie, Newbie solo traveler
They say to strike while the iron is hot. I’m not a super fan of these “sayings”. I didn’t grow up with them and I feel like they leave those of different cultures excluded. But that’s exactly what I did. I pulled the trigger and booked a flight to London. One month later I moved to Portland, by myself. And 3 months later, I was off to Europe alone.
My trip was a journey of self-discovery that was profound in a way that I didn’t expect it to be. Here are a few things I learned that may help you on your journey.
I learned what I can and can’t tolerate
I learned to accept who I am, what I like and what I can’t tolerate. I had never stayed at a hostel before so Michelle and I had several working sessions looking for hostels in Rome and Paris. But without a frame of reference, I didn’t know my comfort level. I could only guess.
I learned that I can do a Carlitos Way in Rome but not an Absolute Hostel in Paris. I learned that I wasn’t as low maintenance as I thought I was. But more than anything I learned that that was ok. I learned to not to judge myself for what I like or what makes me comfortable.
Conversations are helpful but keep in mind that Michelle, or any other person, may be more or less flexible and adaptable than you. The only way to know your comfort level is experiencing it first hand. So be open to changing hostels or hotels while you’re traveling so you are comfortable and happy.
I started having fun once I let go other people’s fears and beliefs
I will never forget calling my friend Wendy while I was checking into my room in Rome. I was overwhelmed and unhappy. Everyone scared me into being super cautious because I was a woman traveling by myself. The fear helped me be more alert but it also affected my spirit. It closed me off. I was not being myself. I wasn’t open to people or the energy of the majestic countries I visited, blocking me from incredible experiences.
Wendy is my spirit animal. She’d been in Thailand and Nepal for the last six months and knew all about traveling alone as a woman. She gave me the push I needed. She told me to allow myself to be scared. She inspired me to just wing it. Most of all she reminded me to make the trip for me. Rather than operating from a place of "supposed to", she said to think and do the things I wanted to do.
Immediately I thought of music and going to a show. Three days later I saw a flyer for AfroPunk Paris and bought a ticket. I went to a concert by myself in Paris and it was incredible.
The best part about traveling alone is that you get to do what YOU want to do. Advice from people is cool, but it’s better to see what you want to see instead of the things people say you must see. Think about the experiences you want to have, the places you want to see, the things you want to do. Find yourself by finding what you love to do and doing it. That is the only way to have the time of your life.
I connected with people different from me
The beautiful thing about my experience at AfroPunk Paris was how connected I felt with people who are, on the surface, different from me. Everyone around me spoke French. They lived on a different continent. But our energy and spirit were one in the same.
I’ll never forget when the DJ, a fly, beautiful, black woman with a ginormous fro, put on Iman Omari’s Energy and the crowd went crazy. Watching Parisians rocking to it and singing every word from the LA artist’s song was magical.
When you follow interests, you are bound to connect with like-minded people. It’s actually amazing and surprising how close you can get to people after you share an experience with them.
I proved to myself that I can do it
I’m aware that this statement kind of contradicts everything I said above,
but to be clear, I didn’t go on this trip to prove that I can do it but I did. I did it to overcome my fears.
I’m not only empowered to travel alone but to also to do other stuff alone. I learned that I would rather eat by myself at a fancy pants restaurant than to have a meal with someone I don’t really want to be around.
I’m empowered to figure it out, whatever it is. When you break your iPhone in Italy and can’t speak the language and manage to get it fixed at the Apple store for FREE, everyday problems don’t seem so tough. I’ve got to caveat that by saying that I was with my uncle who speaks Italian but he speaks as much English as I speak Tygrina (our native language). I was blessed, but it was still a challenging situation.
Traveling by myself was the shit. I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. I didn’t have to be cool and impress people. I connected with strangers. I made friends in London and Rome that I can’t wait to see again. I got closer to family without the help of my parents. I learned that I have an incredible sense of direction and that I have the best time when I adapt and go with the flow.