From the Archives: Thoughts on Traveling Solo

This post has been sitting in my drafts since my study abroad semester in Greece in 2014. I’ve since traveled alone to Paris, and plan to travel solo again in the near future. So I cleaned up this old post and added some thoughts:

One of the things I love most about study abroad the chance to meet lots of people who also love to travel. If you’re lucky, you get to travel with them to new places and see new things.

I also gained a lot of confidence in myself in travel, and for various reasons, I spent a significant chunk of time traveling alone. This fall break ended up being one of my favorite trips.

My fall break in 2014 lined up with Thanksgiving and lasted 10 days. I left on Thursday (the week before Thanksgiving) right after my Greek class and returned a week and a half later, around midnight on Sunday.

I started my break  with a visit to my French host family from when I studied abroad in 2011.

Lise’s partner, Nicholas, is behind the camera–but he’s also very much a part of the family!

I spent the night in Paris in an airbnb, with the most charmingly eccentric Parisienne who fed me buttered bread and strong black coffee before I caught the earliest train down to Poitiers, where my host sister, Claire, studies. It was such a relief to see her waiting for me at the train station. I hadn’t seen my host family since 2012, and I was only expecting to see two of my host sisters (plus my oldest host sister’s family), but my host parents surprised me and drove out on Saturday with my third host sister, so the whole family was there! I had an incredible experience staying with them when I was seventeen that I can’t help getting a little emotional when I see them.

My host family has a habit of downplaying future plans, and although I was told that my host parents were coming for “a little lunch together on Saturday,” the whole weekend blended into one long “lunch” with all eight of us sitting around the table, feasting, playing games, catching up on news and taking walks in town. During the 48 hours my host parents were visiting, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had spent half of those hours at the table.

Also, we may have cleaned out an entire bakery. If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t met my host family.

With tears in my eyes and a heart full of love and butter, I left France for the next leg of my journey: Berlin. I planned to meet my roommate, Emily, and our friend Mae at our hostel, but getting there meant navigating public transport, by myself, at night, after a full day of travel. A daunting task, made all the easier by the friendliness and efficiency of the Berliners! Again, I was relieved when Emily and Mae greeted me and we all collapsed into our beds for the night.

We only had two days in Berlin, but we filled them with a walking tour of the city, visiting the Christmas markets, walking along the East Side Gallery, and, of course, eating our weight in meat and potatoes (washed down with German beer). I spent one evening with just Emily, and the two of us wandered into a used bookstore (where I found a book from my to-read list, in English!), went snack-shopping at a convenience store, and had dinner together at a trendy restaurant.

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Seeing history in person

For the final leg of my journey, I spent four days in Amsterdam. Again, reaching my hostel was my most daunting task: my flight out of Berlin was at 5:30 a.m. (but only about $20), and upon landing in the Netherlands, I stumbled around in what seemed vaguely like the right direction until I made it to my hostel, where I drank coffee in a stupor until I could check in to my room.

I mostly spent my time in Amsterdam alone, except for a day with my Dutch friend Melinda (we went shopping and had coffee at Starbucks–she was missing her year in America much more than I was missing home!) This was probably the hardest part of my trip, since I arrived on Thanksgiving Day, and spent it alone for the first time in my life. It was an enjoyable day, though, spent seeing Dutch art at the Rijksmuseum followed by a hearty meal of Indian food and a good book. I found this to be a good way for me to spend my days–lingering in museums longer than I could if I were with friends, eating when I got hungry, and sneaking in afternoon naps without worrying about keeping to an agenda.

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Melinda in Amsterdam

Although I made plans for all of these trips on my own and found more quiet moments to myself than I would have if I’d been traveling with friends, I realized that traveling solo didn’t mean that I was alone. From the French teenagers who offered to carry my bag for me in the metro and made small talk on our ride, to the other woman eating Indian food accompanied only by a book on Thanksgiving night in Amsterdam, even in my loneliest moments, I felt a sense of companionship with those around me. Traveling alone gave me more confidence in myself than study abroad could on its own–while study abroad is an adventure, there’s a sense of comfort in knowing that someone else is planning your travels.

Even with my success, I was happy to return to my home base in Athens and my friends.

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The Road to Romania

When I tell people that I’m preparing to spend a year in Romania, one question always follows: “Why?”

Like many decisions in my life, the decision to apply to teach in Romania came about through a convoluted process of questioning what I would gain from a year in various locations and the practicality of each option. As a historian with global interests, I knew I could be happy exploring almost any corner of the world, so I took into account different factors like cost of living, safety (hi, parents), language, availability of modern comforts (*cough cough* wifi), and the potential for me to continue my work in public history at a cultural institution.

Romania came about as an option with a relatively low cost of living, and while I don’t know the language, I’m hoping that my background in French (another romance language) helps in my immersion class this fall. More research only enforced my choice: the landscape looks gorgeous, the food is right up my alley, and friends who have visited Romania have nothing but good things to say.

I’m especially interested in the museums in the two cities I’ll be living in. Unlike many museums in the United States and other countries I’ve visited, Romania’s museums seem to focus less on important people and events, and more on the history of the common man and folk history. I have some ideas about how to explore this and bring their history to a wider audience–watch this space!

The decision to follow through with this year in Romania wasn’t an easy one. Although I invested a lot of time, energy, and stress in my application and interviews, I didn’t immediately want to accept the grant. I began to question if I could picture myself living in Romania or if it would be practical to move abroad for a year right now. I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for graduate school, and thought about striking while the iron was hot rather than waiting a year.

In the end, I reminded myself of what had drawn me to spend a year teaching abroad, and specifically in Romania. Even with the uncertainty about where I would live and what I would teach, I was confident that I made the right decision. I am still apprehensive about my move, but my contacts in Romania have been lovely and reassuring in every way.

Most of all, I want this year to be an adventure–and something tells me I’ve signed up for the adventure of a lifetime.