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.
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.
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.
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.
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.