When I was in high school I had the privilege to go to Italy for 10 days on a school trip. It was booked through one of those travel services that gives you a tour guide and a bus and basically plans everything for you in advance. Granted, a lot of what I remember about the experience was bus rides and walking tours and everyone trying to eat as much gelato without getting sick, but still. I LOVED it. Even before we returned to North Carolina I knew I would be back. I loved everything about Europe. I loved stepping on the plane and feeling that I was in a whole new world, a brand new place I never knew… Oh sorry that’s Aladdin, my bad. But really, I loved the food culture, the fashion, even the boys were cuter. “I’m ruined. I’ll never look at another American boy again.” I told my friends as soon as I got back. Not true, of course but my seventeen year old self actually believed it.
I immediately decided to do a year of study abroad in college. That never happened. I sensibly decided that I would wrack up enough debt by staying in state, and my travelling adventure would have to wait until after I graduated. But then “the real world” arrived and I had to scramble to nail down some kind of employment in a shitty post-recession economy. I had majored in sustainability and was rife with idealism. I had work to do. I had to change the world. I had to save the planet. My travel dreams remained on the back burner.
I ended up getting a job through AmeriCorps. I would volunteer at a non-profit organization for one year. My stipend was pretty meager but I was frugal and would be given a lump sum at the end of my term to put toward the dreaded student loans. There was no way I could go spend time and money on travel while I was in debt. About three months into sitting behind a desk all day I decided to stuff it, I was going anyway. That’s right, Sallie Mae can kiss my ass.
I talked to my best friend about this and we pinky swore that the moment my term was over we would be off to Europe. We started immediately dreaming of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. When I told my dad about our pact his reaction pissed me off, though probably not in the way that one would expect. He said “I don’t think she’s the right person to go with, she doesn’t have the same sense of adventure that you have.” Oh whatever dad. Then he said “Just promise me that if she changes her mind you will go to Europe anyway.” So I did make that promise, while I rolled my eyes and thought to myself that I was right and it would never come to that. I mean, why would I go alone, who even does that? You’re not supposed to walk around alone in America in some places, I could not go to a whole foreign continent without a buddy. How could dad even suggest it?
Well. My dad was right. Damnit. Although, I’m not sure if I would call it lacking a sense of adventure or possessing a sense of responsibility… Being the stubborn fool that I am it never occurred to me to call dad and tell him I was breaking my promise. That just ain’t me. When my travel buddy first started to express reservations about whether or not she could go I began to surreptitiously look into travelling alone. I discovered that other women travel alone, it even has its own hashtag, #solofemaletravel, and a ton of blogs devoted to the subject. So if they can do it, why can’t I?
I had a little bit of money saved up and my job was ending with no new prospects in sight. So I thought, if not now, when? Or maybe I saw that on Pinterest… Either way I was ready, travel buddy or not. So the moment she officially bailed I booked a one-way flight. I signed up for a membership to a work exchange website and within a couple of days I had made plans to stay and volunteer on a farm a little ways outside of London for the first two months of my journey.
Basically, you just have to disregard the people who are going to say, “No, you can’t do that,” or just think you’re crazy (sorry, mom). If you’re ready to go, you don’t have to wait for the perfect conditions. If it’s something you’ve been dreaming about since high school, don’t wait for anyone. If you find out once you get there that you actually don’t like it, you can always go back and do something else. But you’ll probably find, like I did, that solo travel is the bomb and by far the best thing you could ever do. I actually met so many people who were travelling alone, men and women. Turns out, not only is it possible it’s not even a big deal! People do it all the time. You have to try, no excuses. I made plenty of excuses for a long time, like I already said, I had student loans, no one to go with etc., just fucking do it. If it’s all you can think about, just go.