“If I cry the whole flight home, don’t mind me,” I said to my middle-seat partner during takeoff from Paris to Dallas.
It was finally time to return home to the land of big trucks and country music, and I was feeling bittersweet. My seatmate, Nancy, continued the conversation and we began to trade stories; hers about living the life of a flight attendant for 30 years and mine about the lessons, successes and failures of five months abroad in France. Ten hours later as we deplaned, we exchanged emails, promised to stay in touch, and wished each other luck in making our layover flights.
“Putting trust and faith into the goodness of other people is essential to breaking down the walls that are being built in our more globalized society.”
Traveling alone for eight days as my last big trip before returning home from my semester abroad in France produced many stories similar to this. While at first I was skeptical about spending the majority of my last few weeks alone, I wanted to test the hype attributed to solo travel.
But the funny thing about solo traveling, is that if you do it well, you are rarely ever alone. During the first four days, I stayed in private room Airbnbs where I talked with my hosts and gained insights about the local attractions.
My favorite host, a French woman named Christiane, didn’t speak English. So, over croissants and cafés each morning I finally had the opportunity to speak French without the crutch of English. We talked of her kids and grandkids, the political direction in which France was headed, travel, and — of course — food. Despite some language stumbles, I left her home feeling confident in my communication abilities and happy to have met such a kind soul.
I also hopped from hostel to hostel, each with a different vibe and clientele. My favorite of which was in Bordeaux where two Australians, two Israelis a Welsh girl, and I spent an evening sipping two-euro wine at a local bar du vin. This group of adventurers was bright-eyed and interested in sharing ideas about our world.
In general, people who stay and work at hostels will be foreigners like yourself. So, if you are looking for a multiplicity of perspectives, this route may be better while traveling. However, for a more immersive experience into the local culture and language, try renting a private room in an Airbnb or brave your luck getting accepted on Couchsurfing (which sadly didn’t happen for me).
Traveling is all about making choices: where to go, for how long, with whom. The answers to these choices can only come from testing the options and finding what works for you. Some people like the structure of tours and staying in hotels. For me, I have found spending at least three days in a city with a local host is the sweet spot for enjoying a city.
As a woman, my biggest barrier to meeting people was fear. Idle men on street corners, big groups of teenagers and empty areas all sounded off a little alarm in my head reminding me of my diminutive stature. Traveling alone definitely calmed my nerves, as I saw in almost all situations there was nothing to fear. I never got mugged, or shortchanged. Putting trust and faith into the goodness of other people is essential to breaking down the walls that are being built in our more globalized society.
While I liked solo traveling, it did get lonely at mealtimes or on long train rides. To remedy this, next time I would download apps such as Meetup or Couchsurfing (or even Tinder!) to grab a lunch with a local or spend an evening at a park with a fellow nomad passing through. Even finding a stranger who is alone in a public place is a great way to connect with someone. In my case, I met a woman and her friends out one evening in Nantes by asking what a big protest was about, which sparked a long conversation.
There are so many options for meeting cool, interesting, and kind people; the world is full of them!
All in all, traveling solo didn’t lead to the life-changing revelation that YouTubers proclaim, but it did lead to great stories and plenty of new connections. I think the same could be said for studying abroad. Putting myself out there and acting as a student wherever I went has added to the lenses in which I can see the world. Being back in the U.S. and returning to San Diego in the fall will not change this attitude.
I’m excited to continue being a tourist — but now just one with a monthly bus pass.
Sarah Karver is a comparative international studies sophomore with a minor in French. She is studying spring semester in Reims, France.