Things I Learned About Myself by Traveling Abroad Alone

Me in Howth. Just me.

This past week I’ve discussed my Ireland trip in detail, and I’d like to end the week with a reflection on what I learned from going on this trip solo.

I wanted to stretch myself on this trip, to step outside of my comfort zone. I’m a planner at heart, and thus I didn’t plan anything for this trip so I can be more spontaneous and go with the flow. I’m an introvert, so I wanted to push myself to meet new people when I have no default option. I’m terrible at initiating conversations with strangers, so I wanted to put myself in a foreign place to see how I’d respond in that area.

Here are the results from my little experiment. It’s filled with contradictions.

  1. It’s really nice not having to worry about someone else’s plans or agendas.
  2. It’s nice to have a copilot when traversing foreign soil. There’s certainly something to be said for figuring out things on your own (as I did when taking the bus to Howth), but I was able to enjoy Dublin in a different way when a new friend guided me through the city.
  3. I like company when I eat at a restaurant. Those were the most difficult times in Ireland, and it doesn’t help that I’m a really slow eater. I didn’t feel self conscious about eating alone; moreso I was surrounded by people having a wonderful time at their tables, and it make me really aware that I didn’t have someone there to talk to.
  4. No matter where I am, at this point in my life, I prefer a quiet beer at the bar over a crazy night at a club. On Friday night, I contemplated going down to the club in the hotel. There were tons of young people there. I almost did it to stick with my adventurous theme. But I kept coming back to the fact that I don’t enjoy clubs. Just because I’m abroad doesn’t mean I should force-feed myself things I don’t like in the name of “growing.” That was a good thing to realize on the first night.
  5. I like to write in quiet places, not noisy cafes. It doesn’t have to be a secluded place; just a quiet place.
  6. I really like not having a plan when I travel, but after I make a decision to go somewhere, I should research that decision a little bit before going so I don’t miss out on anything huge. For example, the taxi driver on the way to the airport at the end of the trip asked if I had gone to basically the best old pub ever when I was in Howth. I hadn’t, unfortunately, and it made me want to go back to go to that pub. But it was too late.
  7. Smithwick’s is my favorite Irish beer.
  8. It’s really nice to detach from e-mail. Now, I sent plenty of e-mails when I was at the hotel, but when I left the castle, I no longer had wi-fi. And it was incredibly freeing. The impulse to check e-mail went away because I simply didn’t have that option. I was able to walk and think and breathe without having the exciting prospect of a full inbox prodding at me.
  9. Being in a foreign country doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly free to initiate conversations with total strangers. Even in Ireland, where people are notoriously friendly. If that’s an area in which I want to grow, I’m going to have to work on it myself–a new country isn’t going to do the work for me.
What have you learned about yourself when traveling, whether it’s alone or with others, foreign or domestic?