My first trip anywhere alone began in Athens 9 years ago. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, and had never even taken the bus, let alone experienced a foreign city. As my plane descended I watched the sprawling white city become clearer and clearer through the smoggy sky, and as we got closer I became more terrified. The plane touched down -- and I started bawling. It took several Heinekens and a kind stranger to get me in a taxi to my hostel, and several more days before I recovered from jet lag and culture shock.
The subsequent month I spent touring around Europe were filled with incredible highs -- I discovered I was capable and competent, and my self-esteem was boosted permanently -- and all-encompassing lows -- I got lonely and lost, and in situations that would've been funny if I'd been with a friend but drove me to tears instead -- and I returned to the States a changed person. I've taken several solo trips since then, and I love that traveling alone forces me to be outgoing, or allows me be anonymous.
Of course, there's smart solo travel, where someone always knows where you are and when they should hear from you. And then there's ... not-so-smart solo travel, like the time I arrived in rural China (Guizhou Province) without a guidebook, language guide, or friend. I cried until the only thing left to do was pick myself up and figure things out. I ended that trip humbled -- and as always, amazed by the kindness of strangers and the power of body language.
If you're traveling alone, you should always have someone who is waiting for you to check in, and who has a copy of your itinerary and passport at the least. To combat loneliness, try staying in hostels rather than hotels, and seek out touristy bars and restaurants if possible. If you're dining alone, it always helps to have a good book or your journal handy to keep you occupied.
For more tips on having a safe and pleasant solo journey, check out msnbc.com
Filed under: Arts and Culture, Learning, Stories, Europe, China, Greece