There’s something so romantic about going off to a foreign country or place by yourself. Or at least I always thought so???
Cue movies/books like Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love, Wild, and the like.
I am such a sucker for that shit. As a hopeless romantic, nostalgic-obsessed introvert/INFP, I eat. It. Up.
I took my first solo travel trip to Europe three years ago, when I was 23. I went to Greece, Ireland, and Belgium over the course of 1.5 months and ate my weight in crepes. I met a ton of other travelers by staying in hostels, which was perfect at the time, but these days I’m not as keen to share a room with 10 other travelers and pray that none of them snore.
I also purposely wanted solitude and reflection time during this trip (and hostels aren’t necessarily the BEST place for that LOL). My goal wasn’t to make a ton of friends and see ALL THE THINGS like it was before – I really just wanted to meet other digital nomads (in real life/online), work on myself, reinforce healthy habits like meditation and journaling, establish myself as an online English teacher, and get my shit together with this blog.
And so, I traded in people for pets and was house sitting in various locations around England from mid-June to mid-August. I spent 2 weeks in Welling (near London), 1 month in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, 1 week in Chichester, and 2 days in London.
My time alone was and wasn’t exactly what I thought. Here are my main takeaways:
I REALLY DO NEED COMMUNITYAs much as I like to call myself an introvert, I really do like having people and friends around. I definitely missed that sense of community (which I think a lot of digital nomads struggle with.)
And as much as I’ve always thought that as long as the place I was staying was nice and pretty, I wouldn’t need people around as much (cue fantasies about frolicking through the countryside in a pretty dress) – well, I was totally wrong.
The first week and a half was AMAZING, especially since the month prior I’d been home in California and had been constantly surrounded by family and friends. I really just needed that social break, and I was so happy to slow down and figure out this new way of life.After that I started feeling a litttttle lonely – luckily I had a friend in London that I met up with, and the cat that I was house sitting (lol I feel like that totally counts as a social interaction!!)
However, most of the time I was just by myself. I really started to miss having someone to go to dinner with, or to come home to after a long day. House sitting is a very different kind of solo travel to what I’ve done before. Previously, I stayed in dorm rooms in hostels and went on lots of walking tours/pub crawls, so meeting other travelers was easy peasy. I made SO many friends and was never really ‘alone.’
But this was different. Again, I really wanted to just relish in my alone time and work on myself. I did join several digital nomad Facebook groups (even some specific to London, where my first house sit was) but most of the MeetUp type things I found weren’t active or were before/after the 2 weeks I was there. In retrospect, I really should have just tried to make a MeetUp myself???
I even tried BumbleBFF out of sheer curiosity (plus I figured it would make a good post if I actually did meet up with someone!) I matched with several girls, but none of them responded to me LOL.Next I went to Saltburn-by-the-Sea for a month, but it’s a pretty damn small town. Like, a lot of English people that I’ve mentioned it to have never heard of it LOL. I looked for meetups and tried to find people close to me in digital nomad Facebook groups – but again, this place is kind of out there (like, it took me 4 different trains and 6 hours to get there from London), so I didn’t really find anything.
Luckily social media and the online world exists, so I just resorted to that, which helped a lot! And I did meet a friend in Manchester for a weekend, so that was nice.I used that time to get a lot done, and by then, teaching was picking up. So I wasn’t bored – I had plenty to do – but I was lonely.
I did push myself and went to a gin tasting night on my own, where I met 3 really sweet older ladies, but that was about it. And I did meet some really nice locals, but they were all a lot older. It seemed like mostly retirees or families – I didn’t really see anyone my age. Lots of tourists/day trippers, too, as it’s a small little beach town.
SO in the future, I will definitely be looking for places with more of a digital nomad “hub” in mind, so to speak. Although 2 weeks-1 month of solitude may very well be needed every now and again, I don’t think I’d ever purposely do 2 months again.
I AM THE QUEEN OF DISTRACTING MYSELFI thought, yes, I’ll be alone which means NO DISTRACTIONS so I’ll get so much done! I purposefully chose smaller towns to house sit in as I figured I’d have no choice but to work.
But, ahem, distractions are totally still there because I’ve realized that I’m the sort of person that actually looks for ways to get distracted. LOL.
Like I’ll get snacks from the fridge 20 times a day. I’ll spend waaaaay too long looking for flights or accommodation. I’ll end up going down the YouTube black hole when I was just supposed to watch one video while I was eating lunch.
It’s so funny to me because my brother is the exact opposite – he’s the type of person that’s NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE so much to the point that he’ll forget to eat.
I, on the other hand, will NEVER forget to eat. In fact, one simple noise that I interpret as my stomach growling but is actually just one of the nearby cats that I’m house sitting will convince me to stop what I’m doing and go make myself a smoothie.I thought I wasn’t getting as much done at home because I was surrounded by people all the time, who were texting/calling/whatever-ing me and therefore, I was not as productive as I should have been.
But lol, nope, it’s not them – it’s ME. I AM THE REASON THAT I’M NOT PRODUCTIVE. I AM THE ONE THAT DISTRACTS MYSELF AND MAKES EXCUSES AND WORKS SLOWER THAN MOLASSES AND HAS THE ATTENTION SPAN OF A GUINEA PIG!!! (Ok I honestly don’t know if guinea pigs have good attention spans or not, I just thought it sounded good and sorry for the insult, guinea pigs?)
And this also just reinforced the fact that I just need to set better boundaries with other people. If the reason I feel like I can’t get things done is because other people are around me – well then, I just need to grow a backbone and not be so easily influenced by what others are doing, or asking of me. Sigh. It all comes back to boundaries (or the lack thereof.) ALWAYS.
And I just need to turn my damn phone on Do Not Disturb.
LIFE DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN TO YOUYou kind of have to go out there and MAKE IT happen. Which duh, is obvious, but I kind of thought that just by going to Europe by myself I’d have this super amazing transformative experience. And yes, it did have an impact on me, but not as intensely as I thought it would.
The first time I traveled solo had a HUGE impact on me. I created so many amazing memories with strangers that became friends (soooo cliche but so true) and I felt a huge shift in my persona afterwards.
But with this trip, I kind of just felt like I was living my normal life but just plopped down into another country. I know I didn’t put myself out there as much as I should have, and it just kind of…I don’t know, happened. It wasn’t filled with as many high highs and (the very few) low lows that my first solo trip was.
I ASSUMED I WOULD AUTOMATICALLY BECOME MY BEST SELFThis goes along with the last section – but I still do that thing where I picture the best case scenario and create this epic fantasy in my head, and figure that just because I’m in a new place, I will just automatically become this perfect version of myself that I’ve always wanted to be.
I was like, I’m going to spend a month getting up at 5AM and listening to the birds and doing yoga and meditating every day and going for long walks on the beach and writing on my computer in front of big windows overlooking a huge garden or at cute coffee shops and just be so inspired and take lots of photos and basically just basically BE A LIVING, BREATHING FAIRYTALE.Are you LOLing? Because I totally am.
I am such a hopeless romantic and tend to get lost in my head, and of course it wasn’t like that at all. Yes, it was nice, and the places I stayed in really were pretty.
But the beach in Saltburn-by-the-Sea was a 40 minute walk/15 minute bus ride so I didn’t go everyday, I hate getting up early (not sure why I thought that would change? lol), there was no huge garden, the coffee shops all closed by 5PM but I usually finished teaching around 3, and I honestly just wasn’t feeling any more inspired than usual.
So, my average day didn’t actually look like what I’d imagined LOL.
But in reality I did learn a lot about myself, and I definitely feel like I grew. And I DID get more work done than if I had been around other people (I really need to get better at saying no, again with the #boundaries), but I didn’t necessarily feel super INSPIRED and MOTIVATED like I thought I would.
Like, it still took a lot of work to make myself sit down and write these blog posts (even though I absolutely love writing them! Sometimes it just takes a bit to get myself into that flow state). It wasn’t just like I suddenly became a different person, if that makes sense.
And I kind of thought I would learn all these things about myself and grow etc. JUST by spending time by myself. Which I think in a way I did as it allowed me more time to think, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t WORK on myself as much as I probably should have. Like, you won’t turn into your best self just by being alone – you still have to do the work i.e. journaling, asking yourself hard questions, reading self-help books, etc.I don’t know – maybe it would have been different if I really was more in NATURE NATURE. But to get to places like that, you often have to have a car which I definitely do not out here.
But I’m probably kind of just lying to myself again. It probably would have been the same. It’s up to you to change your life – maybe you’ll feel more inspired in certain places and at times, but it doesn’t just happen automatically and effortlessly when you want it to. It’s still work.
And yes, that’s probably super obvious to a lot of you – but I kind of thought putting myself in a totally different situation (my dream situation) would change things. It didn’t.
So basically – I’ve got a lot of work to do haha.
I AM CAPABLE AFOk, so the above points are a lot of negatives haha, so I thought I’d throw in a positive thing!!
I spent 2 months alone in a foreign country, didn’t really make a ton of IRL friends and spent a lot of time by myself…And I didn’t die. In fact, I’m very much still alive. Yep, just checked – still breathing!
It sounds super lame, but I was really debating whether or not to leave when I did as the thought of spending summer by myself was terrifying. Or rather, the thought of how other people would react when they heard I was spending the summer by myself by choice was terrifying.
I’ve always been a little insecure about the fact that I’m an introvert and like a lot of alone time, especially as my mother and brother are both extroverts (and is the norm in society as a whole, I feel like). So I felt like I was a bright red “I have no friends” target sign by choosing to spend summer, a time that’s marked by camping trips and evening parties, by myself.
But you know what? It was fine. No one really cared. I keep learning this lesson over and over again, too: everyone is too busy with their own lives to really care about what you do with yours!
And I got through all the logistic travel stuff on my own, too – I booked my tickets, made decisions, hauled all of my shit, and navigated myself through a foreign country (thanks to Google Maps because ask anyone that knows me, my sense of direction is the absolute WORST.)
If it’s your first time going abroad alone, I’d suggest doing it in a country you may feel more comfortable in (for instance, everyone speaks English in England so no need to worry about a language barrier.) I guarantee it’s not as scary as you think it is, and you’ll feel soooo empowered and badass that you were able to get yourself through it.
AND IN CONCLUSION…And if you’re wondering about my actual experience?
Well, it was honestly pretty damn uneventful.
You know in the movies, a la Eat Pray Love, when the solo character embarks on this amazing journey and has no idea what’s in store for her, and it always opens with this moment where she realizes she’s fully alone, like in the airport with all her shit, and some comical thing happens that reinforces this and she takes a deep breath and the camera zooms into her face?
And then by the end, she’s created this life full of friends and laughs and wonderful things?
Well, my alone journey really wasn’t like that at all LOL.
It was pretty much spent being alone, teaching English, talking to people online, making connections in the blogger world, exploring on my own, and hanging out with cats that may or may not have wanted to kill me.
But to be honest – I think that was exactly what I needed. My brain needed to unwind from all the craziness that had happened before. I needed to figure out what I wanted and which direction to take the next step.Did I get lonely? Of course! In fact, I was lonely more often that I thought I would be.
But I also really wanted to sit in that loneliness. I don’t know – there was a part of me that wanted to prove that I could just be by myself for long periods of time and BE OK.
And I was.
However, I don’t think I’ll necessarily look back on this time FONDLY per say. Like it wasn’t the most fun time in my life. But I’m still happy I did it.
Have you ever spent a ton of time alone like that? What did you think? Would you do it again?
Interesting read! Definitely not something I would ever try. I like community
I definitely underestimated how important it is! Thank you for reading! 🙂
Vanessa Shields says
What a fun and unique post! I was laughing throughout with you and can totally relate. I’m about to book a trip so that I can get away and have solo time. Lol. I’m a helpless romantic too and have always envisioned some exciting story to unfold yet it hasn’t quite happened like that! 🙂
I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I hope you have fun on your solo trip (and maybe all your hopeless romantic dreams will come true LOL – there’s always hope!)
Great post! I came across this randomly and almost everything you said, I could have written about myself and my experience in Europe this summer (also some catsitting too!), and we are also very similar in how we are and how we think! I think after a while I got used to being alone and then sometimes got lazy and didn’t make the effort to meet people when I could have:) Sitting in that loneliness indeed. Yet with so many things to get done and work on so wanted to make myself focus and not get too distracted with socialising! But as you said, when you do have a friend to hang out with in certain places, you really appreciate it and see what a difference it makes. We come out of any experiences like this a stronger person anyway!
I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 Oooh so cool how we had such similar experiences!
I definitely feel you on the “getting used to being alone” part – I can totally hermit-ize myself if I let myself haha. But I learned that it makes me really unhappy. I made more of an effort to meet new people during the 3 months I spent in Hamburg afterwards and was in a much better mood! We humans really are social creatures, I think, as much as I sometimes resist that haha.
Thanks for reading, and glad you identified 🙂
So funny – I had the EXACT same experience, albeit not in Europe, but I went through the exact same thought processes when I did my first long-term solo trip, right down to “what will they think when they find out I’m spending 2 months by myself?” — and the realization that no one cares. Actually, better: people are super supportive.
I came across your blog through “how to meet people as a solo traveler” and was relieved and excited to find someone who has so many of the same experiences and thoughts about solo traveling as I do — including the romanticizing and belief that somehow, I will magically be up at dawn, sipping herbal tea and writing out my next poem in clean cursive.
Anyway, I felt compelled to comment because I’ve been enjoying scrolling through your blog and have found it humorously like reading my own journal; I’m also loving your photography. Keep doing you!!
Amy, this comment meant the world to me! Thank you for saying such nice things about my writing and photos. I’m so happy that you related to my posts, and that you too didn’t let your fears stop you and went solo anyway. Happy traveling <3