What I’ve learned from solo travel


Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Caitlin McKeand, Co-Editor in Chief

One of the greatest choices I could have ever made for myself took place over the summer. I travelled with National Geographic Student Expeditions along with 3 leaders, 19 other high school students from around the world and 1 expert to Iceland to learn about climate and geology. Granted, I knew none of these people until I met them the day we left the United States at JFK international airport.

This was my first time getting on a plane alone, much less travelling abroad on my own, but I can tell you with certainty that it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. These are four things I learned from travelling out of the country:

  1. You learn how to spend time with yourself. When you travel alone or with a group of strangers like I did, you find out pretty quickly that you need to start listening to yourself more. You start to understand your own rhythm in what, how and when you do things instead of heading to autopilot. Taking the time during a trip, or even at home to look inwards at what you’re feeling can lead to a more enriching day, and I found myself often sitting alone when I could find time in order to make sure I didn’t feel overwhelmed or needed anything I hadn’t noticed in the buzz of other people. Accept time with yourself and resist the urge to be busy in order to keep your feelings at bay. Meet them head on when they come and you’ll thank yourself for it.
  2. Travel can be absolutely liberating (and terrifying)! Nothing really prepares you when your plane, car or boat gets closer and closer to your destination. The feeling that comes with knowing you’ll be exploring that place soon is incredible. On my trip it was downright contagious. All of us on the plane laughing and smiling as we swarmed to the airplane windows and hearing repeatedly “Oh my god we’re in Iceland!”. The reason why I chose my trip personally, was because I wanted the experience of leaving all that I knew behind for a bunch of strangers and a place I’d never been. I wanted the experience of knowing no one and being unknown, and I’m sure that’s one of the big reasons people travel (well, that and stress relief probably). Pushing yourself to go outside of your boundaries and leave your comfort zone is incredibly nerve wracking, but it is the greatest push for self growth you can take.
  3. There is so much out there to learn. Often times people think they know everything, when in actuality those are the people that most likely know the least. When you travel to somewhere you’ve never been whether that’s a city over or an ocean over, there will always be something new to learn. On my trip, I had a literal concept to learn about: climate change and the environment of Iceland, but even if you have a goal of what you want to know about in mind, so much more will accompany it. You’ll learn about different people, languages, cultures, foods, climates and even some new stuff about yourself. Always open yourself up to new things.
  4. People are not inherently bad (but not inherently good either). Yes, there will always be stories of theft and fraud. I’ve had an uncle lose all his belongings, passport and phone abroad, but this isn’t as common as you think. Yes, it happens, but more than often people will be willing to talk to you and help you out if you need it. Remember to take precautions, but have fun. Pack accordingly and plan for alternatives, but don’t let it consume you.

Now, I can explain all the reasons in the world why you should take the chance to travel and do so solo or with a group of people, but as much as I can talk about it, I can’t get you to act on it. The execution is on you. Travelling alone or not knowing anyone you’re with can be daunting, and it’s not for everyone, but if you choose to go, what you learn along the way will change you. You may never feel as though you are home ever again because when you travel you leave a piece of yourself as the price you pay for loving people and places all over the world.