“Give yourself a chance. There is much to do and see in the world.”
The advice came to me at the conclusion of my trip overseas, from a fifty-something ex-pat who had called Eastern Europe home for the past decade and a half. She shared with me bits of her life abroad, stories in beautiful detail, expressed in the most sincere of tones. She was one of those seasoned travelers I had always dreamt of being. I could see a life of adventure embedded in the wrinkles on her face—tales of endless laughter, of occasional pain, of both smiles and tears. A full life. A life she had chased after. A life she loved. And now, she was embarking on a solo round-the-world trip. Who says you’re too old to travel? I told her I was on my way home after three months of living, working, and backpacking across Europe.
In May of last year, I graduated from the University of South Florida with two degrees and no real sense of where my life was headed. Everyone said I had the whole world in front of me; a fact both terrifying and thrilling. The idea that I could be whoever and wherever I wanted to be had always seemed out of reach. I felt like I had expectations to live up to, and that my own dreams could be put on the back-burner a little while longer. Then the question dawned on me: Why not [travel] now? What and who, besides myself, was keeping me from taking on the world?
So, in efforts to postpone the “What comes next?” question and dodge people’s inquiries about my future, I happily accepted an offer to conduct bioarchaeological fieldwork with one of my anthropology professors in Hungary. I would be afforded the opportunity to work in both laboratory and mass grave excavation settings. This is what I love most about studying Anthropology—the chance to apply lessons learned in lecture to the field. I had also never truly experienced Europe, and I figured this would be a great chance to further my education while exploring the world. I bought a plane ticket, and I chose a random start and end date (an adventure that would end up spanning 91 days). I packed my belongings into the sturdy backpack that would become my home, and set sail for the life that awaited me overseas.
When I left the U.S. for Europe, I had no idea what being a solo traveler entailed. I had immediately placed myself in a situation where I had to sink or swim, and luckily, I swam. I was unaware of backpacker etiquette and the rules that came along with this newly-inherited lifestyle. What you have to know about me is that I’m quiet and cautious by nature. I can be stubborn and it’s not often I ask for help. But I had always known I was capable of change. I had always known that I could be independent, that I could take care of myself, and learn along the way. By the end of my trip, I felt transformed. While backpacking, I came to embrace a more glass half-full view on life—I felt myself abandon the notion of always having to have a plan. I allowed myself to be a little more carefree. I learned to let go, to enjoy the present moment, to take advantage of opportunity, and choose to live fully, because who knows if or when I’ll ever get to pass this way again? Traveling solo forced me into these different roles, and completely changed my perspective on life. Instead of planning everything down to the minute, I would eventually find myself standing in the middle of the train station, and I’d choose my next stopping point on the spot. Because I could.
I flew into London, England two weeks before I had to be in Miskolc, Hungary for fieldwork. During those initial weeks on the road I learned how to read a map, I braved my first Couch Surfing experience (which went better that any expectations I could have ever held), and I made friends with locals and backpackers who shared stories about their own adventures. Stories that, as a novice backpacker, I yearned to own and I listened to with extreme attention. I felt these people had lived a lifetime in the span of a few months, and I could not wait to compose my own journey and share those tales with others.
Once in Miskolc, I worked at the Herman Otto Museum, where I analyzed skeletal remains from the World War II era. I, along with several colleagues, traveled around the country to excavate clandestine graves, inventory our findings, and analyze the biological profile, as well as the manner and cause of death. The research portion of my trip ended after a month, and I traveled as far east as Romania before slowly making my way back to London. Along the way, I traveled alone, with friends, and with other travelers I met in hostels, on trains, or in passing. One of my favorite things about travel is how easy it can be to make new friends, so long as you are willing. You are immediately linked by the common thread of travel, and you are fortunate to be in the company of others who share that same passion for adventure and exploration.
Life on the road was truly beautiful, though sometimes uneven. I can admit that I never tired from living out of a backpack—on the contrary; I loved the simplicity of knowing that all I owned was what I could carry. It was such a rush of freedom to know that so long as I was out there, I didn’t really have an address, a destination, or a plan set in stone. At the end of my trek across Europe, I felt I had grown significantly as an individual, and I could feel within myself the ways I had changed. Traveling solo was one of the best experiences of my life, and probably my greatest adventure to date.
Written by Lindsey Bressi, a California native with a passion for travel, writing, and photography. She is currently residing in Florida, where she works for a non-profit organization. She is saving paychecks to fund her next adventure, and spends a great portion of her day dreaming of the places she has yet to explore. Be sure to check out her blog, Postcards from the Open Road.