Finding “What Comes Next” Through Solo Travel

by DIWYY · 11 comments

“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.


DIWYY Jerri 1

Love this story. I was the exact same way when I graduate from college. There was no logical reason for me to not travel. Can’t wait to read more adventures!

Ryan McCoy 2

Great write up about your experiences. From the article it sounds like your travels are finished for the moment…is this true?

Lindsey 3

Thanks, Jerri! It just made sense for me to pack a bag and set out into the world once I crossed that university stage. There is so much world to see, and I can’t wait to get on the road again (I’ll be spending nine days in Panama in May, so check out my blog for updates from the road!) Thank you for reading – it truly means a lot to me!

Lindsey 4

Thanks, Ryan — it was the experience of a lifetime! My travels are finished (temporarily!) I’m working to save up some money to fund my next adventure, but I am heading to Central America for a week and a half in May! How about you? Any trips in the works?

Tanya C 5

I completely agree with you! My first backpacking experience was after a semester abroad in Europe. And then, I began traveling solo to South America and Africa. Traveling solo remain the best travel experiences because you’re so free to do what you want. Everyone should experience it at least once in their life.

Lindsey 6

Tanya – I agree 100% that everyone should embark on solo travel at least once. I think it’s a very important journey to take, and you learn things about yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t if you traveled in a group (or worse, didn’t travel at all!). It’s a liberating experience, it’s a growing experience. It pushes you completely out of your comfort zone, teaches you how to live on your own and make your own decisions. It’s one of the most powerful journeys I have ever taken, and I cannot wait to explore the rest of the world. I can’t help but heavily encourage others to set forth. I can share my stories with others, lend advice I learned along the way, but I feel people need to see it and experience it for themselves. Solo travel is indescribable in a number of ways, and invaluable, as well.

Also, that’s really inspiring that you traveled solo through South America and Africa! How was that? Where did you go? I’ve traveled a bit around SA, but I have yet to go to Africa! It’s on my list! Where are you now?

Tanya C 7

Lindsey, unfortunately I have a 9-5 corporate job so traveling is somewhat limited! I try to take one big backpacking trip per year and so far, so good! I absolutely LOVE South America and now that I’ve been to Africa a few times, I fell in love with that continent as well! There are so many places to visit!

Lindsey 8

Tanya – I can relate! I’m in the same boat – working long hours in an office! I’m trying to keep my spirits high, though, and save as much of the paycheck as I can to fund my future travels. My bucket list keeps growing, and I cannot wait to continue to check out the world! Perhaps I’ll see you out there one day 🙂

Katie N 9

I am about to embark on my first trip overseas and yours has inspired me to go solo before I’ve even started my current journey. This is an incredible adventure to have been on and I can definitely see why you would travel after studying. Even though I love what I study, I still have no real idea of what I will do when I’m done and the expectations of everyone can definitely get to me. One day I hope to have an adventure half as amazing as yours, thanks for sharing.

Lindsey 10

Katie – I’m incredibly flattered by your words! Thank you! I’m glad I could inpire your first solo trip. It truly is an experience of a lifetime! Where are you planning on going? For how long?

Tremille 11

Lindsey, after reading your story I must say I felt even more compelled to take on the open road. I love to travel but have always been hesitant about traveling solo. However seeing how rewarding, life changing and self gratifying it was for you I see that is what I truly need to do in order to “find myself” and the direction I want my life to go in. Thank you for sharing this amazing story. I’m so happy I stumbled across this. I hope to one day have a story of my own like this to share.

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