I’m currently sitting in a taperia in Madrid surrounded by three empty chairs, making conversation with the straw in my sangria.
When I realized that I’d have some time alone between Morocco and my sister’s arrival in Europe, I told myself, “I’m a big girl, I’ve been traveling Europe for months, I can handle four days solo.”
I also knew there was a wealth of online literature about “Why you should travel alone in your 20s,” at my fingertips, each post brimming with more wanderlust than the one before.
It’s a romantic idea, exploring a place on your own. You get to do what you want, when you want, where you want. The thought of compromise is nearly nonexistent.
I’ve met a few solo-travelers in the past few months, and while I admired them, I’ve never been confident that I could follow in their solitary footsteps.
But baby I’ve done it. Here’s what I’ve learned versus tips from the good ol’ interwebs:
1. You get to make plans that fit your travel style.
For these few days, I decided to be a little unconventional with my travel schedule because there was no one around to complain except for future-me.
My flight from Tangier arrived in Barcelona on Saturday evening, and by 11pm I was on a night bus to Bilbao on the northern coast of Spain.
The overnight bus sounded like a good idea when I booked it. Skipping the hostel made my wallet happy, but my body wasn’t keen on the plan a couple hours in when I was crammed between a wide neighbor and reclined seat in front of me.
After the excruciatingly long night, I stumbled off the bus at 7am into the fresh sea air and felt like the day was new, even though the previous one had never really ended.
So yes, traveling alone does let you make your own breed of travel plans. However you may, like me, realize that you yourself are not a fan of the type of travel you thought you’d like.
2. You can move at your own speed
If you’ve ever walked anywhere with me, you probably know how important this one is.
I’m an extremely fast walker, and it drives everyone crazy. Anatomically I am 75 percent legs and 25 percent everything else. Thus naturally I just walk faster than you. This issue is only exacerbated by the fact that I am not an idler, I like to get where I’m going. On several weekend trips Sam had to tell me “Okay Megan I like walking fast too but damn slow down.” Frankly, walking slowly (or at a regular person’s “normal speed”) gives me anxiety.
Once off the bus in Bilbao, I stretched my legs by walking a couple kilometers up to the sea. I kept waiting for someone to tell me to slow down, but the complaint never came. This is one part of solo travel that I thoroughly enjoyed.
3. You eat when you want, not when society tells you to.
It’s been 84 hours since I had Saturday breakfast with my parents, and I’ve only had three meals since.
Given that I consider this to be a food blog, you might find that surprising. But while I love food, I am also exceptionally bad at keeping a regular eating schedule when there’s not someone around to say, “It’s noon, we’re eating.”
My sustenance this week has been a little bit of bread, a little bit of olive oil, a modicum of prosciutto, the incredible rye pancakes pictured below, and a boatload of M&Ms. Once again, no one is complaining.
4. You can be your own breed of tourist
Despite taking a lot of art classes in high school, I’m not really a museum girl. This semester I’ve spent a lot of time waiting at the exit for those who don’t blow through the way I do (*cough Sam cough*).
However, the main reason I went to Bilbao was to see the Guggenheim.
Photos really don’t do this building justice. Just being able to ogle at it from the outside felt like a treat. I splurged and bought the €9 museum ticket and made the most of it by spending two hours inside enjoying the fact that I was alone so I had no pressure to be anywhere else.
Perhaps I felt like I had met my museum quota because as I was exploring the Prado in Madrid, I felt no remorse skipping the museum.
5. You’ll be forced to make new friends
Ehhhh this one is false, in my case at least. It has been exceptionally easy to ignore any and all human contact outside of talking to waiters and the hostel check-in people. I can walk down the street with femme-pop blasting through my headphones and no one has the power to bother me.
That being said, I did make a couple fleeting friends on busses and in hostels, because as great as travelling alone is, we all need to ask for a hand sometimes.
For me, these few days were about embracing the silence and leaning into the loneliness. There may have been several times that this happened:
…but it’s been a long semester with very little alone time, so it was nice to have a few days to get reacquainted with the voice inside my head.
6. You’ll be changed forever
Maybe I didn’t have enough time alone for this to come true, or perhaps I’ve maxed out my capacity for personal change already, but I can’t say that I’m transformed after these few days of hitting the sidewalk solo.
I don’t think that solo travel changes you. I think it’s more likely that the ample headspace forces you to think more than you’re accustomed to. So don’t worry, ya girl is still here, maybe just a little more in touch with herself (and a little more liberal with the selfie stick).
This solo Spanish experience certainly hasn’t been lively like the trips that preceded it. I can’t say that I have any thrilling stories, and I won’t be posting many pictures to my Facebook album. But I agree with the Internet, everyone should travel alone in their 20s.
That being said, I’m counting down the hours until Anna gets here. Europe, if you think I’m crazy, get ready to meet my sister…