Throughout my life, I have traveled all around the world. I have been to Israel, Spain (twice), the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Costa Rica, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Mexico. Soon, I will also be going to Canada for the first time. Although I love traveling, there are some things about the traveling experience that haven’t always been easy for me: I used to struggle with traveling alone.
The first time I ever traveled alone was when I went to Costa Rica the summer after my freshman year of high school. I remember it clearly-it was 3:00 in the morning and I had just woken up. I was so excited to go abroad alone for the first time, but at the same time I was really scared. My flight was not until 8:30, but the program told us to arrive 4 hours before because of customs and traveling to South America. Since LAX was decently close to us, we left at 4 o’clock. The roads were completely empty and I already knew we could have left later. When we got to the airport, my mom parked and walked me to security. Since this was my first time flying alone, I was not quite sure what to do. I followed my mom to the bag check and we checked my bag and got my boarding pass. After that we headed to security where we said our goodbyes.
The TSA line went pretty quickly and after 20 minutes I was sitting at my gate, listening to music and reading my book to pass the time. After what seemed like a full day we started to board and then just like that we took off to Houston for our connecting flight to Costa Rica. After 3 or so hours we touched down in Houston, and I met up with the rest of the group for our Costa Rica flight. Because it was such a short layover, it seemed like we got to Costa Rica in no time. I sent my mom a text as soon as we landed to let her know I had arrived. We landed in San Jose and stayed the night. The next day, we boarded a bus that took us on a 2-hour drive to the mountains where we were staying with our host families. The town was called Turrialba.
Growing up, I often spent part of my summers traveling with family or friends. To me, travel was an opportunity to discover new places, as well as to strengthen bonds with my loved ones. It was not until my first semester of college, however, that I found myself completely alone in an unfamiliar setting. I spent my fall semester at the American University of Paris. Other than the architecture, world-renowned art museums, and cafes, what I appreciated most about Paris was its location. Living in Paris put me in close proximity to other amazing cities in Europe that I wanted to visit. Within my first couple of months in Paris, I had already been on several weekend trips with friends and on a study trip to Warsaw, Poland. In the middle of the semester, we had a week off for fall break. The city that was on the top of my list to visit was Munich, Germany. Unfortunately, all of my friends wanted to spend their fall break elsewhere. Thus, I found myself venturing out on my first solo adventure.
Since that week in Germany, I have taken several trips on my own. The majority have been brief weekend trips, but I have recently taken a trip in which I spent over a month traveling in the Balkans. The greatest benefit that I have found in embarking on these trips alone is the immense sense of freedom you feel. Solo travel can make you feel unrestricted and give you a healthy sense of independence. When you travel alone, all of your decisions – about where to stay, where to eat, and which tourist attractions to visit- are your own and don’t have to be filtered through the minds and desires of other people. Another benefit that comes with this sense of freedom is spontaneity. When you only have yourself to account for, it is easier to make decisions on the spot. You can arrive at the airport without a concrete plan and then make up your route as you go along.
A third reason to travel alone is that it gives you the opportunity to meet new people. I have found that when I travel with friends or family, I end up spending time exclusively with those people. While that is a great way to strengthen already existing relationships, travel is an invaluable opportunity to have new experiences, and one of the most enriching experiences is meeting new people who come from different backgrounds. There is a misconception that traveling alone is a lonely and solitary endeavor. This could not be further from the truth. When you travel unaccompanied, you instantly make yourself seem more approachable. It also becomes easier to go outside of your comfort zone and build connections with people who would have otherwise remained strangers.
Some of the most fascinating people I have met have been fellow solo travelers at hostels. I have found that people who travel frequently tend to be very free-spirited and full of interesting stories. Furthermore, bonding with more experienced travelers is an effective way to obtain travel advice. For example, when I was in the Balkans, I made most of my decisions regarding which places to visit based on the recommendations of fellow travelers.
Sweating in the mid-afternoon air, me, my mom, and my sister all turned our necks from left to right to follow the huge and intimidating line wrapping around the base of the Eiffel Tower containing at least 500 people.
“Come on mom; let’s just wait in the line so we can go to the top,” my anxious sister whined.
“Sorry Olivia, but we have other plans and this wait time is ridiculous”.
This moment was the first time I had ever been to see the Eiffel Tower or visit Paris, and all three of us were disappointed about this line. The wait to go to the top seemed unbearable on this extremely hot Saturday afternoon, with the temperature being over ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Still not giving up, we went to one of the guides on the ground to ask how long the wait would actually take. Responding in English, but with a very thick French accent, he responded, “the wait to go to the top of the Tour the Eiffel is five hours for the elevator and three on the stairs.” Even though it took us a moment to understand what he said, we quickly figured out it would take us a while to get to the top.
Disappointed, we went to the riverfront to go on our highly-anticipated boat tour, and soon after we left Paris. About two weeks later, I returned to Paris with my brother, Collin, my dad, and my brother’s friend, Dan. Our plan to avoid the arduous wait that my mom, my sister, and I had encountered, we planned to go on a partly cloudy, chilly Tuesday morning right when it opened. We thought that arriving at a less “desirable” time would shorten the wait grandly. We arrived at the train station all the way from the wonderful Disneyland Paris in the town of Marne-la-Vallee about ten minutes after the ticket office opened. Once arriving at the base of the Eiffel Tower, we discovered that the approximate wait was 20 minutes. Compared to my last experience with this line, I was ecstatic.
As we were waiting, I wondered if the trouble we went through on the train and waking up at 6:30 a.m. was going to be worth it. I started thinking back to almost exactly one year ago in August when I went to the top of the Empire State Building. Going to the top cost a steep $28, when the ticket for the Eiffel Tower was only 7.50 Euros (equivalent to about $10). At this point in my life, I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel much, so I imagined that the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower would be about a third as nice, pretty, and exciting as the view from the Empire State building.
Once the four of us got to the front of the line at the Eiffel Tower, we walked onto the two-story elevator which would take us to the first and second floors. Then after the second floor, we took the final elevator to the top, a full 896 feet above French soil. These elevators were able to hold about fifty people and had two full stories. Once we got to the top, the view was sensational. All around us, the city of Paris contained practically infinite workers, students, and tourists. All of these people called the city home, tourist destination, or center of commerce. We saw Notre Dame, government buildings such as the Hotel de Ville, and classic landmarks such as the Place de la Concorde. We all took out our cameras, attempting to not just take a photograph, but capture a snapshot of the essence of what we were experiencing, hoping to cherish this wonderful moment. Although we captured great pictures, we would never be able to capture the strong wind blowing against our faces, the chilling air penetrating our jackets, and the sheer sense of altitude created by the alluring view from the top of this cloud breaker.
After staying up there and watching the city for about 20 minutes, we walked over to the elevator. Going down to the ground level again, we all had something new that we did not have when we first went up. Not only was the time at the top of this legendary structure absolutely stunning, we learned an important travel lesson. If there is a site that is very popular and you really want to see, chances are that many other people will be enthusiastic about visiting it too. But, with careful planning and a little patience, you may find yourself in a place that completely changes your perspective of how large and diverse our world really is.
Ross is a recent graduate who studied Mechanical Engineering at USC, with a specific interest in aeronautics and aviation. Born and raised in Massachusetts, he has had the opportunity to travel the world and experience what it is like to be an international student in countries such as Germany, Japan, and Argentina. Ross also has extensive experience in tutoring in different settings, from teaching math in middle schools to one-on-one English tutoring in a prison! He is familiar with the challenges that come with learning a new language, with experience studying Spanish, German, and Japanese. Ross’s hobbies include hiking, reading, and playing video games. He also has a very deep interest in cars. A fun fact about Ross is that he’s a licensed pilot! Always willing to try new things, Ross loves to travel and is eager to learn about different people’s backgrounds and stories.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction