Back in March, I had the chance to travel to Israel for the third time in a year. Like the previous trips, I went with a group where some unknown individual coordinated hotels, bus routes, a tour guide, and even my eating schedule. All I had to worry about was taking photos and being on the bus on time. I didn’t have to think about anything; just hop on the bus and get off when they told me to. The non-thinking was bliss.
Soon after returning home from my second tour of Israel (the whirlwind trip with no sleep known as Birthright), I knew I wanted to return and see the country at a slower pace—my pace. Less than a week later, I registered for a week-long Alternative Spring Break trip through the Jewish National Fund with plans to extend my ticket for an extra week. I had no clue what I was going to do for that week, and I didn’t know if I would be traveling with someone or if I would be alone.
Over the next 10 weeks, plans slowly fell into place. For the first three days of my extension I would be staying and traveling with friends, but the final four days I would be traveling completely solo. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little nervous about being in a foreign country all on my own. However, I did it, I survived, and I loved it. Here, in no particular order, are 10 things I loved about traveling solo:
- Spontaneity. I was alone, so I didn’t have to sync my schedule with anyone else’s. I could just up and go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Within 30 minutes of arriving at my hostel in Jerusalem, I decided to grab a bus to Tel Aviv for the day. I didn’t even have to think about it; I just went. I traveled with no plans other than where I was sleeping each night, so every day was filled with spontaneity.
- Meeting new people. Because of my awkwardness with small talk, I tend to find meeting new people a bit awkward. When traveling, I didn’t find it awkward at all. Everyone skipped the usual “I went to school for this; I work here” small talk and dove right into their travel story. I met individuals from Germany, Russia, Holland, France, and America (just to name a few) that I wouldn’t have known any other way. I met a founder of a non-profit, a missionary, college students, college drop-outs, people visiting family, someone who spoke four languages, and the list goes on. All it took was a “Hi, what brings you here?” and the conversation was started.
- Trying new things. This one goes along with #1 and #2. I met new people who got me to try new things. Besides the usual trying new foods/drinks, I got to try acro yoga (I failed), slacklining, and navigating a foreign country by using their public transit system (Google Maps and Moovit get the credit for this one).
- Slowing down. I took the time to do nothing. One of my best mornings in Jerusalem was when I went out for breakfast at a café on Yafo Street just to sit and watch the hustle and bustle around me. Slowing down gave me the chance to soak things up, absorb the world around me, and take the time to just stand and marvel at the sights.
- Gaining confidence. When traveling solo, I had no one to rely on but myself. Taking matters into my own hands and figuring things out on my own was terrifying but so rewarding. I came home with a stronger sense of who I was and what I wanted in life. Now, I have more of a “take charge” attitude instead of hanging back and letting someone else ask the questions and solve the problems.
- Getting homesick. Yes, I loved getting homesick—well, the moment after it. Think of it like that moment just before a runner’s high: when you are certain you can’t go on any further, yet you push on through the pain until you reach that euphoric state where you feel invincible. Surprisingly, it happens in travel as well. I was a little over halfway through my trip when I was hit with a terrible bout of homesickness. After a good meal, a good night’s sleep, and a firm self-talking-to, I was ready to go again. That moment gave me the determination to keep going even stronger than before.
- Getting lost. Don’t tell my mom, but I did get lost a few times. Getting lost, whether it’s intentional or not, is the best way to get to know a foreign city. I put the phone away and went where the locals go. When I was away from the tourist-filled streets, I found the best stores tucked away in a corner, restaurants with spectacular cuisine, and rooftops with beautiful views. Getting lost also gave me the chance to really be aware of my surroundings. Without my face glued to google maps, I had more of an opportunity to see the country I came to explore.
- Picking up new habits. In Israel, having fresh vegetables at breakfast is the norm. It grew on me, and I couldn’t live without it once I returned home. Besides starting my day off healthier, I’ve also developed the habit of living a bit less by a strict, rigorous schedule and not freaking out when life throws me a curveball.
- Learning to live with less. I packed one backpack for my trip that weighed 28 pounds when I left. That’s it. When all I had with me were the necessities, I didn’t even miss the items I left at home. I realized just how little I actually needed in life, and that it wasn’t items that truly made me happy, but the people I was surrounded by and the experiences we share together.
- Falling in love. I already liked Israel. I knew that since I wanted to go back for a third time, but this time I fell in love with it—hard. I fell in love with the people, the food, the land, and myself. When you travel, it’s guaranteed: you will fall in love. Whether that is with solo travel, with yourself, with someone you meet, with the food, with the country, or with the atmosphere, it will happen. The best part of the experience is the one you can hold in your heart as your own. People don’t have to understand it, you don’t even have to understand it, but there will be something from your trip that will stand out as special just for you. Don’t go looking for it; it just sneaks up on you unannounced.