Go Global Expo - Fall 2017 - Work, Volunteer, Study Abroad

Learning to Embrace Solo Travel

Meghan during her solo trip to Japan. Meghan McKenna

Written by  May 16, 2016

Sometimes the best travel companion is yourself. 

Studying abroad, you’re going to make a lot of amazing friends. People from all around the world who inspire and challenge you, and who make this once foreign place feel like home. It may seem a challenge to find common ground with someone who grew up farming grapes and has never heard of a moose, but you share one thing: whatever the reason, you’ve chosen this place to study abroad. And usually, that’s enough to kickstart conversation.

Travel plans quickly make their way into those initial chitchats. Weekends living abroad are spent exploring neighbouring cities and jetting off to nearby countries, and from the get-go this gathering of adventure seekers will be active in their search of travel partners. First you find your way into a group chat, and before you know it, you’ve entered into a circle of lifelong best friends. Between settling in and discovering your new home, you spend those first couple of weeks growing an elaborate list of fantasy getaways with your new squad. But as you sit down to make those plans concrete, the logistics bring you back down to reality.

It's incredibly liberating to be the master of your own budget, itinerary and schedule.

Between coordinating travel interests, budget restrictions and school schedules, you’ll be lucky to find something that works for everyone. Group travel requires patience, compromise and planning—a lot of planning. If you’re up for the challenge, that’s great. But if you’re not, that’s okay too. Caught up in the chaos of forming clusters and cliques, I think it’s easy to forget that travelling alone is also an option.

Long before arriving to study in Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to visit Japan. From our first introductions, I tried to sell the charm of geishas, sushi and cat cafes to my friends. Initially, everyone was onboard. But as the weeks passed, it became clear that a group trip to Tokyo wasn’t in the books. Once I overcame the misguided fear that I might offend my new friends by making plans without them, I made the bold decision to book a 10-day mid-semester solo trip.

As I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport, I began to regret my spontaneous decision. Leaving alone also meant missing out on the group activities happening back in Hong Kong—beach days, boat parties, birthday dinners. If I loved my life in Hong Kong so much, why was I trying to escape it?

It wasn’t until I got off the plane in Kyoto that I remembered why I chose to study abroad in the first place. I wanted to meet new people, see new places and experience new things. Solo travel gives you the freedom to accomplish these things in a way that group travel simply can’t. It’s incredibly liberating to be the master of your own budget, itinerary and schedule. Exploring Japan on my own, I found myself more likely to strike up conversations with strangers, and I had the flexibility to do and see more of what fit my interests. I began my trip feeling nervous and alone, and returned feeling confident and capable.

Travelling alone, I was able to stop worrying about everyone else, and could focus on what made me happy. This is your life. It’s your study abroad and you deserve to have the travel experiences you want.

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Meghan McKenna

Meghan McKenna is a media theory and writing student at Ontario’s Western University. Meghan recently returned from a semester of studying with the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong.

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