Lessons from a Solo Traveler

Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid, Spain
Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid, Spain

For four weeks this summer, I traveled alone throughout Europe conducting an independent research project. This project was sponsored by the Social Impact Research Experience (SIRE) program, offered by Wharton. Of course, I learned quite a lot in regards to my research, but I also learned a lot about what it takes to travel alone. I have been traveling all my life and love to do so, but the thought of traveling alone—no family and no friends—definitely made me nervous. It certainly was not easy, being a lone traveler in places with very different cultures. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and would like to share what I would say are the five most important things I learned during my traveling.

Top 5 things I learned while traveling alone:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    • Of course, this applies to life in general, but it is especially important to remember when you are in a foreign place. It’s easy to stop yourself from asking for help so that you don’t seem like an “outsider” or incapable of figuring things out on your own. However, it is of the utmost importance to be able to put your pride aside and ask for help when you need it. Above all else, it can lead to avoiding future frustrations that might be made from needing help but not wanting to ask for it.
  2. Perspective matters.
    • Simply put, different people have different perspectives, which are influenced by several factors, such as your native culture. For instance, I quickly realized that what I consider unexciting, like the English language, is fascinating to many other people. At first, I found it surprising that even though 95% of the people I met had a different native language, they were more interested in practicing their English. But, I realized that it all had to do with perspective: English seems lackluster to me because I have spoken it all my life, but to other people who are still in the process of learning it, it is exciting and they appreciate having the chance to practice it.
  3. If you are not already used to it, you will get used to being held accountable.
    • Traveling alone means you call the shots—where to go, what to eat, how to spend your money. Of course, some decisions are easier than others, and you will realize that some decisions end up being better than others. But, the most important thing is learning the value of accountability and what it means to be completely responsible for yourself and your actions.
  4. Other people travel alone too.
    • I was shocked by the number of people I met (especially students around my age) who were traveling alone. So even though I was technically by myself, it was great to not feel alone after befriending other solo travelers. Meeting other solo travelers further enriched my experience since I was able to learn about their cultures and compare/contrast with American culture.
  5. Always do your research.
    Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
    Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
    • Before traveling, it is tremendously helpful to have information that will help you navigate and acclimate to a foreign country. For example, knowing key words in the primary language is extremely helpful when you need to order food, find a specific place, or simply greet people. Additionally, as far as sightseeing and visiting places, do your research regarding the best times to visit, best ways to get there, and how you can save money. For example, I was able to save myself 18€ in Rome by doing research and finding out that all state-run monuments, museums and archaeological areas are free on the first Sunday of every month! Doing your research beforehand will make the familiarization process much smoother.

Hi everyone! My name is Olivia Nelson, and I am from Scotch Plains, NJ. I am a member of the Class of 2017 in Wharton, concentrating in Marketing and Finance. Aside from Wharton Ambassadors, I am a member of SPEC Concerts, SPEC-TRUM, the John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society, Penn Colleges Against Cancer/Relay for Life, and the Joseph Wharton and Benjamin Franklin Scholars Programs. My goal is to go onto law school after college, and become a corporate lawyer. I enjoy traveling, going to concerts, and spending time with family and friends! If you have a question about Penn or Wharton, you can contact me or another student ambassador via our Ask an Ambassador form.