10 Life Lessons I Learned From Solo Backpacking Europe
From soaking in a 100-year-old bath house in Budapest, to biking through tulip fields in the Netherlands, to exploring the grandiose Palace of Versailles in France, to sipping wine in a Tuscan vineyard, to hiking atop a Grecian volcano, to basking on the sunny beaches of Barcelona, my travels left me with some incredible memories. But when the memories fade, I’ll be left with the most valuable remnants- life lessons.
So after nine weeks, 14 hostels, 16 cities, 395 miles walked and over 8,666 photos taken, this is what I learned.
Living in a capitalistic society, we are programmed to overly consume and work ourselves to unhappiness to compensate for that excessive consumption. If living out of a suitcase has taught me anything, it’s that we don’t need all the stuff we think we need to be happy.
The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made use of the phrase “less is more”. A phrase that can be applicable to every aspect of life. Whether it be applied to materialist consumption, the amount of friends you have or the types of the activities you do, less is more. (And thanks to the Europeans who helped me learn this)
2. Comfortability in an unfamiliar space
It wasn’t until I was fully immersed in a completely foreign space that I saw how we, as humans, are plagued by irrational fears. We limit ourselves because of our fears- fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown. We take these fears, and we subconsciously create an invisible barrier- shielding ourselves from the unknown with what's comfortable. But we shouldn’t fear the unknown. It’s okay to not know everything. It’s okay to make it up as you go (heck isn’t that what we’re all doing??) It’s important to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not knowing everything opens you up to so many more possibilities, and although that can be scary, if you put yourself out there, the positives will outweigh the negatives.
3. The goodness of people
I met a lot of people on my travels, and 99% of them had good intentions. I lived in hostels that slept six to ten random people in a room. If people weren't good at heart, hostels wouldn't exist and neither would travel. It's easy to be pessimistic about the world, but I promise there is a lot more good in it than bad. We're all stuck on this Earth together, and our time on it will be much better if we all believed this.
4. Being comfortable with being alone Countless times throughout my travels I was asked “are you alone?”. To which my reply would garner an exclamation of disbelief and the response, “I could never do that”.
Yes you can! And you should! The most valuable things I got from this trip, both in life lessons and experiences, I would not have gotten if I was traveling with others. Traveling alone allows you to be selfish in the best way- to hear your voice and your voice alone. Being entirely responsible for yourself, you discover just how capable you really are. And it's empowering. You’ll find that you’ll come away stronger, more confident, and able to be self-sufficient. How quickly things suddenly become less frightening once you step up and face them.
Now, few things phase me. I’m confident as I feel eyes scan me, wondering why I am sitting alone. Because I want to.
It’s important to find solace in solitude. Because at the end of the day, all we have is ourselves.
Photo by Garrett Buechner
5. At our core, people are all the same
It's easy to think people are so different when they live on the opposite side of the world, speak a different language and dress in different clothing. But from meeting people from all over the world, I've learned that at our core people are all the same. At the end of the day, we're all just looking for love and happiness. It's easy to fixate on the differences, but instead, we need to focus on what binds us together.
6. Learning to get offline and be present in the moment
One of the aspects of my trip that I am so grateful for is not having cellular data. I was forced to be disconnected from my phone and the online world. Having a business based in social media, I was constantly on my phone before I took this trip. After detaching myself from it, I realized how toxic constant online stimulus can be. In these disconnected moments, I was forced to confront myself, to be alone with just my thoughts. We’re so addicted to the online world that we miss out on what’s going on right in front of our faces. So put your phone down, take out your earplugs and log out of Snapchat. Be present in the current moment. The real world is so much better than anything you can get online.
7. Self-learning is crucial to success If you're passionate about something, go after it. Read books; watch videos; get together with like-minded people. You'll grow so much more when you pursue it yourself. I'm so grateful for everything I learned by giving myself the time to focus and explore my passions.
8. The importance of risk-taking Try something you can't even pronounce. Do something that you have no idea how to do. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone. The worst that can happen is that you learn that you don't like it. If you don't try, you'll forever be troubled with "what if". I promise you that the positives will outweigh the negatives.
9. The importance of taking time for yourself Take time for yourself. There are so many people I met on my travels who were traveling because they were unhappy with their lives/career and didn't know what to do. They got stuck in a cycle of daily life that bred unhappiness and continually ignored it. Listen to yourself. Know when you need a break or change. The greatest periods of growth rarely come from times of stress.
10. Travel is one of the best investments you can make It’s hard to articulate everything you learn from traveling. You learn about the world, its people, but most importantly, you learn about yourself. And if you don’t believe me, go back up and read points 1-9.
Thanks for reading:)
Photo by Garrett Buechner