Solo travel allowed me to finally decide what I wanted to do in the first place

Angela at the Colosseum in Italy.
Courtesy of Angela/@realphdfoodie

  • Angela, an American academic, started traveling alone in November.
  • Angela said she felt burnt out after not taking a break for many years.
  • She felt bound by expectations of marriage, but traveling alone felt freeing.

This spoken essay is based on a conversation with Angela, an academic and content creator in her early 40s traveling alone in Europe. Angela asked that her last name be withheld for privacy. This essay has been edited for length and clarity.

In 2020, I had a big setback. I was engaged and was supposed to get married, but I realized that my fiancé was not the right person for me. I lived my life for other people’s expectations and in fear of judgment. It was one of the most challenging years of my life.

I was born in Beijing and raised in a traditional Chinese family that told me that academic success was the only way to find success in life. I spent most of my time studying and never got to travel either enjoy hobbies.

In the early 2000s, I moved to the US on my own to pursue my education as an international student. I lived in Florida, Texas, and Southern California before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017. While I initially faced language and cultural barriers, I quickly adapted to life in the US. I am what you call a “third culture individual” – I identify with both my American and Chinese cultures. I feel at home in the Bay Area, a place that celebrates diversity and inclusion.

Since moving to the US, I have earned a Ph.D. in information science and now works at a university as an academic. Having lived in the US for the past 20 years, I am also a naturalized US citizen.

I traveled alone after breaking off the engagement

Apart from visiting family in China – my last trip to Beijing was in 2018 – I hadn’t traveled alone until last year. I had always lived my life according to my parents’ expectations. Like most Chinese parents, they expected me to succeed academically, get married and have children by a certain age. I never felt like I was doing enough.

Angela cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Courtesy of Angela/@realphdfoodie

After the engagement broke up, I worked to heal myself. Last year, I I decided to try something I had never done before, which was to travel alone internationally. For the first time, I felt like I was prioritizing myself and deciding what I wanted to do first. I started documenting my solo journey on TikTok and Instagram.

I found it easy to connect with people abroad

I started my journey with a solo trip to Denmark and Sweden in November. A month later, I embarked on a one-month trip alone, traveling to eight cities in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Vatican City. And in February, I traveled to Iceland to celebrate my own birthday.

In addition to regular vacations, I have over 30 vacation days per year that I can accumulate. Since I work at a university, I also follow the academic calendar. For the month-long trip to Europe, I took 3 weeks off and had a week off for Christmas vacation.

In total, I spent about $8,000 on that trip. All my years of hard work have provided me with enough savings to fund my travels.

One of the things I enjoyed most about traveling alone was meeting and socializing with people from all walks of life. I am an outgoing and social person and it helped that I stayed in hostels so I could meet other travelers. But I found that it was easy to meet people anywhere just by starting a conversation and saying hello.

Angela dining in Iceland.
Courtesy of Angela/@realphdfoodie

In Rome, at the Colosseum, I met another solo traveler. After taking pictures with each other, we ended up chatting and spending the rest of the day exploring the city and having dinner together. I have met several different people in the same way.

Solo travel helped me get out of my comfort zone

Traveling alone is such an empowering experience. I have complete freedom to decide what I want to do and where I want to go. I enjoy solitude when I want and socialize when I want.

It is the tranquility that makes solo travel beautiful. I did a lot of self-discovery and self-growth. I learned that you don’t have to live life a certain way. The world is big, there are many ways to live a full life. It has helped me gain clarity and put things into perspective.

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