by Michaela Johnston
Photography by Phoebe Hills and Jesse Chan
“Everyone needs to travel at least once,” said Jesse Chan (CAS ’19). “You learn so much.” This message was integral to ten college students’ individual travel experiences; be it an entire gap-year or weekend trip spent alone, these young adults learned useful things about themselves, different cultures and the world. Prepare yourself to catch a serious case of wanderlust as you read about these students’ adventures, and occasionally misadventures, in the first edition of Flyin’ Solo.
Phoebe Hills, a freshman at Bangor University in Northern Wales, is no newbie to adventure. In fact, she spent three months living in America and working as the Adventure Specialist at a summer camp in Minnesota. Before her North-American escapade, the Fremington, England native spent five days hiking solo throughout Croatia as an escape from “rainy, old Britain.” She enjoyed beautiful treks through scenic national parks and ended the trip with a bang after encountering an unexpected bus situation.
After a full day of exploring a national park, Hills headed to the bus station to catch a ride back to Split, Croatia, the town where she was staying.
“It was around 8 o’clock and I was like ‘I’m going to have a nice cup of tea and relax, very British,’” she said. “It got really dark and it started to thunderstorm, it was getting colder and colder…I waited by this highway for probably about 2 hours, and I was like ‘I don’t think he’s coming.’”
A drunken man offered her a place to stay. He said she could find his mother in a nearby village and he called her for directions. Hills followed the directions that the man relayed through his mother. They led her through a dark tunnel and to the village. Then, she forgot where to go next.
“I sat walking around and saw these really shifty people watching me and I was like, oh f**k, f**k, f**k,” Hills said. “But then I randomly took a chance and walked down this main road. I saw a blue sign with what looked like someone sleeping. I was like ‘Oh my god, is that it?’ I walked over, and it was just this window [and] little old lady. I said, ‘I think you’re expecting me?’ And she was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes come in.’ I was so thankful about it though.”
Upon returning to her hostel in Split, Hills exchanged travel blunders with other guests. “It was a massive bonding experience over how horrific our stories were… [they were] trying to cross the Hungary border because it was the Hungary Migrant Crisis at the time,” she said. Despite the kerfuffle, Hills would “100 percent go again by myself even though it was such a train wreck the first time around. It’s just a massive learning experience.”
What did you learn while traveling solo?
What I learned the most was go with the flow. There’s planning, and then there’s sticking to that plan exactly. If I had sort of stuck to my plan a bit better, I probably wouldn’t have met the people I did. Go with the flow and meet lots of people who are crazy.
What is the biggest benefit of solo travel?
It makes you more comfortable as a person. You gain an independence, but also strength. If you’ve been traveling by yourself, you’re going to go through stress. You’re like ‘I can get through that.’
Jesse Chan spent the fall 2016 semester studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. The Cranston, RI native, who studies psychology on a pre-med track, went through one of BU’s science study abroad programs along with about sixty other college students. Chan had already explored Australia, New Zealand and Fiji before so he was eager to explore Europe.
Chan ventured to Naples, Italy—also known as the birthplace of pizza—for his fall break. He chose the destination based upon three factors: to trace his girlfriend’s Italian ancestry, go someplace “where not everyone was traveling too” and to eat the delicious cuisine. “I ended up eating pizza every meal,” he said.
Comparably less touristy than Venice or Rome, Chan said his favorite memory was the first night. “I went to this shop near my hotel at night,” he said. “It was dark and scary. I got a pizza after pointing. I tried Italian and everybody just looked at me in silence. Apparently, I couldn’t eat in the hotel. So, I just sat outside on the street trying to eat this pizza. You know, some guy came up to me and didn’t speak English. So, he pointed at me and said, ‘China?’ I tried to say ‘No, Americano’ and he was like, ‘Oh ok.’ After a while of trying to speak and it not working, he just pointed at his phone at a picture of mozzarella. He was like ‘Bueno!’”
What is the biggest benefit of solo travel?
I could eat pizza every meal. You can make a lot of choices that otherwise you’d have to compromise between people. I got to make split decisions. For example, I went to Mt. Vesuvius earlier than I had planned. I was planning on ending the trip that way, but was like, screw it, it’s not going to fit better that way. So, I put it at the middle of my trip and there was no difficulty around that.
What is your advice for future solo travelers?
It’s kind of weird, but don’t plan ahead. I don’t know if that’s good advice or not, but the plane trip, hotel, plan ahead. However, in terms of exploring and getting to know the place, I found it so awesome that I didn’t plan anything and felt so immersed as soon as I got there. Some people might not like that because it’s kind of risky. But when I got there, I was like ‘Wow, I’m in Napoli, let me get on Google and start searching up what there is to do.’