by Michaela Johnston
Photography by Kyle Shultz
“You get to do what you want and see things that you want,” said Kyle Schultz (CAS ’19). “You realize what’s important to you.”
Shultz is not alone in her ideas about solo traveling. Her words echo the experiences of other college students. Find the passion of traveling in the second installment of Flyin’ Solo.
Kyle Schultz spent last summer as a camp counselor taking kids backpacking and camping in the woods. Over winter break, Shultz put her skills to the test when she spent two weeks solo-backpacking throughout England, France and Italy. “When I was younger, I thought backpacking in Europe meant you took your backpack and camped in the streets which was kind of weird,” she said. “It actually means you take your backpack and stay in hostels.”
Even outside of the woods, travel blunders are real. After Schultz boarded her fourth and final train of the day while traveling from Pisa, Italy to Grenoble, France, she mistakenly hopped aboard the wrong one. The Spanish minor, who said she knows “negative French” found out through a group of New Zealand travelers that the train was definitely not headed towards Grenoble. Schultz got off at the next stop to discover that it was too late to catch a return train and that a taxi anywhere would cost 300 euros.
Luckily, she found a vacant hotel and secured a room for the night. “I was like, oh bless!” she said. “There could have been this big catastrophe. I could have been stranded, but it was fine. I had a hotel and I was safe.”
What is your advice for future solo travelers?
You have to decide to go. For me, the starting thing that turned my trip from a dream into reality was buying my plane ticket. I was tracking prices for a long period of time. Once you have a starting place, you can kind of fill it in from there.
What is the biggest benefit of solo travel?
I wanted to feel more comfortable alone. That’s a goal of any solo traveler. But I actually felt more comfortable in myself and in my decisions and in my ability to be okay in a situation. I had to accept that certain things would be outside of my comfort zone [and] be fine. You can only plan so much. You have your train tickets that go from Paris to London, but maybe that doesn’t work out…what I found was that the little bumps and sometimes large catastrophes that happened on my trip ended up being ok.
Devon Skidmore (CGS ’20) jetted off to Paris for a 5-month gap year before beginning college last fall. The De Pere, WI native lived in the 13th arrondissement and attended a 4-hour French language intensive program each day. “Honestly, it really works,” he said. “I’m almost fluent now…that was pretty much my focus for being there, I was like ‘I want to learn French and go live in France.’”
It wasn’t always easy living in a foreign country, especially as it was the first-time Skidmore lived alone. “The hardest thing was the language at first,” she said. “I definitely had good days and bad days.”
“That first week, I remember it being so rough,” she said. “You know going to the grocery store and not getting how everything works. I remember my first day thinking, ‘I’m going to call my parents and go home tomorrow.’ I’m so glad I stuck it out because it was really good.”
As time progressed, Skidmore’s language skills improved. “You find you really aren’t as bad as you think,” she said. “Because someone will be like, ‘Wow! You’re from America? You can actually speak to me, this is amazing.’ It will always balance out.”
With a bunch of new friends from Sweden, New Zealand and the U.S., Skidmore headed back to the States with a refreshed perspective on language learning. “One thing I’d definitely stress to people who are moving and trying to learn a language [is that] a good day will come so soon after your bad day,” she said. “You are literally not as bad as you think because you are trying.”
What did you learn while traveling solo?
I learned so much. Honestly, I think when you travel or live by yourself in a place that you’re not used to, even for someone moving to Boston for the first time, I think you learn to let go of that whole ‘I can’t ask questions’ thing because you have to. I think all of the embarrassment around ‘where can I find this?’ has to go away. I think that’s good in the long run; you don’t spend 15 minutes trying to figure out where a place is when you could just ask someone.
What is your advice for future solo travelers?
It’s one of those things where you’re going to be scared. Sometime on the plane ride over or after the door shuts after your parents leave, you’re going to be like ‘What did I do?’ So, take one day to watch some American films, cry it out, eat some ice cream and do what you have to do, but then really make a point to force yourself to go out. It’s going to be scary as all heck but it will be worth it and you’re going to regret any day where you didn’t do something.