What Traveling Alone Taught Me About Myself & How To Be Happy

Photo: Emily Ratay
How traveling alone can make you happier

Now more than ever, it is important to be open to a world of diversity, culture, and change. When you expect things to never change, you are telling everyone around you that growth is not vital to surviving; personal growth, external growth — it’s ALL important.

Sadly, so many people in this country don’t (or won’t) see the good that comes with growth and change. These people would much rather see the world as they’ve seen it their entire lives — filled with people who are just like them, doing the exact same things they do, and nothing ever being different.

Maybe it’s comforting, or maybe they just don’t care to open their eyes to a world that's bigger than what they see out their front window every day. But if you don't give yourself the chance to expand your bubble and see something new, you're missing out of a world (literally) of experiences and people.

I have been fortunate enough to be given opportunities to travel for fun and for school on multiple occasions. It may sound cliché, but I really do try to learn something new wherever I go. The fact that I’m able to immerse myself in a new place, even if only for a few days, is awe-inspiring.

When I travel, I feel like I'm able to explore on my own time and do something worth living for.

Emily Ratay

Before I even started college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I was so excited to go to school in a totally new country and truly be on my own.

When I traveled with family and friends before this, I always felt like a tourist, and technically, I was. But more than that, I did what tourists do: swam with dolphins, climbed crumbling bell towers, and ate my weight in gelato.

This time, though, I wanted to know what it was like to belong somewhere else. Call me a weirdo, but I loved the idea of knowing a city without a map, being able to give others recommendations for the best food in town, or just being able to do my own grocery shopping for the week — something I found incredibly satisfying.

As my leave date drew nearer, I started to get more and more excited.

But no amount of studying a language in a classroom can prepare you for being dropped off in a foreign country at 4 o’clock in the morning, completely alone, with nothing but an address and a map to help you find your hostel, and eventually, an entirely different city before school started.

After my initial “holy shit, what did I just get myself into?” thought, I went into survival mode. I realized the only way to get around was to speak the language I had been learning for six years — now was not the time to get embarrassed about my pronunciation.

Eventually, I made friends and kept practicing my casual conversation with my housemates, but I was still largely alone. And after only a month, I really felt like I had dove straight into a completely new lifestyle. There was so much diversity around me. I was staying in a small town you could walk the length of in one day and yet, it was so big and endless to me.

Getting out of my comfort zone and traveling alone not only helped me become fluent in a new language, but it also helped me look at the world differently.

Emily Ratay

I adapted to local customs, tried new things, and saw people and places in a different light than I would have if I was traveling with my family.

Instead of just visiting museums where there were too many people around to even enjoy it, I was in a crowded pub, letting locals teach me how to curse in French. Maybe it isn’t your idea of fun, but I was living my life to the fullest, and I was learning more about myself and how to learn to be happy alone, through and through.

I was able to come home and not only see why diversity is important but why it’s vital to the world — why it connects us on a level that is deeper than we think.

If all you do is travel just to say you did — not because you got out of your comfort zone or learned something new — did you really do anything different?

Travel should make you want to CHANGE, inside and out.

When you open yourself to new experiences, what you’re really doing is opening your mind to allow knowledge to turn you into a happier, more accepting person of the world around you; something we ALL need to do.