Traveling to a new destination can be exhilarating, but also a little scary. How will we get around? What if we don’t speak the local language? Will we have a way to communicate? Those are some pretty common concerns, but imagine having to figure it out on your own. Being alone in a country other than your own can be super frightening. At the same time though, it can also be refreshing and fulfilling to travel by yourself.
This is something I had to learn when I made the decision to travel around Japan. I left to visit Hiroshima and then I flew down to Okinawa where I met up with some friends that I made during a short high school study abroad that I did. While I was in Hiroshima, I was completely alone. I’m able to speak a decent amount of Japanese; I can order myself food and generally get my point across when talking to people. If I ran into any major problems (like, say, a trip to the doctor) my language abilities probably would not be able to help me.
One of the biggest hurdles I had to jump was eating by myself. I knew I would be going out to restaurants almost every night while I was in Hiroshima, and I know that at some places it is considered “weird” to be there on your own. I already stood out as a foreigner, so being a foreigner and alone at a restaurant would mean I would likely be noticed (and stared at) more than I already am. While eating alone might not be a huge deal for other people, it was really something I had to come to terms with.
Something that helped me the most, was reading other people’s experiences. One piece, in particular, addressed my biggest fear and helped me feel more comfortable. An American man interviewed Japanese people about their thoughts on those who eat by themselves and many of them actually said they preferred it! I’ve tried searching for the piece again, but I’m not able to find any trace of it. The link I had bookmarked on my computer leads to an error now. A part of me is convinced I was meant to read it right before I left for my trip. Without it, I think I would have been stressed out and uncomfortable in restaurants.
Traveling alone was still difficult, but the fact that I was able to come to terms with being on my own helped me to enjoy my trip so much more. I was able to go and do the things that I wanted to do and eat the things that I wanted to eat. Not having to negotiate plans with a group of people gave me so much more freedom. The “me” from a year ago would never have been able to manage that trip on her own, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come… even if my first step was eating alone in a McDonalds.