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Traveling the World Alone at 19?

Can you believe it? I’m already halfway through my semester abroad. Time is flying by, especially since I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few weeks. In fact, guess where I’m writing this right now…

Hint: The Acropolis

…Athens! I’m here on my Long Study Tour with my DIS core course, Comparative Economics. Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll spill the beans about my week in Greece.

Anyway, in lieu of a more “informative” post this week, I wanted to reflect on my time in Sweden so far. More than anything, study abroad has been an amazing vehicle for personal development. Living alone in a completely new country at 19 has pushed me to grow in ways beyond the classroom. I’ve learned so much about myself: how to care for myself, how to spend time alone, how to strengthen my own identity in an environment where everyone has different backgrounds and values. I’ve also learned a lot about the world by integrating different cultures into my worldview, interacting with new sights and sounds, and of course, navigating different public transport systems with varied success.

On traveling alone

One of my goals this semester was to travel alone, so I took the leap and embarked on a weekend solo trip to Helsinki and Tallinn. To be honest, I felt a lot of anxiety and even dread leading up to the trip. If my flight tickets were refundable, I probably would have called the whole thing off. Looking back, though, I’m glad I went through with it.

The Helsinki Cathedral
A view of Tallinn’s Old Town

Solo travel teaches you a lot about planning, responsibility, and street smarts. The not-so-fun part was the logistics and being on constant alert as a 19-year-old traveling alone. Navigating the bus system was difficult, as Finnish and Estonian are pretty different from Swedish, and the hostels I chose were less than luxurious. The fun part made the stress worth it: I bookmarked a month’s worth of restaurants and cafes to my Google Maps list for Helsinki and Tallinn.

Food in Tallinn is so slept on! Here’s a vegan sweet potato dish
(Vegan Restoran V)
The best fish from Restaurant Rataskaevu 16 (rated #1 on TripAdvisor in Tallinn!)

By spending the entire weekend with myself, I also did a lot of self-reflection. I feel like I’ve added rich new experiences into my “life toolbox.” I’ve gotten to know myself better. I practiced the skill of making good decisions, even if it was something as simple as what I wanted to eat or whether I should get my third coffee of the day.

I appreciated the freedom of traveling by myself. Without having to coordinate with anyone else, I was free to wake up early for breakfast, read in a cafe for hours in Helsinki, take a barre class, and wander the streets of the city.

However, I’ve learned that I still prefer traveling with others. For me, the appeal of travel comes from making memories with loved ones more than visiting a new place in itself. Frankly, I struggled to find peace of mind during my solo trip, and I wish I could have shared the experience of exploring Tallinn’s cozy streets or admiring the Helsinki Cathedral with others.

Most of all, though, traveling solo forced me to be present in each moment. As someone who constantly plans and worries about the future, I’m still learning to be flexible and accept the unknown. For instance, eating alone gave me a lot of anxiety, but I tried my best to put my phone away while I was eating. I tried my best to take out my earbuds on the street instead of constantly listening to music or podcasts. I worried a lot about whether I was spending my time in Helsinki and Estonia “the right way,” but truthfully, there is no right way to travel!

On living alone

I have a single room in my studentboende, and I’m grateful to come back to my own space after a long day of classes or a weekend of travel. I’ve lived with roommates for most of my college career, so being on my own has taught me a lot about responsibility and self-care. I mean, who’s going to keep me accountable to a consistent sleep schedule and regularly cleaning my room except myself? I’m also improving my cooking skills and getting better at grocery shopping for one 🙂

A snowy morning in my neighborhood, Årsta

Studying abroad is an amazing way to build character and expand your horizons. It sounds vague, but only because everyone has a different journey of self-discovery. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself—but I’d recommend doing so in Sweden!


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