I’m not really sure how or why I got into this habit, but somehow, I’ve become a wanderer. I wouldn’t exactly label myself as an introvert. I really enjoy having a close group of friends and I won’t actively avoid a social situation. That being said, I do have introverted tendencies. Many days, my thoughts or music is all I need to be occupied and happy. While I like to be around people, I don’t need to be around them. A lot of days, I can be self-sufficient and content all on my own.
Another one of my characteristics is that I love car rides. Ever since I was little, I’ve found the car to be the perfect place to just be with your thoughts. As a passenger, there are enough sights to watch out the window to keep someone interested while you contemplate life or listen to music. At the same time, since you’re not driving, you’re free to relax and let your mind wander as far as it wants. Now that I’m more independent, I drive myself everywhere. While sitting in traffic I’ve often thought to myself: I would give anything to have someone drive me home so I could just relax. Because of this, I’ve fallen in love with the public transportation system in London.
The Road Less Traveled
In the very beginning, public transportation was very intimidating. I wasn’t used to using any kind of bus, train, or subway. Riding public transportation was a special occasion at home. We would ride the SEPTA train into Philadelphia only once per year to go see the Thanksgiving Day Parade because the parade route made driving there too difficult.
The first few times my friends and I used London transportation, we would go to the nearby towns using the exact route that we had already been on with Ian, our BCA Resident Director. When we were done, we would come right home without any deviation from what we knew and were already comfortable with.
Then, one Sunday morning only a few weeks after I’d arrived, I deviated. At this point, I’d considered myself a pro on two buses that I regularly used with my friends and by myself: the 265 that took you to the food store and the 72 which took you to the tube station to get into central London. This Sunday was an unusually bright and sunny day for January, and I was in a happy-go-lucky kind of mood. I had just finished some errands when I walked by a clump of bus stops. I can’t really describe it, but I got the sudden urge to just get on a bus. So, I waited for the first bus to come by that I didn’t recognize, (it was the 170) and I got on. Just like that.
Always Expect the Unexpected
As I rode, I told myself that I’d just hop off at any stop that looked interesting. However, the sun was making the bus nice and toasty and I was so relaxed that I lost myself as I people-watched and took in the scenery. Thus, I ended up staying on the bus until the very last stop. Luckily, I ended up at Victoria Station, which is a station on the tube line that we normally used to ride home when leaving central London.
My luck ran out short though, when the bus that I needed to complete my journey home wasn’t running due to road work. I had get back on the tube and take a train to a new tube station and then take a new bus home. While I was I bit nervous about having to improvise my way home, I found the challenge exciting! This is what studying abroad was all about: I broke out of the “tourist” way of doing things and was having an authentic experience while exploring new parts of the city.
Where I Wander
After that, I was hooked. Some days I had an initial stop in mind; some days I just got on whatever bus or train came first. Some days I brought a book or headphones with me, and others I was just content to sit and ride. I went to Millennium Bridge, I found a beautiful walking path along the Thames, I discovered Camden Market, Regent’s Park, and the Monument for the Great Fire (which I didn’t even know existed). I even got up at 4:00am one day to go out and see the sunrise, which fulfilled the tradition that my dad and I started of seeing the sunrise at least once per vacation.
My solo adventures ended up culminated in an independent trip to Ireland. Because of a miscommunication, my friends booked their trip for a weekend that I was busy. I talked to my BCA resident director about it and he encouraged me to go on my own. He let me know that Dublin was an easy city to navigate and he gave me some great advice that I’ve used over-and-over again during my time abroad: this could be a once in a lifetime chance and you might miss it if you wait around for people to go with you. Do it now.
Some parts were stressful, like having to run for the bus in order to get to the airport on time, and a few times I did find myself missing having someone to talk to about what I was doing that day. But overall, I had a great time, and I was really proud that I was brave enough to seize the opportunity and enjoy myself.
Putting the “I” in Independent: Lessons I Learned
I knew that going out on my own, both around London and internationally, was a good thing, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much I’ve benefited from it. Not only did I get to see and do things that I may have missed out on, but I got to know the city better as a whole. Many times, when I’m out with my friends, I’ll instinctively know which tube station we need to get off at simply because I’ve been there before and they haven’t. I think I learned the geography of the city more quickly because I was forced to learn it by being on my own; I couldn’t just follow someone else’s lead.
I found independent travel to be good for me emotionally as well. When I’m annoyed or frustrated or especially homesick, I tend to want to be left alone. However, if I sit in bed all day I usually just end up more depressed. Going out on my own has given me a way to get the space I need while also clearing my head, so that by the time I return to campus, I always feel a lot better. It’s also the perfect break after hiding out in the library all day to study.
Finally, independent travel has helped me feel more confident and free. I’ve been happy to learn that someone who is slightly introverted like myself can still successfully study abroad. Pre-departure orientations often emphasize all the new people you’re going to meet, and while I was excited to make new friends, the idea also intimidated me. Now I realize that even while abroad, it’s okay to want to be on your own sometimes. If you’re smart, you can have a great time independently traveling in a foreign city.
Although it’d be unfair to go somewhere alone when all my friends wanted to come along too, I’m happy that I’m comfortable enough that I don’t have to always wait around for someone to travel and explore with me. The balance between alone trips and social trips is key. To put it in perspective, I probably wander on my own about every two weeks, whereas my friends and I are usually out somewhere every weekend.
I have a big group of friends that I’ve met here and everyone has their own bucket lists, class schedules, and budgets. I honestly feel like it is unproductive to not go anywhere on your own (although I certainly know people who do it), and like Ian said, you’ll probably end up missing out on something. Personally, I really think that some of the trips I’ve taken alone have been the most rewarding part of my study abroad experience, and I’ll always be grateful for that one sunny day that I decided to jump on the bus.
About the Author – Claire Weckerly, Spring 2018 London Storyteller & Elizabethtown College Student
Hello! My name is Claire and I am a junior biology major studying at Elizabethtown College, PA. I am taking my first trip to Europe to study at the University of Roehampton in London, England. I am very excited to see everything that the city of London has to offer and to share my experiences with all of you.