I'm writing this from London, where I've been for two weeks. I have another three before I have to go home, and I may need to be dragged kicking and screaming. I love it here, but I love traveling, in general, and I especially love going places by myself.
There's something about arriving in a new place, on your own, that's thrilling. And "thrilling" is the more accurate term, as it's not just fun and exciting. Traveling to new places--especially alone--has a frisson of worry, maybe even fear. And that, I think, is what makes this kind of travel so worthwhile.
Traveling this way isn't easy, and it's not relaxing in the way a beach vacation or a cruise is relaxing. In fact, it's really quite challenging, and I often feel I need a vacation from my vacation when I return home. That said, I also think it's a really rewarding and beneficial thing to do, not least because I've learned as much about myself as I have about the places I've visited.
The biggest lesson I've learned from traveling is to roll with things. I can be super OCD in my everyday life. I like being in control of things, and I've set things up so that I feel in control in my everyday life. Travel, however, throws all illusions of control out the window. Planes will be late; bookings at hotels will be lost; you will meet people for whom you throw all your plans out the window.
Because of this loss of control, travel also makes me laugh at myself. I now relish the moments of cultural awkwardness I get myself into in a new country. Indeed, my very first trip abroad was when I moved to Granada, Spain, for a year. The first thing I said to my cab driver was "soy caliente!" (I'm horny!) rather than "tengo calor" (I'm hot). Sitting in the back of the cab, I kept repeating, "I'm horny! I'm horny! Wow, I'm horny!", quite proud of the five sentences of Spanish I (thought I'd) learned from some language tapes. It was with growing horror that I sat through my first intensive Spanish class, listening to the instructor explain the crucial difference between "soy caliente" and "tengo calor."
Apparently, it's a mistake made by many newcomers to Spanish.
For me, these moments of embarrassment quickly transcended a mere few minutes of blushing. Eventually, I became aware of so many bigger lessons about cultural differences and similarities; about how I grew up one way, but it's neither the only nor necessarily the best way; and how being scared and being lonely can bring out the best in me. I'd never thought of myself as brave until I moved to Spain, knowing no one and only enough of the language to get myself in trouble, and I didn't consider myself brave when I lived there. But when I got back, and I thought about the thrills I'd lived through, I suddenly realized I was braver than I gave myself credit for.
I'm now addicted to travel, and some of my best memories consist of me doing quite silly things, such as continually getting lost in Istanbul and being walked home by little old trash collectors who clearly thought I was completely insane. But I'll never forget the smell of those dusty streets, the tiny figures of the little old men in their uniforms, and the one who knew English as he'd lived in America briefly, telling me stories about New York in the sixties. His memories and his own love of his life abroad were as alive with history as the Haga Sophia, and as beautiful.
So if you can, travel. There's so much to see in this world, and there's no thrill as great as meeting an entirely new you in a place you never thought to find yourself.