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Flying solo can provide new traveling experiences

It was my fourth time at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport when I waved goodbye to my family before turning my back on them to face the security check. There were three other instances previously in which I departed from the airport to travel to South Korea, but my family members had always been by my side. 

Certain questions and feelings kept circulating from my brain to my body, stiffening my walk as I awkwardly strutted past the high-end fashion brands. My expenditures were only one of the worries that were stuffed into my head. I was generously given $200 from my parents to be used for leisure, but whether the feelings were unnecessary, I couldn’t help contemplating my condition for this trip. 

One concern that was especially bugging me was how I was going to get around. It seems a little nerve-wracking to be in a position where you have to use an unfamiliar system of transportation by yourself. 

Nevertheless, my nerves were only distractions to my excitement: Navigating the subway stations and bus stops without help was an experience that allowed me to prove my independence and feel confident. It proved that I could rely on myself and deal with feeling uncomfortable in order to reach my destination.

I definitely wasn’t going to miss shopping at Seoul’s Lotte World Mall or visiting the palaces, just because of a little siren inside my head.

Luckily, the comforts of technology will always travel with you in your side pocket. Google is the most helpful travel buddy I will ever have. 

The biggest advantage of solo traveling is the complete freedom to explore the new world set out for you. Who is there to tell you where to visit, how long to stay and what to eat? It may seem daunting to have every decision count on you, but I relished it. 

I was able to take my time at each piece in a museum, relax for hours at coffee shops and walk through the narrow streets searching for the next store to visit. I think I did a favor to the people who might’ve traveled with me – sitting next to me while I write in my journal is something that wouldn’t be in their ideal itinerary.

Everyone prioritizes a certain aspect of traveling, whether it be food, scenery or shopping. For myself, it was a goal to document my experiences so that months and years later, I can relive them through my words. 

But when there is a stark difference in opinions on what to do, complications arise between friends or family. While meeting up with a friend from back home, I realized the predicament I could’ve faced if I had traveled my own way with another person or group.

Alongside the trendy streets of Garosu-gil in Gangnam, I sat down at a fashionable cafe with her after ordering a cup of Earl Grey tea underneath the pink lights and flowery decorations. As we were chatting, she mentioned how exhausted she’d been, going from one place to the next in Seoul with her family. 

When I asked if there was any time to herself, she told me about the tight schedule her father came up with, which included all these different historical sights. This barely left her any time to relax or visit the places she wanted to. 

While it’s helpful to have a general list of things you want to see and eat, I found that it was the little detours and distractions that allowed me to immerse myself in my travels. There were many experiences I wasn’t able to come up with by simply making a search online. 

For example, after a lukewarm visit to Myeong-dong, a shopping district catered to tourists, I came across an off-track road leading toward a hill — a little neighborhood I’ve never heard about called Jaemiro. 

To my surprise, the buildings were painted with murals of cartoon characters and there were several different cartoon-themed cafes. Inside one of the cafes, I was able to get an iced chocolate drink with a character of my choice drawn on the foam. I enjoyed it while gazing at the colorful paintings on the roads and walls.

You may think that traveling solo will lead to loneliness in an unfamiliar world. But for me, the bustling streets and fresh encounters overwhelmed all my fears before they could slow me down.

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