This I Believe: I Believe In Traveling Alone

Feb 28, 2019

Essayist Shawna Mumma in Italy.
Credit Shawna Mumma

I believe in traveling alone at least once in your life.

I’ll always remember how I felt the morning of December 27, 2014. There were butterflies of excitement in my stomach as I found a window seat near the back of the German train car. I settled in and double-checked that my written itinerary was still in my pocket. The train began to leave the station. Once the pure rush of adrenaline wore off, a feeling of complete shock hit me.

What in the world was I doing? 

Was I prepared to travel through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and England on my own for two weeks?

Even if I wasn’t, it was too late to turn back.

My feeling of shock faded as the train meandered through the German countryside. An untouched coat of snow blanketed the trees, engulfing the mountain slopes. The only colors were white and blue, with the occasional brightly colored roof peeking out of the small Rhein River villages. The stillness of the towering castles overlooking the villages took me out of reality and into a fantasy realm. 

Years later, I still think this was one of the most majestic displays of God’s beauty. These images are ingrained in my memory, but the pure serenity I felt in that moment is what I remember most. 

I was able to breathe deep. On my first day traveling alone, I learned to embrace the quiet moments.

Six days later, on yet another train, I learned about problem solving and rolling with the punches. Dutch blared through the intercom as the train screeched into the station. I gathered my belongings, ready to explore Brussels, Belgium. I exited the train station. But in a split second, my stomach dropped. I realized I was at the wrong station. 

Where was I? Could I sprint for my life back to the train? There was no chance. I was stuck on the outskirts of the opposite side of the city. I was by myself--no Wi-Fi, no cell service--in the red light district. 

I began to wander in the direction of my hostel. I eventually ran into a man who could obviously tell I was lost. In broken English, he asked if I knew where I was. Yes, of course I did. I didn’t want to reveal that I had never been so lost in my life. 

The rest of the journey is a blur, but I spoke to locals and saw the back roads of Brussels. Eventually, I found my way to my hostel. Although in the moment I felt vulnerable in an unfamiliar city, the fact that I was able to find my way on my own boosted my sense of independence. I began to feel more confident.

Throughout the trip I found myself doing more of everything: smiling, engaging in my surroundings, seeking companionship with other travelers, and exploring. I caught the travel bug, which over the next few years would take me to Iceland, Portugal, Italy and Slovenia, and lead to more unforgettable experiences than I can count on my fingers.

So I believe in traveling alone. Take the step into uncertainty. You won’t be disappointed.

Shawna Mumma is a junior at Penn State majoring in nursing. She's also a member of the Penn State Army ROTC.