Going on a trip by yourself for the very first time can be daunting – and sometimes that fear and that wonder do not dissipate even after you’ve gone on what seems like hundreds of excursions. There are a lot of skills that one can gain from traveling independently, such as time management, communication, and budgeting, but this does not compare to what you learn while you travel. You might learn about the beauty of different cultures or how to adjust to a new environment, but there are some lessons that you may not expect to learn. Here are just a few of them.

Airports, train stations, or wherever else you go in between destinations are an adventure within themselves.

You may get TSA pre-check on your departure flight but not on your returning flight. You may witness the chaos unfolding at the gate of your flight or another flight. You may sustain injuries from your luggage with surprising frequency, whether you hit yourself in the face loading or unloading the overhead bins, hit yourself in the ankle and/or shin, trip over your suitcase, or somehow manage to scratch yourself. If you’re anything like me, you will find inspiration in the mishaps and even the idleness, the moments when you’re simply sitting there waiting for something to happen.

There will be landmarks, attractions, or other hidden aspects of a place that you never knew existed.

When I visited the Boston metro area in September, I had a general idea of the highlights: 34 colleges and universities including MIT and Harvard, the beautiful Charles River, and the magnificent skyline. But what I didn’t expect to see was the Curious George-themed store in downtown Cambridge.

Photo: Harvard Square 

It is, quite fittingly, branded the “world’s only Curious George store,” because who knew that the world needed a Curious George store? Well, it was needed in Cambridge, for it adds a little more zest to the city’s already abundant charms.

Of course, you can always go to one of the places less visited, but even in some of the most popular tourist locations in the world, there will always be something more to see than the Eiffel Tower or the major cities. Every location has hidden surprises – you just have to look for them.

You are never truly alone.

Even as you traverse the country or potentially cross continents solo, you are never traveling in a vacuum. There will always be people around you who have goals, hopes, and dreams, just like you do. You may have more in common with a stranger than you originally imagined, whether you have similar career goals or you just happen to be wearing the same color clothing. You could run into someone you met on a previous excursion by chance (I saw someone I met in Boston when I went to Philly two months later) or someone you’ve known forever.

There are lots of reasons to travel – meeting new people, seeing new places, and breaking out of your comfort zone. These lessons are a natural result of the many reasons we jet off to other parts of the world without looking back. Yet, we can always learn something when we least expect to, and perhaps there is still more to be gained than any one of us is aware of yet.

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