How to Travel Alone On A Gap Year

By: Daniela Mallarino | April 25, 2017
Topics: Gap Year Planning, Student Voices
There's no failure when you travel. There's no right or wrong. You might miss your flight, book a horrible hotel, or eat a terrible meal. But when you travel, everything becomes "an experience," a, "Now I have a story to tell."

You start finding opportunities everywhere and in everything. You open up to things. You program yourself to find awesome experiences. You seek for more. You need more in order to feel fulfilled.

Throughout this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s one of the reasons why we love to travel so much. Because you push yourself, you surpass your limits and you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you just laugh and move on. You live everyday to the fullest waiting for something crazy to happen, it’s almost as if you went for it.


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I could relate that to how you should change the way you live day-to-day and make life an experience that you want to share and remember. But, that’s extremely cheesy, so instead I’m just gonna write about my process of deciding what I wanted to do for my Winterline Independent Study Project (ISP).

The way Winterline does it, they give you the budget and you can do whatever you want.

Whatever.

Go learn Flamenco in Sevilla, work at a cockroach farm in Greece, hike El Camino de Santiago, or go to Switzerland and learn the art of chocolate-making. There are almost no limits. You just have to go get the experience, because in the end, that’s what it is. It’s the perfect opportunity to do something completely new, that you might end up loving, or practice something you already love.

Daniela Gap Year Programs

So, when I was thinking about what I wanted to do during this week, many ideas came to my mind. (Learning Flamenco was actually one of them, believe it or not). I could go work with refugees in Hamburg, do an internship in an environmental organization (maybe?), start learning a new language or practice German while doing engaging and fun activities. All of them seemed nice and enjoyable, but none of them really, truly, excited me. I wasn’t thrilled by any of them.

I started making up “excuses.” (I can work with people in my country. I already dance a lot and no one would dance Flamenco with me anyways. I want to be outdoors not at an office!).

And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I had an idea. Biking. In high school, a friend and I tried to promote their use, we created a logo and did research on it, and I love bikes — yes!

They’re a beautiful human-propelled machine. But, I’d never done a biking trip before. The closest experience to a “bike trip” I’ve had was this one time when I was in France with my homestay mom.

It was Sunday. Sunday morning. I was having breakfast at around eight, still trying to wake up, my eyes half open, my brain trying to understand why I was awake.

She invited me biking and I said yes. I almost died. She was going so fast, her legs were so strong and she still managed to have this BIG smile on her face. I was in the back, far away, almost crying and cursing, thinking that I could be in my bed reading and drinking tea or sleeping. She kept on motivating me and pushing me to finish and make it to the house. We finally arrived. I was sweating, my legs were hurting and my butt… I couldn’t feel it.

And yet, somehow, I felt good. I felt accomplished and happy. I even said I was glad I went instead of being in my bed “doing nothing”. We did twenty kilometers and I had survived. This was four years ago, and I can still remember that one time I went biking in France.

So, somehow, this idea of biking for my ISP made me feel happy and motivated. There were endless possibilities! I could go to a big city and study urban biking and how it looks to have biking as one of the main ways of transportation. I could compare a bike friendly city to Bogotá. Or even better — I could go from one place to another on a bike.

That last idea got stuck in my head. I wanted to bike. I wanted to travel even more. And, I wanted to do something crazy and difficult. I had made my decision.

Now of course, I had to choose a location. I had all of Europe to choose from. Copenhagen? Amsterdam? Spain? Portugal? France?

Winterline Gap Year Programs

I finally decided to go to Italy. I was really open to any location, but one thing I was sure of. I didn’t want to go on a tour. Tours are boring, and I’d have to follow people and maybe even a guide that will talk and talk… Maybe even keep on talking…

I wanted to be by myself, alone. I wanted Freedom.

I did extensive and exquisite research until I found this thing called “a self-guided tour”. The bike company stated: “we will provide you with accommodations, breakfast included and a perfectly detailed route, many maps, a bike AND luggage transfer” (What type of magical sorcery is this? Could it get any better?).

It sounded perfect, except that I have to confess I’m terrible when it comes to reading maps. Pieces of paper full of lines and names and sometimes even numbers. I’ve been lucky to have always been surrounded by friends that know exactly where they are by literally looking at the sun and the tree next to them.

But, as long as I could be alone on my tour I didn’t really care. I was willing to pay the price of getting lost once in awhile, asking for directions with my poorly poor Italian and even probably riding the bike with the Google maps lady loudly embarrassing me by saying: “Wrong way. Turn left and go the complete opposite direction you useless human being”.

Bike companies offered many tour options, so I ranked them and analyzed the situation for a couple of months, until I decided to go with the one that offered a “free pistachio gelato” (that was the main reason why I chose it, of course).

I emailed them and told them what I wanted — my budget, my dates, and they made it happen. We did the business and I was ready for my ISP. They gave me my hotel list (I thought I was going to sleep at hostels or a “biker’s bed and breakfast” full of smelly shoes in the entrance and a bathroom or two for everyone; instead, I was offered four star hotels everywhere I went. Single room, king size bed).

Now we’re in Frankfurt and I leave to Italy tonight, at midnight. I have a six-hour train to München and then another five-hour train to Bolzano. This is where my tour starts.

I’m clearly nervous. But the idea of traveling alone and being by myself makes me extremely happy. I feel confident transporting myself from one place to another and blending in multitudes (unless I was in India, that’s another story), but biking with paper maps and no one around me? That’s new.

I kept doubting and asking myself questions like, “Daniela, will this be too hard for you? Maybe you should’ve chosen something less complicated. Are you really prepared?”

But then I got tired and realized it was too late to ask myself those types of questions. I was wasting my time. There was nothing I could do at this point. I decided to change the questions for statements instead and make myself believe that I was ready for it. (I had to be ready).


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