WHEN I WAS 17, I traveled alone to Europe for the first time, to wash dishes in Gstaad, Switzerland, for the summer. The trip had seemed like a grand adventure.
But by the evening I reached the Bern train station, still a day from Gstaad, I’d run out of money for a room. Hunched in a bathroom stall, I felt dumb, scared, and intensely alone. At midnight, a policeman came in and looked for shoes beneath the stalls. I lifted my legs and tried to control my breathing. I’d read that it was illegal to mow your lawn on Sunday in Switzerland, so sleeping in a toilet stall was a felony for all I knew. His uniform appeared in the gap of the door, but then moved on.
By morning I felt as though I had passed an unnamed but significant test, one I wouldn’t have experienced if not alone. I returned home at the end of the summer having learned more about life in those months than I had in the previous 17 years combined. I felt confident that I could make my way in the world, or at least endure a night in a bathroom. And that was a start.
I’ve traveled a lot in the decades since then—to Alaska, Cuba, Iran, Mongolia—though seldom stag. Even now, successfully negotiating a new place feels like a small victory. I’m due for another solo trip this summer, the most amenable time for wandering.
I recently found myself alone for the first time in years, just out of a seven-year relationship and with my daughter away at college. It’s time to regain the confidence that I can navigate the world on my own. I’ve seen some photos of huge fish in Patagonia, and I think I might just need to go investigate for myself.
This article is part of our Summer School series, a comprehensive guide to acing the year’s best season.
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