After a long day of flight delays and airport food, I buried my face in the hotel pillow. My two suitcases were still outside in the trunk of my tiny Ford Fiesta rental, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with them just yet. For now, free from the cramped plane seats and highway traffic, I wanted to breathe in the peace and quiet. I didn’t know a soul in this city, let alone where to find the nearest Chipotle. But at least for the next several days, I was anchored in one place.
This is a day in the life of my year after college. I was working as a traveling consultant for my sorority, which meant I lived out of two suitcases, and traveled to a new city every week. It was a job that taught me more about myself than I ever expected, and it gave me a whole new perspective on living alone.
During my college years, I always thought there was no way I could live on my own. My roommate and I were practically inseparable, and I loved having someone else to vent to about my day or host a brunch together for our friends. I’m a social creature by nature, and I figured if it was just me in a single apartment, I’d get pretty lonely and sad. What I didn’t realize was how much I’d learn about my independence when I finally took the leap.
Despite that initial hesitation, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to be a traveling consultant. I’ve always loved to see new places, and the idea of living like a nomad was a challenge I wanted to try. I’d get to visit parts of the country I’d never seen, and I’d be constantly meeting new people and learning new things. Can you say "dream job"?
But I also knew this independent lifestyle would come with its fair share of challenges. If you had asked me then what I thought would be hardest, I would have told you I would miss my friends and family. I would have told you that consolidating my belongings into two pieces of luggage would be tough. I would have told you that long travel days would take a toll on me.
All these proved to be correct, and then some. There were days when I was so exhausted from constant change I felt like I could barely move. There were moments when I hated the idea of having to meet new people day after day, and all I craved was some comfortable familiarity. It was a constant battle to remind myself of the positive aspects of my job, rather than wallowing in my fatigue and frustration. I had to remember why I made this decision and what I hoped to learn about myself in the process.
What I wouldn’t have told you before I started — and what I never would have guessed — was how much the loneliness of this job taught me to grow up, and grow up fast. I went from college life, where I was surrounded by friends 24/7, to a life where I was living in hotel rooms and staying in cities I’d never seen before. It was a huge adjustment, and some nights I cried like a baby because I just wanted a friend. I hadn’t envisioned a glamorous life of travel being this emotionally taxing in reality.
Out of necessity, I started doing things I never would have imagined doing before this — eating at restaurants alone, buying single tickets to the movies, or taking a solo road trip to a tourist destination. I scheduled FaceTime dates with friends and family from home to stay connected. I also learned the importance of developing a routine, even in a lifestyle where you can’t predict how any day will go. The littlest things, like a consistent morning wake-up time or a daily workout, can help you stay grounded when everything around you feels like it’s spinning out of control.
Without a doubt, the biggest lesson I took away from that year was the confidence in myself to accomplish anything. Living alone forces you to become your own provider and support system, and to enjoy coming home at the end of the day to your own personal space. As much as I got lonely, I also cherished the hours by myself. I’d spend my evenings curled up in bed watching Gilmore Girls, or reading a favorite book, and I knew I had no one to answer to but my own thoughts and feelings.
I also came head-to-head with my mental health in a whole new way. When you’re surrounded by constant social interactions and school obligations, it’s easy to distract yourself from anything you might be struggling with internally. For me, I’d been exerting control in my life and my relationships to keep my anxiety at bay, and once I was living and working alone, I found myself spending way more time in my own head. I learned to be my own best friend, to be kinder to myself, and to work through my emotions rather than push them under the rug. It was the kind of tough learning experience I needed to make me strong.
Now, my living circumstances couldn’t be more different. I live in a tiny New York apartment with two other roommates (whom I love dearly), and sometimes I think back on those days alone with fondness and nostalgia. I often miss the quiet of having my own space, and the ability to leave my makeup supplies all over the bathroom counter when I’m running out the door in a hurry. I miss the exhilaration of hopping on a plane to brand new city every few days. But I also love that I have some consistency and cherished friends who share my home.
I’m only 24 years old, but I feel like I aged a decade in that year of travel, and I’ve learned to follow my passions and live life on my own terms. I feel confident to tackle any challenge thrown my way, no roommate or partner needed.
But I also realize how important it is to cultivate a community that has your back. Without my friends and mentors, I never would have made it through that year. I have my pals to thank for getting me through the moments when I wanted to give up.
For now, it’s about finding a balance between my own independence and my need for connection. It’s about knowing what I’m capable of alone, but also allowing myself to lean on others when I need them. And that kind of self-awareness and confidence is something I will always be grateful to have learned.
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