An Instagram picture may be worth a thousands words, but Maddie Koerner knows that’s not enough. “The people that are seeing my pictures aren’t experiencing the excitement I felt when I saw the Eiffel Tower light up or the friendships that I’ve made throughout my journeys,” she said. “This is why I believe traveling is essential for everyone.”
Koerner spent her summer in Italy as an au pair; she watched the children while the parents were at work and also practiced English with them. Her work-free weekends included traveling to places such as Bologna, Milan, Portofino, Camogli, Verona, Venice, Riccione and Florence.
Outside of Italy, she traveled to Paris, France, and this trip brought some of her favorite memories.
“I loved Paris because I met so many new people and actually stayed with a Parisian friend, so I didn’t feel like a tourist,” she said. “I was experiencing things that most tourists don’t, but I also got to see all of the beautiful museums and monuments as well!”
She met this blogger friend on Instagram. “We had a lot in common, and she was so welcoming and genuine!” Koerner said. “It made my experience better because I didn’t have to pay for a hotel, and I also got to experience true Parisian life.”
But not every moment was perfect, including when a man tried to rob her. “I believe I handled it well though by quickly moving away without even saying a word to him,” Koerner said. “It’s better to do this because you never know if they may have a weapon or something to harm you, and he wasn’t able to steal anything because I moved away too quickly.”
Navigating the Parisian metro system wasn’t a piece of gâteau either, but she chose to make the most of it. “I also had many different transportation delays over my time in Europe and this is always frustrating,” she said, “but if you just go with it and accept it, you will enjoy your time a lot more.”
Koerner understands the dangers of solo travel, but those don’t keep her from adventure. “Being a blonde (obviously American) girl alone in a foreign country makes me an easy target for quite a few people like pick-pocketers or men,” she said.
The key is being aware and keeping one’s guard up, she said. “It’s not safe to just trust everyone like we may do at our university campuses or our smaller towns back home,” Koerner said.
Beyond these cautions, Koerner sees solo travel as a learning experience. “You learn so much about yourself and others cultures because you are forced to ask questions and engage in their culture,” she said. “When you are with a group of people you know, you are less likely to ask questions or meet new people in random places.”
“It’s amazing to not be just a tourist, but to be experiencing the actual culture within a country,” she said. “To me, a city is not experienced through the places, but it’s experienced through the people.”
All photos courtesy of Maddie Koerner.