When you travel with others, you obviously tend to talk with them quite a bit. This isn’t a bad thing—communication strengthens bonds, and everyone brings a unique perspective to the conversation. However, in the pressure to externalize your thoughts, you don’t really get a chance to reflect internally. But if there’s any time when you should be thinking, it’s when you’re experiencing new places, cultures, and history for the first time.

Traveling alone for an extended period means you spend a lot of time inside your own head. As you float around cities and countries, your mind also wanders—thinking, reflecting, analyzing, observing, and drawing comparisons about whatever happens to be interesting at that moment. It’s not that we don’t spend time thinking when we’re with other people, it’s that our thinking is guided by the conversation. Alone, bombarded with new stimuli at every turn, your mind can truly appreciate the juxtaposition of people, places, and things.

One day, while walking by French parents dropping off young children at school, I noticed that they watch their children run away from their arms with the same combination of pride and sadness in their eyes as mine probably did—shouting, “Behave for your teachers!” and “Have a good day!” (in French, obviously). The next, I was reading the tombstones of Egyptian pharaohs in the Louvre, boasting of conquests of people I’ve never heard of all in an attempt to convince their gods that they’re worthy of entering the afterlife.

Another day, I saw a guy and a girl on a blind first date hit it off, hang around for three rounds, and walk out of a South London pub arm in arm. Later that week, I found myself wandering around the steps of the Colosseum, where thousands of people watched men kill each other for sport.

On Tuesday, I wandered through the caves of Europe’s most active volcano (Mount Etna). By Friday, I was listening to a Slovenian jazz group perform in Vienna.

Yet another day, I was hugging jumping up and down with strangers at a rugby match, with old Irish guys shouting, “DESTROY HIS FUCKING LINEAGE!” behind me.

The week prior, I felt my stomach sink instantly upon walking into an old building in Poland.

These two furnaces incinerated the bodies of hundreds of thousands of people, where an incomprehensible number of lineages were literally severed at Auschwitz.

A few days later, I sat for about 30 minutes staring at two walls stacked on top of each other. On the bottom was the remaining foundation of the SS building, where these atrocities were planned in the 1930’s. At street level was a segment of the Berlin Wall, one of the 20th century’s most iconic examples of segregation, erected just 30 years later.

Spending that much time reflecting on the human condition isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s good for you. You’re going to think about death. You’re going to think about your own insignificance. You’re going to think about how silly violence is. You’re going to think about how literally nothing good has ever come from walling people off from each other. Yes, you’ll think about how different certain parts of the world are, but more often you’ll find yourself marveling at how everyone is worried about the same mundane bullshit. You’re going to think about how incomprehensible and beautiful it is that the sum of everything humanity has ever created—all the buildings, people, languages, music, and politics—is because random organic compounds somehow combined into a prokaryote billions of years ago.

Most importantly, you’re going to think deeply about whether or not you’re living your life meaningfully. That’s just where the mind tends to go when left to its own devices.

Other tips for solo travel

Convinced you should give solo wandering a try? Awesome. Here are some tips for how to take advantage of it:

1) Stay at hostels with bars

They usually have the cheapest drinks in the city, and it’s way easier to meet people at hostels that have a bar where people hang out at night. You’ll meet really interesting people from all over the world. Especially Brazilians. Brazilians, you people are everywhere.

“But aren’t hostels dangerous?!” you protest. “It’s a room full of strangers! And what about bed bugs?”

Incidents happen, certainly, but just read the reviews on Hostelworld and you can avoid most sketchy places. Yes, you’ll stay in places that have bad electricity, or have weird characters, but I never felt unsafe. If that’s going to be an issue for you, you’re probably not going to feel comfortable traveling alone in the first place.

2) Hostelworld is the best way to book hostels

In big cities, TripAdvisor is the best way to find activities/attractions, but use Yelp to find food. When visiting small cities (like Catania), don’t trust Yelp (not enough ratings to be valid). Just Google “best restaurants in <city>.”

3) If you don’t have indefinite time, stay about three nights per city

This might just be my style, but two full days is enough to get a feel and do most of the touristy things you want to do.

4) Don’t be stupid

Some places in the world are definitely not safe to travel alone, especially for women.

5) Have a general idea of where you want to go…

…but don’t plan out more than a few days in advance. That way, you avoid being stuck somewhere, but you leave yourself plenty of optionality in case something sounds cool along the way.

6) While you’re eating meals, try to read the news of that country

If you speak the language at all, try to read a print copy (I did this with Le Monde in Paris). If you don’t, load up a few articles from an English language version of the news on your phone when you’re somewhere that has wi-fi. It gives you a better perspective on what people are thinking about where you are.

7) If possible, schedule stops where you have a friend or two you can hang with…

…even if you haven’t seen them in decades. Unless they actively dislike you, people are usually thrilled to meet up with international travelers.

8) Splurge on food in Italy

Jesus Christ.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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