Inside the Mind of a Solo Traveler
By Julia Johnson
Frank Thompson, a Wilson College first-year student, is not your average college student. In fact, his thick ginger beard and unique baseball hats collected from multiple different cities alone make him stand out.
A 23-year-old international student from Northern Ireland, Thompson just might be one of the calmest people you’ve ever met, no matter the circumstance, and is always optimistic which most likely stems from his extensive world travels.
After doing five years of high school, Thompson attended community college to study computing. He first found his love of travel when he and a friend did five different road trips through Northern Ireland. He then successfully transferred to university where he studied software engineering for two years.
He always felt like he was missing something and decided to take a gap year to travel throughout western Europe after a scholarship to study in America was canceled, where he did 30 cities in three months of solo travel.
He now studies at Wilson, where he got a full-ride scholarship. He predominantly studies business and Spanish. When he’s not studying, he is doing what he can to see the States.
His desire to visit the United States came from his dad, who used to always talk about his travels to 27 of the States. “All of my dad’s stories from my childhood made me want to visit ‘the land of the free’.”
He has also traveled to Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Canada. He says his success with traveling the world actually requires little to no planning. He finds the best experiences come from spontaneous decisions.
When choosing his next travel destination, there is no process other than “just a spontaneous idea”. His process that follows is typically a quick Google search of the country and a dot-to-dot map he creates between cities within the country.
According to Thompson, for people that are intimidated by impromptu traveling, “Equally, you can create an itinerary. I’ve done it in some cities, especially within the States because I’ve had limited time. It just involves waking up early, making to-do lists, and then going to achieve those things and see the sights.”
When asked about his most memorable spontaneous trip, he said without hesitation, “Valencia, Spain.” As flights in the United Kingdom are cheaper, he was able to find a $5 flight to Spain, where he intended to stay for three days. He arrived at the beginning of the Fallas Festival, a cultural staple of Spain, where they celebrate for five days. When Thompson was there, there were over 400 statues that were burned on the final day of the festival, which is the fifth day.
He befriended strangers that ended up allowing him to stay with them through the festival’s duration. One night, Thompson and the group ended up on the top of the apartment building, where he could see everything. “I was looking out over all of Valencia. I could see from the aquarium to the beach and everything was lit. It looked like a bit of a jungle, and I just stared out. If I would’ve left earlier, I would’ve missed that.”
He has had similar experiences during all of his travels. Most of the time, he won’t book housing for trips and will essentially just see what happens. He’s always found a spare bed and made a friend at the same time. Friendship is one of the things Thompson values the most about traveling the world.
When he travels, he books hostels in order to get surrounded by people who are also travelers, as he finds most of them have similar interests, mindsets, and views on the world. “It’s a special connecting when you’re solo traveling and someone else is also, and you become best friends for the one night. Then you don’t see each other again until you visit them in their city.”
In order to make friends in every city, he says you have to have a “yes” mentality. You have to say yes to everything, even more so when you’re not in the mood – he swears that is the recipe for the best memories. “Being open minded provides a lot of opportunities to make friendships that will last a lifetime.”
As well as making lifelong friends, Thompson says solo traveling comes with many other benefits. One of, if not the largest, these benefits he says is sharing his experiences with new people and emerging into different cultures. “I can say going abroad as well as studying broadened my cultural experience. I would’ve never understood it unless I would’ve taken the leap.” Thompson is looking forward to the rest of his semester at Wilson College, as well as continuing to travel the world.