It was in Florence, Italy that my travel training wheels came off for the first time.
I'd left the U.S. for a Summer in Europe with four friends after college, and less than a week into the trip, there were already hints that several would be going home early. As in five to six weeks early.
And me, the anxious, over-planner who'd never set foot outside of the U.S. aside from family trips growing up?
I was having the time of my life after we arrived in Paris the night of the 1998 World Cup Final, museum-hopped in Amsterdam, partied in Prague and walked the backstreets of Venice.
Looking back, the signs of our inevitable split were glaringly apparent from the moment we touched down in France.
I wanted to visit every major medieval cathedral I'd studied in art and architecture classes, while several of my friends were too content to read books they brought with them.
The consensus was to leave Venice after a few nights, while I could've spent the rest of the summer there.
In one of a handful of decisions I've made in life where my choice was crystal clear, I opted to finish my European backpacking adventure on my own.
I said goodbye to my best friends as they walked out of our Florence hostel one afternoon.
And then I was alone…
…for all of five minutes.
Another backpacker had come into my dorm room, and we began talking about punk music.
We liked some of the same bands, and the instant rapport with this total stranger was reassuring at that moment. As though I knew I'd be OK traveling on my own from that point forward.
Without the insulating effect of traveling with good friends, I immediately realized how easy it was to meet other travelers in hostels.
But as I learned in Florence, if you accept those feelings as normal, that they come with the territory of exploring our world, you can learn to take them in stride.
Thirteen years later, I'm more inclined to rent an Airbnb in the city than stay in a hostel. It's the expat life I seek now more than the hostel life.
Because after staying in countless hostels over the years, I've realized they too are a form of training wheels I'm ready to lose.