Would you like to know the most intimidating decision I’ve ever made? Packing my life into a rucksack and deciding to travel alone around Europe and the UK for about 2 months without a very solid plan.
To be frank, I was terrified. I had done my researchand I knew that lots of people travel solo all the time. But to think about being completely alone in strange countries gave me lots of nervous butterflies.
Spoiler alert: I survived, and I had an incredible time. I made some mistakes, made some great decisions, and learned an awful lot. So I thought I would share some tips, based on my experience, for those looking at solo travel (especially around Europe).
- Take half the clothes you think you need, and twice the money
- This is more of a rule for all travel, and something to think about before you even get on the plane. I can’t tell you how many times I repacked my backpack CURSING myself for packing all these clothes that I thought I would wear but clearly would not get worn. If you hesitate and think “Will I wear this?” LEAVE IT BEHIND! You don’t need it
- I think the money goes without saying. Things will always be more expensive than you think, no matter how well you budget, and it’s not fun to get into a situation where you’re strapped for cash and stressing
- Always talk to people in your hostel
- This may seem like a no brainer, but I thought I’d mention it. It can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with people you don’t know, but give it a try. Look for people who also seem to be travelling solo, because they, like you, will welcome a conversation. Some no-fail ice breakers include “Where are you from?” “Where are you headed next?” and “How long have you been travelling?” People who travel have stories to tell, and if you’re open, they’ll share them
- Be flexible – Allow your plans to change
- You can plan your trip all you want, but you’ll find yourself less stressed if you allow yourself to go with the flow and change your plans if need be. Did you have plans to go see a cathedral but a group of people in your hostel are going to a really amazing sounding exhibition? GO WITH THEM! If you find yourself wanting to deviate from your plans, just let it happen. That being said….
- Don’t let your new hostel friends dictate your plans
- It’s great to meet new people and find some friends to explore a city with. I met amazing people in every city I visited. At the same time, it’s super easy to say “Yeah let’s do something tomorrow” and then find yourself within a group that aren’t doing the things you were hoping to do while you were in that city. Don’t let your desire to meet and hang out with new people stop you from seeing the things that you truly want to see.
- McDonald’s and Starbucks can be your best friends
- Lost? Confused? Tired? Sometimes when you’re traipsing around a city, you just want to sit somewhere air-conditioned and rest or figure out directions. Find a McDonald’s. Seriously, they almost always have free wifi you can connect to, and if you get yourself an ice cream cone or soda you have permission to sit, rest your feet, and mooch their wifi all you want. Comes with a bonus – the bathrooms will be moderately clean! (Although in Europe, you’ll have to pay to pee)
- Train schedules can be very tricky
- Trains are the best way to move between cities, and you can get pretty much anywhere if you know what you’re doing. However, each country’s website for train information is different, and often extremely confusing. Enter, my saving grace: The Man in Seat 61. Seriously, I will offer no other advice than to check this website when trying to travel by train. It’s easy to use, he explains everything simply and in great detail. He is a genius and a savior to all who travel. Some research and preparation can make train travel much less stressful, while ensuring your seat is reserved and you won’t end up sitting in a train corridor for hours
- Don’t be afraid of the loneliness
- Solo travel can be lonely. Sure you meet people and you’re having a great time, but there will almost certainly be a moment where the loneliness hits. The most important thing I will stress is don’t run away from the lonely. Embrace it. Realize you’re feeling lonely and accept it. People deal with it in different ways. If it will help to FaceTime your parents, DO IT. If it will help to sit in a park and listen to your favourite album and cry, DO IT. If it will help to join a pub crawl and drink cheap beer, DO IT. Don’t force yourself to power through and traipse through another cathedral if you don’t feel like it. Take the time you need, remember that this is only temporary and you’re doing a great thing. Then take a breath, shake it off, and continue on your way. (I dealt with the solo travel blues in Budapest, but it ended up being one of my favourite cities!)