Rather than a great urge to travel the world or a sudden influx of money into my bank account, my journey into traveling solo was sparked by little more than impatience and irritation. First – New Years eve circa 2016, when I realised I had no plans. After some social media stalking I found a friend-of-a-friend who was going on a Contiki group tour to Paris for a long weekend over the New Year. Telling my parents (chronic worriers) I was heading off with pals, I messaged her on Facebook and booked myself on the same trip before I could change my mind.
Then, again, in February, after persistently bugging all of my friends to book another holiday with me. One evening, when both of my housemates were with their boyfriends and I was sitting alone in my room, I decided to book myself another trip. But not a group one this time – I ventured to three different countries in 10 days on a self-planned trip.
Choosing to travel entirely independently happened partially through not finding a group tour that could fit my needs (read: income) and also because I wanted to test myself more. It meant I could slip between countries as and when I fancied and didn’t have to waste time doing things I didn’t want to do.
Funnily enough, the idea of traveling solo didn’t bother me at all. I was far more concerned about how I’d tackle the work experience on a magazine I was doing a fortnight before my trip than how I’d cope galavanting around Europe all by myself. But I think my family and friends were arguably more concerned about how I’d survive abroad than I would during two weeks in central London.
Because anyone who’s traveled on their own before will know the two types of reaction you receive from people you tell of your plans: they’re either confused (and feel a bit sorry for you) as to why you’re doing stuff on your own, or they’re semi-fearful and continually tell you how ‘brave’ you are.
Neither reaction is accurate, really, because traveling alone is not only truly excellent in letting you be as selfish as you’ve always wanted to be on a holiday, but is also a great way of improving your confidence.
I’ve now traveled to Paris, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Lisbon, Porto, Valencia and Amsterdam on my own, and I haven’t had one bad experience or regretted any part of any of my trips.
From sitting on a train in Copenhagen chatting away with two lads who coincidentally live 20 minutes away from me back home, to breaking into a Swedish club with new friends (because Swedish entry prices are crazy) or going on a random tuk-tuk trip out of Lisbon with Australians I met on a walking tour, I’ve always loved travelling alone for being able to meet new people.
I’ve made friends who live on almost every continent, and I’ve had new experiences in different countries with people I’ve only known for a handful of days. It’s branched out my taste in alcohol and taught me that (most) seafood is actually delicious. Some of these people I spent the entire trip with – a group of us in Porto met on a walking tour and I spent the rest of my time in the city going out for Japanese food and wandering around with them.
In Poland, I hung out with different people every single day. In Valencia, I ended up tagging along to a festival (that seemingly vanished) with some people in my hostel room and ended up having a great (albeit spontaneous) day hunting down a beach after a stressful bus journey out of the city.
In Portugal, I went on a walking tour on my own, got chatting to two Australian guys from different hostels and set off to the town of Sintra with them. Having known them for about 12 hours in total, we swapped Facebook details and never spoke again – aside the odd social media ‘like’. But it doesn’t matter – we all had fun and it was an excellent way to explore a new place outside of Lisbon.
Traveling on my own made me realise that getting lost in the middle of a Polish city on my own wasn’t that bad, and that it was still possible to make friends when everyone in my hostel room only spoke Russian. When my bus from Bratislava to Budapest was delayed by a few hours, I set up camp with some fellow bus-takers and got drunk in the only nearby cafe instead of panicking. When I struggled to get chatting to people in my hostel in Valencia, I went on a spontaneous bar crawl, which resulted in laughing around on the beach at 8am with a new group of people.
Travelling on your own is refreshing, too. If you want to hang out with new people, there’s always someone around willing to chat. Sometimes even more willing than you anticipated – after saying goodbye to a new friend in Bratislava, I happened to bump into him again in a club in Budapest a week later. And it didn’t stop there – a girl I got chatting to from South Korea in my hostel room in Budapest happened to be a mutual friend of a guy I’d met on a previous trip.
And if you’d rather explore and have time to think on your own, then everyone around equally respects that. I’ve found that most people who travel on their own want a combination of both, which is a perfect way to get the most out of your trip without wasting time going to a museum you don’t fancy or getting up earlier than you’d like.
If nothing else, travelling alone is the perfect way to kill a few days when you’ve got last minute holiday to use up and everyone else is busy/in a relationship/doesn’t like fun (delete as appropriate).
Because what’s a better humble brag than telling your work pals that you jetted off out of the country (again) over the weekend?