These days I feel like all I talk about to friends is travel plans. When I’m talking about my future career I usually end any discussion with, ‘I kinda just wanna say fuck it and go travelling.’ Often late at night in a pub we’ll get into lengthy conversations planning fantasy trips and holidays to far flung destinations.
However many of these plans never actually happen. In fact when I interrailed with my two best friends a few years ago we kept saying that we couldn’t believe we were there, mostly because we have talked about doing a trip like it for so long that it felt like it would never happen.
The thing is, if you get to a point where you have the money, the free time and wish to go, your friends may well not be able to go with you. A couple of times this has meant I’ve put plans off because I didn’t want to travel alone. But in November last year I took the plunge.
Along the way I learnt a few lessons and tips about how to survive and enjoy travelling by myself.
HOW TO TRAVEL ALONE AND NOT CRY (HOPEFULLY)
1. Choose your destination carefully
This is more relevant for someone who wants to ease themself in to travelling alone. If you’re confident about it, go wherever you want and fly free baby bird. But if you’re a bit apprehensive, consider sticking closer to home and perhaps if you’re extra anxious, somewhere that speaks a language you are fluent in. For example I went to Berlin; I had been there before so was a bit familiar with the city and I also knew I could get by with the language because loads of mainland Europeans have incredible English skills.
2. Choose your accommodation carefully
Personally I am a fan of hostels: they are built for a solo traveller. Firstly I would advise choosing a good location so that you won’t be stuck with a long journey back alone from attractions. A key for me would be to read reviews on hostelworld.com or booking.com to give you an idea of how social the place might be. I would recommend trying to find one that has a kitchen and/or a bar so that you can meet people. Obviously meeting people isn’t essential – I am definitely someone who likes my own company. however its nice to stay somewhere that has that option if you want it.
3. Try group tours or pub crawls
This is a great idea if you are happy to have a few days of solo sightseeing but fancy some company for a while. I’ve found most European cities have free walking tours; a good hostel will often advertise these in their leaflet corner at the desk. The ones I did in Berlin were run by Alternative Berlin – I did their street art tour and the pub crawl and they were great. I did both of these at the end of my trip but I wish I had done it earlier as I made friends that I could have hung out with on my other nights in the city.
4. Consider the time of the week you go
I went to Berlin in November from a Tuesday to a Saturday. This just happened to be what suited me with work, but I found as I left on Saturday that this was when many people I met where just starting their trip. If you want to have some company and are going somewhere during the off peak tourist season, maybe go for a weekend trip
5. Don’t fixate on needing to meet people
I know that most of these previous points have pretty much centred around fighting any loneliness but that is because it is the most common worry I have heard from people about travelling solo. To be honest: you don’t need people that much. If you are just going for a few days, try to embrace the time with yourself. I know it sounds cheesy and faux-inspirational but genuinely I think it is quite important to be able to stand spending time with yourself. After coming back from my solo trip I felt quite proud of myself – I navigated the subway system alone, I planned the whole trip alone and I had a really nice time all on my lonesome. It feels like a growing and maturing experience. If you don’t meet a crazy Australian or a fascinating German, its fine! The be all and end all of travel is not the people you meet.
6. If you’re really worried, try a Group Tour like STA or Contiki
This is not something I personally have experience of but I have friends who have done these tours and loved them. They are expensive, but I have heard they’re really worth it because alot is included. They give you the security of being with a group both in terms of actual safety and as a safeguard against potential loneliness. I’ve heard Contiki in particular also gives you some flexibility to deviate from the schedule if you want to.
7. Enjoy the flexibility
Anyone who has travelled with friends will know that it can a test for friendships. People have different ideas of what they really want to do when they’re away and so whilst travelling alone you have the luxury of doing whatever you want! You want to trek to the top of a hill? Do it! You don’t understand art so think it’ll be a waste of time to spend more than a couple of hours in an Art Gallery? You go to that cool bar instead! This world is yours to explore so enjoy the freedom.
8. Don’t throw yourself in at the deep end
Try a weekend away first. Maybe keep it local. Revisit a familiar place. Spend the money on a better hostel if you think it will make you more comfortable.
Travelling alone is not as scary as you may think! You got up today and did things (turning on your computer and finding this blog post counts as a thing) so you are a strong and great person who can do it. If something goes wrong, you can find a way out. Maybe you’ll meet some people thanks to the good hostel choice and group tours you went on. Maybe you won’t and you’ll find You is actually pretty great company.
So next time you make travel plans and no one can join you, do not fear. Try it alone. If you never try it, you’ll never know if you’ll love it or not!