I remember when in March 2016, during my study exchange in Poland, I overheard this girl talking about her solo travel adventures all over the world. She was beyond excited when mentioning staying in hostels, using just her backpack to travel for months to faraway places, and often eating alone. What?! I thought she just does not have any friends at home, and that was why she travels solo. How wrong I was! She was living her best life.
I was 20 years old. I know I had visited a fair amount of countries by then, but alone? Never before. I didn’t even know what a hostel was and how that works. Sleeping in the same room with a bunch of strangers did not appeal to me at all. I was so, so sceptical. Only if I knew how many friends I’d make as a solo traveller for the next three years!
When thinking back to my first solo travel adventure, here are five things I wish somebody told me:
It’s okay if your first solo travel trip it is not a magical experience
It could be scary in the beginning. Things don’t always work out. If you hear everybody – including me – being so thrilled about their first solo trip, and yours did not raise to your expectations, don’t worry. The next will do. Or the next one. If none does, then maybe it is not for you. And that’s okay. But trust me on this – it is worth giving it a try. Let go of expectations and have a positive mindset. You got this!
Expectation feeds frustration. It is an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control; but don’t.
– Dr. Steve Maraboli
Make a rough plan of your trip, but allow for spontaneity
You want to keep your options open. You might meet people and want to tag along with their travel plans. Or you could find out from locals about a hidden travel gem that you want to explore, but because you had everything booked ahead, there is no time.
What you could do is plan out your first couple of days – like book transportation, accommodation and some free walking tours (Strawberry Tours are great for Europe).
I remember that, on my first solo trip to China, I spontaneously decided to travel from Beijing to Xi’an. I chose to stay in hostels in both cities, and when I arrived in Xi’an, I was stunned to find that some people that I met in Beijing followed the same route as I and chose the same hostel – through word of mouth between travellers! We naturally became friends and, days later, we hung out again in Shanghai.
A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet
This is a motto I lived by for the last few years. In the beginning, I could not even imagine how vast the solo traveller network was. There are even some travel apps: The Solo Traveller app – a platform designed to connect travellers in the same area, Couchsurfing – where you can meet and also stay with locals from the country you’re visiting and many others.
The key is to travel with an open heart and mind, be approachable, and smile! 🙂
Road trip to the Grand Canyon with strangers that became friends
What is cool about solo travelling is that you have the freedom to customize your schedule. So if you feel like spending hours in a souvenir shop to buy gifts for home or local fashion pieces (guilty of this one), nobody will stop you…apart from your overpacked suitcase from home.
There is also a second, more important reason for packing light. You will have to carry everything yourself. I packed almost 30 kilos (!) of things for my first solo trip and that was exhausting.
Being alone doesn’t equal being lonely
I was afraid to travel solo because I couldn’t stand being alone in public spaces. I went out of my comfort zone and did it anyway. The first time I ate alone out in a diy hot pot restaurant in Shanghai. It was fun, exciting, and I felt in control of everything.
There is often better to have some time for yourself than being surrounded by a lot of people. The thing is, I am never alone even though I am mostly travelling solo. I became closer to people that I knew for a couple of hours than with some friends at home. When trying to find an explanation, I realized that I share the same passion and life vision with fellow travellers. Now, it is travelling alone and making friends abroad that became my comfort.
Even though I did not know from the start what solo travelling had in the bag for me, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, I felt lonely at times, I planned too much, missed opportunities, or was too shy to make as many friends as I wanted. But, everything made me grow and discover a part of myself I did not know even existed – a bold, fearless, and friendly girl, always in search of the unexpected that true travel promises.
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