What Solo Travel Taught Me

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Few years ago it would have never even crossed my mind to travel alone.

Luckily, times have changed. I have changed?

And let's be honest, traveling solo has become a thing in the world of travel blogs (and of course outside of it). More and more people have taken the plunge and done it. When we were told last year that we were supposed to attend a conference in Italy, I got the idea of traveling the country because I'd never been to Italy before. But I really wanted to see all the major cities, spend some weeks on the road, so I couldn't really expect anyone to want to follow me for two reasons: it's a lot of time and it's a lot of money. So I would do it alone.

It didn't scare me. It was just so natural to think that way. Of course, I was a bit nervous. I'd never traveled alone. I mean, I would move from A to B alone, but at B I always had someone with me. Would I be bored? Would I be targeted by pickpockets? Would I miss people? Would I feel uncomfortable with no one to share my days with?

It turned out that the answer to all the questions was 'no'. That trip was everything I could have hoped for. I had a great time with myself and learned so much. About the world and about myself.

If you're considering going somewhere alone, please do it. You will love it. And if you think you couldn't possibly do it because you need people around - traveling by yourself doesn't mean you're away from people, quite the contrary! You're free to meet strangers all the time - if you want to. Basically, everything you will do on your trip is entirely up to you. And that's the beauty of it.

Here's what I learned on my first solo trip.
(P.S. If you want to see my impressions and experiences from Italy, click here.)

Using maps.

This is a no brainer, you will say. Well, since I've always traveled with someone else, I would just pass the map to them and not worry my pretty little head about it. I would just trust people. (Even if it meant, thousand of times, that we eventually got lost because of their missjudgement.) But here, being on my own, I had to rely on my own abilities. Weeeell... it meant that it took me a while to get acquainted with the map in the beginning. But with time I just got better at it! Sometimes it was a bit frustrating - for example, in Rome, where there are millions of little alleys that are not shown on the map, so you kinda know where you are, but you're not sure - but soon enough I just got it, you know. By the end of the trip I was a pro.

I hate touristy places.

Now this may come as a surprise. But on the other hand it might have to do with my personality. Anyway, I figured I really, really hate places where there are a lot of people. People make crowds. Crowds make it difficult to walk, they make lines, they make you wait, they make you feel like you need air. A lot of times you have the impression that people don't really value what they're seeing, so it makes it even worse - people that just make crowds without appreciating where they are. You might completely avoid such places, but that's the thing: chances are that you too want to see them, because really, who would go to Rome and skip seeing Colosseum?! Tip: if you can, visit touristy places early in the morning or in the evening.

Wearing comfortable shoes.

I cannot emphasize this enough. You might think that regular flats or sneakers you use for your city walks on a daily basis would be fine. Not at all, and take me seriously. On a daily basis you probably walk less than half an hour, if that much. When traveling, chances are that you will walk the whole day - ten days in a row. Looking back at my time in Italy, I feel so happy and grateful that the weather was great, because I could take full advantage of my Birkenstocks. If it hadn't been so, I would've probably been wearing my Chuck Taylors, and even though I'm a really loyal fan of the brand and I've been wearing them for half of my life, if I'm being honest, I have to say that they SUCK. They're killing your feet if you walk miles in them. So if it's warm enough, use Birkenstocks or a similar form of comfy granny sandals. If it's not, use your running shoes or something else that you know is comfortable. Trust me, I saw this advice once and I was like "WHAT?! Running shoes are made for running, no way I'm wearing them in a city" (because let's face it, most of them are really ugly), but there ARE things more important than looks. Your happy feet are one of those.

Knowing where to shop.

Being aware that you need to eat and drink is no brainer. But being smart when it comes to that is. It might be tempting to buy a sandwich or an icecream near a sight you're seeing, but don't - those are meant for tourists and okay, even though you technically are one, you know better. Food and drinks close to the major sights are often much, and I really mean MUCH more expensive than in the regular places. So plan in advance and know when you will be around the sights - no need to have the exact schedule, an estimate is fine too - and plan accordingly so you don't find yourself starving in one of the major squares in Rome where restaurants charge ridiculously high prices.


This is not solely due to solo traveling, but traveling in general, and I'm so grateful for having had so many opportunities to travel last year. As you might know, I won't travel that much this spring, because I'm saving my coins for a bigger trip later this year. However, what I think I did master on the way is packing. I can pack for a weekend in less than 15 minutes, and I'm getting better and better with my timing for the big trips and big suitcases. For a detailed post on packing, click here.

Knowing your (material) priorities.

I'm taking for granted that you know priorities in the sense what to see and what to do, so I'm focusing on material stuff here, and that will be stuff that you're having with you all the time. One of the biggest mistakes I made on my solo trip was that I brought a laptop along, so when I didn't feel like paying the hostel lock, I would have to carry it around the whole time. An important tip: carry a lock with you because you never know what hostels charge for keeping your thingies safe - a lot of them do! Anyway, because chances are that you will spend most of your days outside on the move, you will want to minimize stuff that you have to carry. I advise having a camera, wallet, sandwich or two, bottle of water, pack of tissues, pen, phone - a water bottle and a camera are heavy enough already, so give it some thought in the morning, you don't want your day to be ruined because your back/shoulders hurt.

Optimal use of time.

When traveling alone, you will be the one responsible for the distribution of your time. You won't be able to rely on someone else to do that for you - or to do anything for you. And no matter what anyone says, travel is a shifted reality, so you will end up not having time for some things and actions you really take for granted at home. (But you'll be awarded tons of new experiences, so that's kinda OK! :)) For example: polishing your nails. Seriously. I did that on the train. I wrote postcards in a cafe. I chose and edited photos for my blog on the intercity train. In general, whenever I had to spend an amount of time without having much to do, I would just think of an activity that doesn't require special conditions. You can write pretty much everywhere, right? And draw, and answer to e-mails, and... As long as it's not the priority, but the side-thing, it will be perfect. It feels great to have your shit together and not lag behind, even if it's just replying to a pile of e-mails.

(On the other hand, don't spend your travels in that pile if you deserve a vacation! And if you're already there, you pretty much do.)

Airport wisdom.

Just a couple of things to make airports more bearable. (In my experience, when you fly once a year or even not that much, airports are so much fun and exciting! If you fly much more, they become irrevocably boring.)

You've probably noticed that food and drinks at the airports are much more expensive than anywhere else - I mentioned that in my budget traveling guide when I emphasized the need to eat before you arrive and save some money (like, you won't believe how much a sandwich is!). The same goes for drinks. But even if you have your own bottle of water, you will have to throw it away once you approach security check, right? Wrong! Just empty it. Security check guys won't object you having an empty bottle. And once you find yourself on the other side, you're free to refill it. Water in the bathrooms is usually drinkable. What a win!

Another tip applies to lazy people (guilty as charged). You know when you're sitting at the gate, waiting to get boarded, and then they announce the boarding and everybody jumps at their feet? Well, don't do that, because you will simply get annoyed at the waiting time to come - that you volunteered to spend standing? Lately I've been just simply sitting and reading my stuff until the line got really small. Then I'd get up, board, and as by that time most of the people will be seated, there's no need to block the aisle either, which is great (anyone else noticed how more hectic people are on boarding than in usual life?).

Edit: I later wrote a whole post on how to hack airports like a pro, so take a look.

You won't be happy with your photos (so the sooner you accept that, the less it will bother you).

(But it doesn't mean you should stop trying.)

Imagine walking around a town the whole day - the most likely scenario on your solo trip. Imagine the town is actually a city packed with sights or other interesting things you want to see - you probably won't have time to go back and forth. And that brings us to the problem - your light will suck, thus (some of) your photos will suck. Bright daylight is the worst! Think about shadows, white sky and strong contrasts. I hate most of my daylight photos - but I never have the time to only take photos in the morning and in the afternoon, because I want to see as much as possible.
And another thing - you will be in very little photos yourself, unless you're a sucker for selfies. I'm not. At least not in public. But hey, if that's your cuppa tea...

So, these are the things I picked along the way of various travel experiences. Will you test them? What are yours? I would LOVE to hear!

Happy travels!


All the photos from here

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