A successful solo journey in 5 easy steps

Pula marina boat
Pula harbour, Croatia, 2016.

 

Travelling alone can be a daunting prospect (especially if like me you have a medical condition or are afflicted with permanent worrying syndrome). Deciding where to go, how to get there, where to stay and what to do that doesn’t involve sitting in a hotel room looking at family photos and eating crisps you bought at the airport because you’re too scared to talk to the locals and eat proper food, is overwhelming at first. After all, the world is a huge place and you’re just one tiny person!  But hopefully, these tried and tested methods will help you deal with the first stages of preparation, and you will feel more confident and empowered to go out into the world as an independent, anxious little bean.

 

Bruges canal with medieval building, taken during first solo travel experience
A typical Bruges scene, 2014.

 

“Deciding what to do that doesn’t involve sitting in a hotel room looking at family photos and eating crisps you bought at the airport because you’re too scared to talk to the locals is overwhelming at first.”

 

1. Decide where to go!

 

Grab an atlas, & have a look at what’s closest if you’re only having a short break, or what has the most scope for exploration if you have more time. One reason I love Europe is the ease of travelling between countries, experiencing different cultures (and language and currency too sometimes) each day, in a matter of hours. But more about that in a later post. Have a think about what kind of trip you’re interested in: cultural, beach, party etc., and start to do some research. It can be as thorough or vague as you’re comfortable with; when making a commitment to visit any particular city, I always do a bit of reading up to work out if it has anything I would be interested in doing, because there’s nothing worse than turning up excited to see a new place, only to discover it’s the most boring place on Earth – trust me on this…

A fantastic starting point would be to simply type the place name into Google, but personally I like to head to the library, grab an atlas and a hundred different travel books, and get to work. As a very visual person, I find it easier to print off a map and start drawing routes and ideas all over it, as a travel cheat sheet for when it comes to booking. Not everybody wants to be this organised and are happy to go with the flow and see what happens, but if I know my time & funds will be limited during a travel break, I always like to be sure I’m getting the very best trip for my money and presence.

I wouldn’t research as far as street map level, but if that’s what works for you, do it! There’s no shame in feeling over-prepared, travelling alone for the first time can be a daunting experience, and you’ll find everybody is more likely to admire you for doing it at all than judge your process.

 

Journal showing solo travel plans
Early stages of planning, March 2015.

 

“There’s no shame in feeling over-prepared, travelling alone for the first time can be a daunting experience, and you’ll find everybody is more likely to admire you for doing it at all than judge your process.”

2. Great, you’ve chosen your route! Now change your mind 300 times.

 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll decide where you ‘definitely 100% HAVE to go this summer’, then realise if you go to another place first, then you could go somewhere else, and then somewhere else, and see 3 other things you HAVE to see instead. Then you’ll reserve a room or a hostel bed, then cancel the booking 20 minutes later when something else looks better. But, despite what our gut often tells us, change is actually good! It means you’ve got an idea in your mind of what you want to get out of your solo mission, even if you don’t fully realise it yet. It also means you can start pinpointing exactly where you want to be at certain times.

For example, last summer I was determined to visit Croatia, so I picked a week out of my travel itinerary and said by that date I had to get there, no arguments. This helped to drive my decisions on which country and city to fly into, which route to take to get there, and how long to give myself in other places.  You don’t have to be completely rigid with this, but if you’re booking flights and trains, it helps to have some idea ahead of time, as often cross-country fares will rise sharply the closer you leave it to the dates you want. Speaking of…

 

Pula ampitheatre
Pula amphitheatre, 2016.

 

“it helps to have some idea ahead of time, as often cross-country fares will rise sharply the closer you leave it to the dates you want.”

 

3. Set your dates.

This is especially important if you have to book time off well in advance, or have fixed holidays like I do. It means you’ll have a much easier time finding flights & hotel availability, and it will give you plenty of time to check funds and repack the same 5 outfits with different sun hat/sandal combinations, before deciding to throw the whole lot out and go shopping instead. As I mentioned above, it will also help focus your mind of where and what you want out of the trip.

 

Utrecht thrift store
Utrecht thrift store, featuring mannequins cooler than me, March 2015.

 

4. Do a thorough investigation about transport options.

It seems pretty obvious, but for example in the UK my options to get to Paris would be to fly, sail, drive or get the Eurostar, all of which are time consuming AF and involve a lot of exhausting effort (are airports the most stressful place on Earth for no reason or is that just me?). If I was in Belgium however, I would be able to simply take the train for 2 hours. Where you go and where you’re heading out from can have a big impact on your trip; if you’re travelling long distances you will spend an entire day (sometimes longer) in one fixed spot, but if for example you flew somewhere closer, you might be able to take the train to the original destination a day later, and see a bit more of the planet than you thought.

Train travel is excellent too because you can see the heart of a country at its little rural stations, in places you wouldn’t normally visit (unless you were kicked off the train in a tiny Swiss village in the middle of nowhere and put on a replacement bus and shipped off to a different station, without having any of this explained to you at all, and to this day still do not fully know why…). Also, if you have your heart set on a location, bear in mind not all airports fly to the same destinations, and you might have to factor in additional travel time to get to getting to where you’re going. If that makes sense.

 

Munich to Fussen train journey
Munich to Füssen train, headed towards the glorious Neuschwanstein castle, July 2016

 

“bear in mind not all airports fly to the same destinations, and you might have to factor in additional travel time to get to getting to where you’re going.”

 

5. Money money money!

 

I don’t mean launch an ABBA tribute act to perform your way around the world, I mean Check. Your. Budget. More than once I’ve reached the last few days of my trip thanking my wiser former self for having a savings account, when the alternative option is to starve and/or not be able to travel home and have to walk from Brussels.  If you book trains in advance, you’ll know you’ve got that paid for, and the money you take with you is yours to fritter away in coffee shops and thrift stores as you wish. Obviously some tickets you can’t buy in advance, so I’m talking about the longer journeys, especially between country borders.

I’m sure you’re a lot more sensible than me, hence why you’re reading an advice guide beforehand, but if we happen to have a shared penchant for thinking ‘it’s fine, money is transient, I don’t need to worry about it!’ bear in mind that at times you will have to have some awareness of your funds, so that you can still buy food and pay bills and all the boring crap you’re trying to forget about when you get home. This isn’t something to be militant about, but it’s going to be especially important if you’re away for a long time, or are relying on buying tickets to get from place to place. Do you have anyone you could call in a favour with if you’re stuck in Romania and need to get to Hungary without money for the train fare? It’s a long way on foot…

P.S. buy a ticket if you visit either of these countries, you aren’t a conductor’s favourite person even if you have one, so if you don’t then I wish you luck – they are often notoriously impatient and seem permanently on the edge of anger, in Budapest I was actually frogmarched down a carriage because I asked which compartment I was sleeping in.

 

collection of different currency coins
A collection of coins collected from different countries, (probably taken in) Prague, August 2015

 

“Do you have anyone you could call in a favour with if you’re stuck in Romania and need to get to Hungary without money for the train fare? It’s a long way on foot…”

 

6. (Because everyone likes to get something for nothing) Celebrate!

You’re on your way to your first, or maybe second better organised, solo adventure into the world! This is a time to be excited, things are paid for, essentials are chosen, research is researched, it’s all becoming very real. This is where you’ve earned yourself a pat on the back, for deciding to do something not everybody could or would feel confident to.

 

Sintra selfie during solo travel to Portugal
Quinta da Regaleira gardens, Sintra, August 2017

 

You go girl!

Literally, go. Go away, get to the library and start looking and booking, now.

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