Travelling has long been on my bucket list ever since I was independent enough to earn my own living but travelling solo around Europe was one of the biggest goals I have set for myself.
While I have gone on solo travelling to Taiwan and New Zealand before, Europe seemed to be more difficult and intimidating considering that I was going to do it alone #solotravel, this time lengthier than the past few trips, and that it is considerably further from the Asian countries I’ve been to so far.
There were a number of concerns and considerations that I had to deal with prior to and during the trip. Most of these concerns were from my loved ones although I had my fair share of pre-travel jitters.
Fast forward to today, I have broken my own travel record on several levels.
Europe is the third continent I have been in.
This trip is the longest I have travelled solo so far, 28 days.
I have added five new countries to my travelled list.
Germany is now the furthest country I have been to, after New Zealand.
In general, every travelling solo experience I have taken has taught me practical lessons. While I have enjoyed Europe’s rich history, amazing architects and beautiful landscape, this trip has taught me something more valuable.
If #solotravel is in your bucket list, below pointers may help you.
You might want to first identify where you are heading.
If you are travelling long-term and are flexible about your travels, then fine, but if you are travelling for a limited period of time, it will help a great deal to identify the locations you want to cover (if more than one). You will save more time and less hassle as well.
Technically, the three main factors to consider would be transport, accommodation and interests you want to include in your itinerary.
Generally, the amount of time you stay in each place could be dependent on what you want to do or where you want to visit during your stay. There could be a number of things/places you want to cover but if you limit yourself in the onset, you might find yourself rushing through the itinerary and end up not enjoying it.
There are already a number of good travel blogs out there that can provide you with the information you want and time and money you’ll save from taking certain routes.
Travelling across places eat up time. Would you be comfortable travelling overnight on trains and buses?
If you prefer to travel during the day across borders, consider losing that day to transportation alone.
Also, consider the location and check in/out time of your accommodation. Consider how long would it take for you to travel between locations and your accommodation. Could you keep your luggage in the lockers in centrally accessible stations instead?
In most cases, you can leave your luggage at your hotels and hostels if you arrive before check-in time, but some Airbnb is less flexible and require check-in after certain timing as the hosts may be working during the day.
If you are travelling short term, it would be less time-consuming and troublesome to have your journey planned out in advance. If you plan your journey earlier, you might enjoy some discounts for early purchases. If you do it later, you might encounter pricier fees, or sometimes lack availability.
Even if you are travelling long-term, you can enjoy a good start to have something worked out for the first few days and decide later on where and when you want to move next.
Some of the more troublesome issues would be if you need to have hard copies printed, or if you have to pay over unsecured connections.
You get to set your own itinerary, schedule and pace.
As you can see from above point, you might have already realised that all the decisions are to be made by you.
You are the master here. You plan, research and decide what you want to see and think is worth going for. You get to decide how many days you want to stay in a place and how you want to do it (affordable or comfortably?)
Would you travel with less connection or do you need a sim card at each location? In my years of travel (except for business trips), I have never purchased a local sim card, but I ensured myself a roaming line from home. Not when I was spending a week in the Philippines, two weeks in NZ, nor when I was in Europe.
In today’s world, we are pretty much connected. Most of the places you stay, even Airbnb, offer free wifi. Some countries provide wifi on public transport or within the vicinity of tourist attractions as well; makes me think Singapore is a little behind sometimes.
You don’t have to seek others’ opinion or consensus than if you were travelling together. Nor do you need to compromise. If you decided to visit someplace or join a tour and changed your mind later on, it’s totally fine.
On days when you want to set off earlier, you don’t have to wait. On days when you want to lie in, you don’t have to explain either.
You are responsible for yourself in so many ways, in terms of your safety, your punctuality, your decisions.
Buy your travel insurance, make sure your accommodation and transport are booked, keep copies of your important documents.
If you miss your train or get sick on the road, you are responsible to rectify your situation and take care of yourself.
You learn to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions for yourself. Would you go for price or comfort? Where would you seek treatment from if you get a bad cough or flu on the go? What happens if you lost your baggage?
You need to take care of yourself because no one else will. And no one is expected to carry your weight for you so you need to pack wisely as well.
Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t take your research for granted. For instance, in a safe country, don’t assume you are safe 100%. Low crime doesn’t mean no crime.
If you see an empty alley and feel that it’s not safe even in broad daylight, then follow your gut. It’s better to take a detour than risk your property and life for a shortcut. Furthermore, you won’t know when accidents will happen so be aware as you would when in a new environment.
Keep your personal and important belongings safe. Some are comfortable leaving their belongings in a locker, while some would prefer keeping their important stuff with them all the time. It’s all up to you.
You learn to be resourceful.
Even if you have done a detailed research before your trip, you are bound to get lost in a new environment. It’s the beauty of travelling.
You could choose to consult Google Maps (have the GPS set in advance while you have a wifi connection if you don’t have local sim/data), or you could ask for directions.
Some would have no qualms about asking for help when they are lost, but to some, it may be an awkward and difficult experience. If you choose to ask, make sure you know how and who to approach. Generally, ask the locals.
Or you can learn to read printed maps and navigate your way around while identifying landmarks you passed.
You can opt for *free walking tours (they are actually tip based) or join paid tour groups. Free walking tours are generally touch-and-go and usually last for two hours with sufficient information and a brief history of the location to a newcomer. I personally enjoy the ones that were led by the locals themselves more and I tend to go for the first available tour once I arrive so that I don’t have to waste time searching, reading up and trying to identify popular spots or landmarks by myself. After the tour, you can choose to re-visit the spots that you want to explore further.
Travelling solo offers so much more than the practical tips above.
In some aspects, there are similarities when you have a travel buddy. With a buddy, you might face conflicts, but when you travel solo, you tend to direct all compliments and sarcasm that you might say, to yourself.
“Good job for successfully finding that little spot someone recommended online”
“I should have followed my heart and turned right just now”
“How could I confused myself with the exchange rate?? I’ve just lost $30 to that commission!”
After much internal and external struggles, you will find that it’s worth it when you are rewarded with amazing views and experiences.
On a deeper level, here are what I learned.
You will learn to identify, face and accept your weaknesses
We may know what our strengths are when we travel; taking Insta-worthy photos, map reading, planning, managing itinerary, staying on budget and so on, but perhaps quite reluctant to reveal our weaknesses as they make us seem, well, weak. And often times, they uncover the downsides of travelling alone.
Most times when we travel, we are bound to experience one of the few below; you get to meet people, you get to try new food and drinks and you get to experience what something new. However, if you don’t, it’s okay.
You may dislike the uncomfortable feeling of skydiving when everyone else raves about it, and that’s okay.
You may be a lone traveller and choose to spend the most time with yourself, and that’s okay too.
You may not like to taste the exotic local food, and that’s alright as well.
Are you less keen to haggle and bargain? I know I am.
Not every experience will end positively, but almost all experience will teach you something.
You will find out the type of traveller you are and your travel preferences.
Are you into shopping? Are you into the culture? Some people hate museum visiting, and that’s okay.
Are you a foodie? Are you into excitement like bungee-jumping or would you rather avoid scary experiences like that?
Do you tend to be more thrifty? Or do you just want to enjoy yourself?
Do you prefer to travel light with backpacks or do you need to dress up every day?
Whichever type you are, you will know more about yourself when you travel.
There may be things, people or experience that you cannot accept, and that is okay.
You learn to listen to yourself.
If you are feeling unsure about something, most times you’re right. If a tour price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes, it’s a good practice to be extra vigilant about reviews online too.
You also learn to be present and take rest when you are tired.
Be prepared to spend lots of time alone, with yourself, even when there are delicious food and breathtaking sceneries that you wish you could share with your loved ones.
There will also be time for you to sit and ponder, if long enough, about your life.
I have had a huge amount of time for myself, especially when I am offline (without wifi). On several occasions, I was able to grief for my loss by myself. I was also able to work on my own inner issues with comparison and feeling of lack. Later on, I was able to work on planning my next steps ahead.
You learn to manage uncomfortable feelings and insecurities.
This was something new that I encountered on this trip. With terrorist attacks happening on and off these days, it was quite a fearful experience for me when I came across three incidents suspected to be linked to terrorism in my four weeks of travel. It has definitely made me more aware and safety-conscious when I was on public transport and at places where crowds are imminent. On the plus side, it has also prompted me to explore off the tourist tracks and less crowded spots.
While fear of terrorism may put some of us off travelling, it does not mean we will be safer when we don’t travel at all.
You might discover a new interest or find your old hobby back again.
Beyond the touristy things to do like immersing in local food, history and meeting new friends, you might end up (re)discovering your interests from cooking to art, reading to painting or even blogging or excitement hunting.
As for me, I found art and music education interesting through museums visiting. I also rediscovered my long time hobby of reading and completed 6 books in four weeks, something I haven’t done for a long time.
You pick up skills along the way.
It could be learning to read maps, a bargain at flea markets, communicate without speaking, a new language, a dance, or even dealing with difficult people or situations.
You might also learn to be more flexible and less rigid, adaptive to others and less judgemental, or uncover a different aspect of you you’d never realised.
You learn to enjoy yourself and see with your heart.
Travelling solo is a great experience, but most great experiences are experienced when we are truly present.
Most times, we try to capture our best and most beautiful moments in pictures. It’s tempting to snap and share as much as we can especially the picturesque sceneries, but some views can never be captured by the camera, just as some memories can never be retained through videos or stories.
To truly enjoy your travel experience, look up and be fully present. If we are always diving into our phones for the next update or constantly navigating in the map, we are missing out a lot, and most importantly the point of travelling.
Sometimes the best places we discover are when we’re lost, and perhaps the best experience we’d have are not written in the itinerary.
Travelling alone is not the easiest experience especially for a female, but it can be the most liberating and empowering experience you can allow for yourself.
When you travel solo, most times, you are on a journey with yourself. Most times, you will have yourself pulled in different directions and you will have to deal with uncomfortable situations such as braving yourself through night travel or managing situations on your own. You might not be fully asleep at night especially when you stay in hostels or even Airbnb. You might fall sick and have to trudge to the nearest clinic or pharmacy by yourself. You might be stranded somewhere with no one to help you out because they don’t speak your language. You might make mistakes in your booking or confuse locations or you might even miss home so bad.
But through these uncomfortable experiences, you will find who you are because you will know even more about yourself in the process.