As a perpetually timid person, many of my close friends and family were shocked when I decided to follow my dreams and quit my corporate 9-5 to travel through Europe solo in the fall of 2012. To be honest, there were quite a few times when I didn’t think that I could do it (I planned my entire trip in less than a month!) However, the experience ended up being one of the most amazing of my life and truly helped shape the person who I am today.
Traveling solo is a completely different experience than your typical vacation. To me, it is a much more introspective experience that gives you the opportunity to grow and develop immensely. During my trip abroad not only did I learn more about myself in 6 weeks than I had in years, but I also felt incredibly empowered knowing that I could truly do anything if I set my mind to it. It is also nice because it gives you the flexibility to do and see exactly what you want. As a photographer, I loved being able to take as many pictures as my heart desired (yes, it is completely ok to spend 30 minutes taking photos of that tree!) I chose to spend half the trip in Paris. I chose to take a cooking class. I chose to spend days simply getting lost in twisted European streets. And you know what, it was all fine because I only had to worry about pleasing myself!
The hardest part of the trip was, as cheesy as it sounds, that I really missed then boyfriend, now husband. I had never been away from him for more than two weeks and I distinctly remember laying in bed at night before I left thinking “You’re crazy! Why are you doing this? You’re going to be miserable and homesick the entire trip!” But then slowly my thoughts began to change and I realized that I was strong and could do anything I set my mind to. It helped that Ryan was 100% supportive (like always) and encouraged me to push myself and live my dreams. I did miss him immensely, but it was manageable and honestly made coming home and seeing him waiting at the airport with a big bouquet of flowers that much more special. My only regret was that I had so many amazing experiences that I wanted to share with him…but that just means I will have to go back and do them all over again with him!
For those of you who are contemplating traveling solo, congratulations! Trust me…if I can do it anyone can. I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and tips on being a solo female traveler, but if you have any questions, need advice, or just need someone to motivate you to take the plunge please feel free to leave me a note in the comments section. Bon voyage!
Sleeping. This for me was my biggest decision. Since I never had the opportunity to study abroad in college, I also never had the experience of staying in a hostel. This was something I went back and forth on. I liked the idea of staying in a hostel because obviously it’s cheaper, but also because it would have been a great way to meet people. However, I was also worried that I was already going so far outside of my comfort zone by traveling through Europe alone that if I pushed myself too far I might not enjoy myself. Plus, because I was spending multiple weeks in one destination at a time, I wanted to stay somewhere that would give me a little more of the comforts of home and privacy. Ultimately I decided on a mixture of staying in hotels and renting flats, which turned out to be perfect for me. I had my own studio in Paris, and by the end of my time there it truly felt like home. It was definitely more expensive than staying in hostels, but thankfully I had saved up enough that I could afford to travel the way that was the most comfortable for me.
Eating. Have you ever gone out to eat alone? At lunch I would sit in a café with my favorite book and watch the people pass by – definitely one of my all-time favorite activities while traveling! Dinner was a bit different and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I did feel strange at times being the only solo diner in a restaurant, so many nights I would sit at the bar and make friends with the bartender. But ultimately you are your own best company, so just enjoy the time to relax and take it all in.
Meeting people. The last time I was in a completely new city and forced to meet all new people was when I was a freshman in college. That was over eleven years ago (even though it seems like only yesterday), so I was definitely a bit rusty in this area. But I’m happy to say I met some amazing people on my trip. How did I do it? Signing up for free walking tours was a great way to get oriented in a new city as well as meet fellow travelers. I also took a cooking class in Paris where I learned how to make croissants and pain au chocolat and met an absolutely darling girl from the UK who I ended up spending quite a lot of time with over my three weeks there. Again, if this is your number one concern then I think the best way to meet people is staying in a hostel. However, I was lucky in the fact that I had friends in some of the places I traveled and my mom decided to come visit me for a few days in Paris!
Safety. My biggest concern in regards to traveling solo was most certainly safety. I did some research, and to appease my parents’ fears I purchased a few “personal safety” items to bring along with me. I can’t tell you if these would actually help keep you safe (thankfully I didn’t have to use them) but they did make me feel more confident which I believe is half the battle. I brought a Door Stop Alarm (to alert you if someone is opening your front door), a Neck Stash to keep my important documents during travel days, and a Personal Alarm. Paranoid a little? Perhaps. But I always believe that it’s better safe than sorry.
Staying in touch. For me, this was simple! I started a blog as a way for friends and family to follow my adventures. I didn’t get any kind of data plan, as I simply didn’t use my phone (except for those few times I was absurdly lost and had to turn on my Google Maps, which unfortunately cost me an arm and a leg in roaming fees). And Skype really is a modern miracle!
Averting pickpockets. Europe has a reputation of being full of thieves and pickpockets, and while in most areas this isn’t true, I found that there were quite a few in popular tourist locations as well as on public transportation. The best way to protect yourself from this? Don’t be a “tourist.” It is always important to be cognizant of your surroundings and your belongings, especially while on public transportation or at any popular tourist destination. Nose behind a map? Wearing a fanny pack? Yelling in American English? Yeah, most likely a thief will be able to pick you out of a crowd. My best recommendation is to simply act confident and try to blend in. Do as the locals do. And just be aware. If you do that, I believe you can prevent the majority of robberies…as most likely there is a “tourist” ripe for the picking next to you.
Documenting your travels. Bring the best camera you can afford (I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a Nikon 35mm film camera) and be sure not to forget a charger, extra batteries, memory cards, etc. I love to sit down and look through old photos of my travels, and know that the older I get the more I will cherish them. Also, I brought along a journal for me to write down memories, save mementos, sketch, etc. I didn’t use it to simply document my day-to-day activities, but rather wrote down small moments throughout the trip. And if you like blogging, that is a great way to document your journey as well!
Other pieces of advice. Have fun! Go outside of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation with a stranger, you never know where it may lead. Take mental photographs. Be spontaneous. Eat (and drink) local specialties. Go off the beaten path. Notice the big things and notice the little things. Remember, it is not always the destination but how you get there that is the most important part of the journey. Push yourself to try something new every day! Live life with no regrets…and bon voyage!