I did my first trip across Western Europe back in 2014 together with 3 other friends. I’ve traveled with friends in past but it was not longer than a week. In that particular trip, we were together for 17 days across 6 different countries. First few days were fun and then we started to had conflicts.
Conflicts about really small stupid things. One wanted to eat fish and one wanted to eat lamb. One wanted to hike mountain further and one was done halfway through the summit. The trip ended with good memories but it left a huge strain on friendships. That’s when I learned that there are buddies and there are travel buddies and these two shouldn’t be confused with each other.
In April 2015, I was very depressed due to things going on with my personal life and I had needed a break so I decided to travel again. Only problem, I had no travel buddy. And with that, the idea of traveling solo was born in my mind. I had a two big problems with traveling solo though,
- My social skills sucked
- Being in a new place/situation made me anxious
Thought of being in a strange city all by myself gave me cramps in stomach. How am I gonna get into plane, what I will do after getting off the plane, what and how I will order food at restaurants. What I will do alone? At that point, what I didn’t know that traveling solo is not traveling alone. So I told myself, I am not happy at the moment anyway, what’s the worse that can happen with traveling alone.
So, I booked the flight from Eindhoven (a city in south of Netherlands) to Budapest and a return Flight from Vilnius to Eindhoven after 13 days. I also planned the cities and places I am gonna visit. I had no idea how it will work out. I started the journey from Amsterdam at noon and I was in Budapest around 7–8 PM. Took the Metro and ended up at the Heros Square where I was going to stay. Phew, that was not too hard, I told myself.
Before going the apartment I was going to staying in, I decided to take a stroll in neighborhood and find someplace where I can eat something. On the way, I saw a Pizza place and decided to get something from there. I had such a huge anxiety attack, I walked around the shop for 5 minutes. I was thinking, how am I gonna order something in a language that I don’t speak? I decided to take the huge risk (yes, at that time it was huge deal) and went in. The lady on the counter was very rude and didn’t speak and understand English. There goes my confidence that I got earlier. I went to the apartment I was staying, met with my host. Had a bit of talk with him and decided to crash. I had no plan what to do next morning.
But something amazing happened next morning. I ended up at a bike rental shop and rented a bike from there. That was the start of awesomeness. I cycled to the hill and saw the city from there. I talked to a couple there and they asked me what I was doing there. I told them that I cycled up here and I am doing a solo trip across Eastern Europe. They were fascinated and told me that it was awesome what I was doing. That gave me a huge boost. Just in one day, I was a confident person!
Later in the evening, I went to a famous restaurant full of people and got the reservation and ended up having dinner with two Chinese girls who were also in the waiting list. That night, I knew that things are gonna be awesome and that’s exactly how it turned out to be. I went from one city to another myself using bike, buses, trains. On the way, met amazing people and hangout with them.
After that trip in April, I’ve done 3 more solo trips exploring 8 new countries, and will do another in December. It gave me the confidence and social skills that I couldn’t have acquired anywhere else. The most important thing that I learned was, who I am. What I like and what I don’t really like. And I shouldn’t push the things upon myself that I don’t really like just because everyone else is doing that. I found that I am an introvert not socially awkward. I learned how to react in certain situations.
If you haven’t done solo traveling, I highly encourage you do that. Trust me, you will find things about yourself that will surprise you. You’ll learn about the potential you have in yourself.
How to Travel Solo and not Alone
I am asked this question all the time, specially from elderly ladies with a bit of empathy in their eyes, “Awe, you’re traveling alone? You don’t have anyone?” No madam, I am traveling solo not alone and yes, I don’t have anyone to travel with, that part you got right.
So the next question I am asked is, how do you meet people? And I tell them, just like that. You see, you’re a stranger person on airport or bus and I started conversation with you, we might hang out later today or tomorrow.
That’s exactly what I do. The moment I enter airport, I look out for the person that has a friendly vibe around them (you get this super power over the time) and they’re busy with a newspaper, laptop or mobile but you can feel they’re bored. I go to them and strike up conversation with the simplest question ever. “So where are you flying to?” or “What brings you to this city?” and from there is series of questions like “How did you like this city?”. Trust me, everyone have their stories to tell, all you have to do is ask. That applies to all the buses or trains I take.
It’s also a good idea to stay in hostels compare to Airbnb or hotel. In hostels you meet new people who are curious like you. I go to cafes and restaurants and ask the people sitting nearby if they’re local or traveler like me and have the conversation going on from there regardless the answer. I also happen to be nature lover who loves hiking and people meet people during hiking and there, I find it easiest to start small talk as you know they love nature just like you do.
How to Survive Loneliness
Even with all these tricks, there are times when I find myself alone or worse, lonely. I remember my afternoons in Tromso Norway, a night in Sofia, an evening in Bratislava when I felt terribly lonely. Probably, it’s gonna happen to you as well during long trips. But those lonely hours turned out to be the moments when I found real me.
So what do I do when this happens? It’s something that you will have to figure out yourself. For me, its nature. I turn to nature to find comfort. It doesn’t have to be a magnificent waterfall, or a mighty mountain. It could be something as simple as a sunset, sunrise and shining stars on night sky. I put on some ambient music and see the nature dance around me and makes me feel connected to this World and myself.
So how does those moments of solitude/loneliness made me find real myself? I was sitting by myself near Divin castle outside Bratislava one evening after having a massive pub crawl the night before. It was sunset timing and I watched sun set into Danube river while I listened to my favorite music on headphones. At that moment, I realized how much I enjoyed this experience, I didn’t wanted to be anywhere else crowded but sit here in solitude and have this experience. It’s when I started to realized that if I want to stay at home on Friday night, that’s not because I had bad social skills but I wouldn’t enjoy in a crowded place like a bar or club. Now on weekends, instead of feeling bad about not going to parties and clubs, I try to figure out outdoor activities like stargazing or hiking in forests and I can’t be more happier. It also helped me improve my confidence level and now I can have conversation going on for hours with a random stranger.