How to Travel Alone
I’m currently sitting on a bench in the town centre of Český Krumlov. I’m three weeks into my six-week Europe trip and this is the first day where I’m completely alone. It’s funny because I’m considered a “solo traveller.”
In London, Nuremburg and Friedrichshafen I had friends; in Berlin, Munich and Prague I met people at my hostels and on walking tours. Meeting people is one of my favorite things about travel and I’m really glad I made a lot of new friends so far. Now it’s halfway through the trip, and I think I need a breather.
This morning I left my hostel in Prague and took a bus to Český Krumlov, a little medieval town (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) three hours away. I arrived at noon and wandered around by myself for two hours, then I joined a walking tour. I was the only solo traveler on the tour—everyone else was either a family or a couple. Usually I would try to talk to other travellers on these kinds of tours, but I didn’t feel like engaging with any of the couples or families. So I just went on the tour without introducing myself to a single person.
The tour was great—John, our tour guide showed us around all of Český Krumlov and the castle on the other side of river. I even learned the difference between Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque style windows. The tour ended at the Castle Gardens, a huge one-kilometre long Baroque style garden. I wandered around the garden by myself for two hours, resting for quite a bit along the way.
Now I’ve just had dinner and here I am enjoying the great weather on a bench in the town square. It’s quite relaxing, being alone and people watching through my sunglasses. I saw three young girls take pictures of all the funny shapes they could make with their shadows. I also watched a couple of pigeons struggle to eat a large piece of bread I dropped on the ground. They pecked at the bread at least 15 times for all the bread to be gone, haha. It’s also good to see families, friends and couples just enjoying themselves.
I’d like to think of Český Krumlov as a vacation from my vacation. I’m completely alone and I can do whatever I want. It’s going to rain the whole day tomorrow so I think I’ll find a cute café somewhere and just rest. If I walk any more, my body’s going to have a permanent ache or something.
Why Travel Alone?
A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I’m in Europe for six weeks by myself.
Wait, they say, You’re alone for more than a month? Won’t you be bored?
Well, I’m not exactly alone all the time. When I say I’m “traveling alone,” it means I’m just going from one city to another by myself. I think I’d actually go crazy if I were by myself for more than a few days and didn’t talk to anyone. I’d probably be bored out of my mind.
Here are some of favourite things about travelling alone:
You can do whatever you want.
I can go wherever I want, I can eat whatever I want, I can rest whenever I want. I can plan the whole trip myself—or not plan, depending on how I feel—and I don’t have to care about what another person wants to do or see.
Don’t get me wrong. I love travelling with friends too. You get to experience things together and make some awesome memories. In fact, some of my favourite trips were with friends. But some of my other favourite trips were solo trips. I love both!
It’s so easy to meet people.
One of my favourite things is meeting new people and learning about them. When you’re travelling, it’s so easy to meet people who come from completely different backgrounds. But the funny thing is, it’s so easy to start a conversation because you know you at least have one thing in common: travelling!
Though I’m traveling alone, my goal isn’t to be alone. My goal is to meet cool and interesting people along the way. I’ve made many friends in my three weeks of at hostels, on walking tours, and just by chance!
There’s no trick. It just takes a simple “Hi, where are you from?” to start a conversation.
In Munich, when I was waiting for a walking tour to start, I noticed that the person beside me had green flip-flops with the Brazilian flag on it. “Hey, are you from Brazil?” I asked. Turns out, Jessica grew up in Vancouver and now lives in Hong Kong. We started chatting and later on in the day, we went to Hofbräuhaus together with some of the others from the walking tour. I learned more about her and guess what? We have the same birthday! What! So crazy!
Travelling alone is fun and you learn a lot.
You’re all by yourself and you have to figure everything out. It’s a puzzle you have to solve and sometimes you’ll get stuck. But in the end, things always work out and you can give yourself a pat on the back. What fun!
You also learn a lot about how to do things. I always say that travel is one of the best forms of education because it teaches you to be independent, take initiative, and adapt to unfamiliar environments.
What Makes Me Anxious About Travelling Alone
The downside is that I sometimes get anxious or paranoid when travelling alone.
Switching destinations especially makes me anxious. If I miss a flight, train or bus, it’s completely all my fault. Okay fine, the point is not that I would have someone to blame if I weren’t travelling alone, but that it puts a lot of pressure on myself to not mess things up. Being in a city where you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with the transportation systems makes things a little scary. But I guess it’s a good scary because you can learn to be more independent.
Also, I never knew how paranoid I could be. I’m secretly scared that the trains or buses I take will take me to a different destination. But that has never happened, thankfully. Even today, after I got on the bus to Český Krumlov, I got off the bus after 10 minutes of waiting for other passengers to get on so I could check that my backpack was actually in the baggage compartment at the bottom of the bus. Way too paranoid!
How Do You Travel Alone?
An interesting question my friends always ask is how to travel alone.
Well, the most obvious answer is to buy a train ticket or flight for yourself, and go, duh!
Haha, just kidding. When my friends ask me how to travel alone, I know they actually mean this: How do you stay safe? How do you know who to trust? Aren’t you scared you’ll get lost? Aren’t you scared your wallet will get stolen?
These are very important questions, for sure. There is always risk in travelling, but there are ways to minimize it. Here are some of the things I do to make sure I stay safe and minimize the risk of getting mugged or lost, for example.
Always have a local phone number with minutes/texting and data and tell people where you are.
When I travel alone, I always—like always always always—make sure the first thing I do is get a SIM card. Then I give my family my number just in case anything happens. I also give my friends in that country/continent my number.
Before I left for Europe, I also made an Excel document for my parents outlining the contact information of hostels I’m staying at and which flights/trains I’ve booked. I also asked my European friends for their number and shared that information with my parents.
Research before you travel.
This is a must! You wouldn’t choose a university without doing research on it or go in for a job interview without preparing for it, right? Same for a trip, and especially for a trip where you are unfamiliar with the language, country or culture.
Before coming to Europe, I Googled many things, including:
How to stay safe in Europe
Tips for first time in Europe
Can I drink the tap water in Europe
How to use public transportation in Prague (or whichever city)
Simple phrases for travelers in German (or whichever language)
Average prices in Prague (or whichever city)
Withdrawing from ATM in Europe
Use common sense.
I like this one the best because it’s so darn simple!
For example, if I’m at a train station and I’m looking for something, I will always try to ask someone who works there. Or, I ask multiple people just in case someone lies to me or has wrong information.
I love making new friends, but I don’t make friends with everyone I meet. When I meet new people, I ask them about where they go to school or where they work. If something about them seems off, I subtly end the conversation or make an excuse to go somewhere else.
When I take a bus, train or plane by myself and I need to use the washroom, I take my bag with me. I know, I know, 99% of the time no one will touch my bag, but what about the 1%? My passport, phone and wallet are the most important things on me and I absolutely can’t lose any of them.
Take It One Step at a Time
I want to mention one last thing: This six-week Europe trip is not the first time I’m travelling alone, although it is the first time I’m travelling alone for this long.
I guess you could say I’ve been “practicing” for solo travel. I’ve taken flights by myself when I was a teenager. I’ve travelled to places with just one other friend or a couple of friends. My first solo trips were Hong Kong last year, and Taiwan this year; both these trips were about eight days long.
So having travelled by myself for short periods of time, I was comfortable with the idea of six-weeks in Europe by myself—well, “by myself” because I would expect to make some cool friends along the way.
I hope this post has been helpful for you guys. For anyone who’s considering taking a solo trip, do it! Just remember to stay safe and use common sense.
If you’ve never taken a solo trip by yourself before, take it one step at a time. Maybe you can plan a trip with a friend first. Then, when you’re comfortable with the idea of being in an unfamiliar environment, plan a shorter trip for just yourself, maybe to a country where you can speak the language. Then go crazy! Okay, not crazy, but you know what I mean.
Another good thing about making friends along the way is that they can help you take some cool pictures. That’s totally not the most important part about travelling, right?