Although I have spent a great deal of my life traveling, the prospect of doing it alone was a daunting one. During my time in sixth form, I started branching out with my best friend: we went to Paris, and then the following summer we traveled around Europe. It was during this interrail trip that I considered the possibility of a solo trip for the first time. After all, the two of us were managing fine booking hostels, catching flights, and organizing ourselves – why would it be any different if I was on my own? These days anyway when you are traveling alone, you are never really alone. The hostel culture which now exists worldwide means that you can mix with like minded travelers and essentially have ready made friends waiting for you. Gone are the days when hostels were dingy, dirty and looked down on. Now, if you choose wisely you can go somewhere with free wifi, a quirky roof top bar, and clean, spacious rooms. Of course, you still get what you pay for and quality is varied, but that’s what the review section of hostelworld.com is for!
I was set up to spend last summer in Rome as an au-pair when my host family told me that for two weeks they’d be going on holiday. It was a few weeks before my planned arrival. I thought, I could remain in my apartment in Rome, await their return and explore the city but I had my entire placement to do this. Croatia kept popping in to my mind. It was on my list of places to go and earlier that year, I had unsuccessfully tried to persuade friends to travel around it with me. Before I could change my mind, I’d booked myself a flight to Split and started looking at hostels.
1) Start small
I’d already had some experience in navigating around Europe, and Croatia was only a short flight away from Rome so it didn’t feel as overwhelming as it would’ve done if I’d decided to whisk myself off to Australia for a fortnight. If you try smaller trips away nearer to home, then eventually you’ll have the confidence to go further afield. After a few solo trips, I’m now quite happy at the prospect of my year abroad in China in which I plan to travel as much of the surrounding countries as possible.
2) Choose your hostel wisely
As a solo-traveler, it is so important to look at the reviews and try to gauge what kind of accommodation you’re considering. I always go for hostels closest to the centre, but now I was also looking at how they were rated for atmosphere and social life. If you’re by yourself, you don’t want to go to a hostel which has more emphasis on peace and quiet. Good websites to peruse include: hostelbookers.com, hostelworld.com, and other travel blogs. Try to go for the ones with later check out times, you don’t want to get kicked out at 9am after only getting in a few hours before and scrambling to round up your stuff while you can barely function.
3) Get involved
A great way to make friends is to stay in the largest dorm they offer (which is also the cheapest) and start chatting to your roommates on arrival. It’s all too easy to slink off by yourself and go sightseeing alone (which, as I’ll come to, is fine on occasion) but you could be missing out on making friends for life. I’ve stayed in touch with so many people that I’ve met in hostels, some of whom are included in this post. In fact, I found it easier to make friends when I did finally take the plunge into traveling solo. When you are with someone, not only are you complacent because have them to cling onto, but others do not feel as strong an urge to talk to you as you are already occupied. Chat to everyone, explore the hostel, hang out in the common room and enquire at the reception to see if there are any organized activities. If you do go to a hostel renowned for it’s social atmosphere then try to go to the group gatherings. Most party hostels, for example, will organize pre-drinks for everyone before leading you off out to the local bars. There are also usually fun daytime activities too. For example, in Carpe Noctem in Budapest they organized an underground tunnel trip among other things, or if we didn’t fancy the event on a particular day we would explore by ourselves.
4) Don’t be afraid to be alone
By the same merit, don’t be afraid to have a bit of down time, especially if you’re traveling for a more prolonged period. After a few days of being constantly surrounded by people, it is nice to take yourself out for lunch or have a wander around. We live in a society where quite often people feel embarrassed to be seen in a restaurant on their own. There is nothing wrong with spending time by yourself and it’s not at all an indication of your popularity. If you feel intimidated, then take a book with you to occupy yourself or write in a journal (I would recommend everyone to keep a travel journal, they are fascinating to look back on). People who are confident to spend time (and travel) alone are more self assured and more in tune with their instincts – they need to be as there is no one else looking out for them.
5) Go with the flow
The good thing about traveling alone is that you can do exactly what you want, when you want without having to compromise with anyone. A lot of the time people get to a place and end up extending their stay a lot longer than planned. Allow for this. That’s one of the best parts about traveling, and meeting people, joining them temporarily then going off in a different direction when the time is right. I wish I’d done more of this. While I was in Zadar, I met a great group of people from Liverpool who invited me to go along with them to Soundwave (a music festival). I didn’t go and it was probably a good thing because it would’ve taken up quite a lot of my budget, but I still regret it.
6) Keep organized and stay safe
Make sure you’re organized at all times. I am probably the most disorganized person I know, so I made sure to keep several copies of my flight and hostel itineraries on me, both on my phone, and hard copies. The majority of hostels – in Europe anyway – have lockers (and you can usually confirm this on their website/review sites), so you don’t need to worry about your valuables although I would keep the ones you bring with you on your trip to a minimum. I’m prone to losing things so I always leave my passport at the reception desk. Obviously, use your common sense while traveling. The same rules apply to traveling alone as traveling in general. Trust your intuition. It’s probably not a good idea to get completely wasted on your own unless you’re with people who you’ve come to trust, but even then try to be more cautious than usual. Always have the name of your hostel written down in a couple of places (some of them have wristbands so you can just show a taxi driver where to take you if needs be). When you first arrive, familiarize yourself with the area and any major monuments you can use as pointers in case you get lost.
Above all, have fun! These are just things I’ve learned from my own experiences, I’m by no means an expert as the few solo trips I’ve taken have been short term. Even so, they taught me a lot about myself. Not in the sense of ‘finding myself’, but in the practical sense of how I react to certain situations, how I organize myself, and how I handle being on my own and the feelings that accompany this.