Travelling solo is certainly an experience. A lot of blogs online promote solo travel in line with the way most things are portrayed online – only talking about the positives and never acknowledging the negatives. It’s easy to see why it’s done, but the lack of transparency does suck for many reasons – one main one being: what do you do when you’re not enjoying yourself, and all you can find to help you online are quotes about how #enlightened and #lifebeginsoutofyourcomfortzone you should feel right now? Well for me, when I was in this situation, I found myself feeling pretty inadequate.
I travelled solo for the first time in Europe 2016. And to be honest, my initial reaction to it was that it sucked. I didn’t feel comfortable putting myself out there, getting to know people who quickly moved onto another destination, the uncertainty, getting lost and having no one to laugh about it with, and – as a solo female traveller – the unwanted male attention I received.
I ended up finding a last minute tour and jumped on it – admittedly I spent a lot of days after on a diet of 2-minute noodles to pay for it – but it worked out wonderfully in the end as I made friends on the tour that I then continued to travel with afterwards. It built my confidence back up and made the rest of my travels more enjoyable. I then continued to travel by myself, and plan on doing so again this year. They do say ‘you win or you learn’ and Europe 2016 was a steep learning curve for me, but one that I have found has led to increased confidence in my own ability to look out for myself and find life generally more enjoyable.
From what I’ve experienced and learnt I worked out a few tips if you are not enjoying solo travel and want to pull yourself out of the slump. Although I was quite critical at first, there are some tried and tested methods that made a big difference to my own experience:
1. THE BIG ONE: ACCEPT IT
We get told all the time how great travel is (and they’re true) and how great solo travel is (depending on who you are this may apply or not apply to you). When I realised I was struggling being by myself I felt ashamed and as though I had failed. I also found when I told people how I felt I was only given generic statements like “get out of your comfort zone!”.
These quotes don’t help when you’re feeling lost/down and they’re also pretty vague. However, the more I travelled and spoke to other solo travellers the more they told me about the various times they had felt the same way. Like all things in life there are negatives – but what makes it infinitely harder is refusing to accept this. Accept there are negatives, and then work out why you feel the way you do, and you’re a lot closer to working out a solution.
2. INITIAL KNOWLEDGE
Go in with the knowledge that solo travel isn’t the same as travelling with friends minus the negatives that inevitably come with travelling with other people – while your travelling companion may annoy you at times, or you may have to compromise more than you like by going with someone – travelling with someone else also provides a lot of positives you may not always realise exist until they are gone. If travelling solo for the first time keep a fresh, open mind about the travelling experience you are going to have. This definitely doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad time travelling by yourself at all – I have friends who would chose solo travel over any other type of travel! – It’s just something to keep in mind.
3. STAY IN CONTACT WITH THE PEOPLE YOU MEET
Especially other solo travellers – I met two great girls in Paris who were both travelling by themselves, we stayed in contact after we all left which is great for a few reasons but two big ones were:
1) I actually got to meet up with one of the girls again in Brussels when our paths crossed again, and it was really good to see a friendly, familiar face.
2) Ain’t nobody like another traveller going to understand what it’s like when things just aren’t going your way. They’re a pretty good person to vent to and a pretty good person to offer solid advice you know isn’t tailored from a generic self-help guide-book.
4. DEALING WITH CREEPS
As a solo female traveller unfortunately I had to deal with more than my fair share of creeps. Not so many I want to run and hide under my blanket forever, but it wasn’t always nice. I learnt four things if I started to get an off vibe from anyone (and trust your instincts on this):
- Don’t tell them you’re travelling alone. Instead say you’ve arrived early, your friends are meeting you tomorrow, you’re on your way to go meet them, etc. It turns anyway with a dodgy motive off pretty quickly if they think you’re known or accountable by the people around.
- Invent a fake boyfriend. If then questioned on his existence (awks), I would then go on to describe my brother to sound legitimate (sorry bro, double awks). I really (really) hate to say it but I often found that even the pretend presence of a male around made me safer.
- If someone is really giving you the creeps and/or wont leave you alone – get your phone or camera out and start filming (or pretend to). Not only is the person harassing you now much more accountable for their actions, with the rise of the Internet everyone is scared of videos of them going viral. It tends to stop anyone who won’t leave you alone pretty quickly.
- This one is obvious but still important: if anyone is making you feel seriously uncomfortable make a lot of noise – scream, shout, every swear word you know, at the end of the day your safety is more important than manners and if you feel like someone is compromising your safety than don’t hesitate to act. The more noise you make and attention you attract from passers by and the better it is for you.
Please note these are worst case scenarios – don’t let this freak you out about solo travelling – there is a very good side to strangers as well not just the weirdos out there – as mentioned further down.
5. FORM A GROUP
If possible, form a group with people in your hostel – it’s pretty easy once you get going as everyone loves to join in on a group chat. It also gets rid of the awkwardness that sometimes occurs with one-on-one conversations.
I’m Australian and when I was in Athens I met an American guy and a Canadian girl both travelling solo. The girl ended up spending an hour almost telling us everything that was wrong about Australia and America – talk about awkward… Well, it would have been had it been one on one, in the group situation it became much less awkward and quite funny to us. (Sometimes when someone looks at you when you tell them your nationality and they say “ugh, my worst nightmare is to share a hostel with an Australian!” you just have to laugh). Groups are a great way to feel more comfortable talking to people, and much less confronting way to get to know others.
Personally, whoever I’ve met that smiles at me when I first meet them are the people I instantly wanted to talk to the most so I tried to do it heaps to others. Smiling is really contagious, if you want to make friends get yo’ smile happening. (Also fun fact: if you feel sad, smiling is one way to force your brain into thinking it’s happier even if it’s not– so it really is a double win).
7. EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING TO OFFER
Think of your best friend back home – they were once a stranger to you. And had you not met and changed your relationship from just strangers you wouldn’t have the great memories you do now with them. Think of that with all the people surrounding you in the hostel and remind yourself everyone has something to offer.
8. DOWNLOAD AN OFFLINE MAP
DO IT. Seriously. Do it. This isn’t necessarily just solo travel advice just IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING DO IT advice. Offline maps work by downloading the map of the city you are in or heading to while in Wi-Fi. Your phone can then access this map when you have no service/Wi-Fi/data and you can use it just like you would with Google Maps. It is a lot easier and a lot less fun to get lost by yourself than with someone else, and an offline map on your phone may be the saving grace you need (and I definitely needed more times than I care to remember). You can check out a few reviews on different offline maps here.
9. HAVE A GO TO SONG, OR LOOK OVER YOUR PHOTOS
Whenever I felt down, I had a look over the photos I had taken so far to remind myself of the things I’d seen and done on the trip. It was a big help and reminded me why I was travelling. I also found certain songs always put me in a good mood. My top recommendations are “Good Life” by One Republic followed closely by “Fader” by The Temper Trap.
10. TAKE ON ADVICE
Everyone has advice to give (Exhibit A right here) I found when I first asked for advice before travelling solo I took everyone’s advice as though it was equal. Looking back I now realise that everyone’s advice was different because they all did various forms of travel and solo travel. Now when I ask for advice I really try to take in the advice that comes from people who did very similar activities (on tour solo vs. not on tour solo; length of time; country visited; temperature!) to what I’m trying to do. It made a big difference for me when it came to what to expect from solo travel.
11. REALISE MOST PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HELP YOU
“You never know who is going to help you so you might as well just ask everyone” is a quote I learnt to live by in the end. The one thing I definitely took away from my time travelling was that 99.99% of people are going to help you and do the right thing. Language barriers or not – I’ve had someone explain to me “stop pushing the train open button, there is a long delay before it will open, the train won’t leave without you getting off” in another language just because they saw me looking confused and worried at the door.
I’ve had people on a bus look up my hostel opening hours on their phone because we were caught in what turned out to be a 4-hour traffic jam, pushing back our arrival into Munich to midnight and I was worried I’d not be able to check in. I’ve had a woman off the street translate and argue with a taxi driver on my behalf because I was getting ripped off, and another woman who pushed me to the front of Ryanair queue because something had gone wrong with my ticket and needed to be handwritten – I had no idea what was going on and if it wasn’t for her, probably would have missed my flight. The list goes on and on and on. Just always try to remember the people around you, no matter who they are, will generally, genuinely try and help you if you only ask (or some cases just look really lost and confused!)
12. FINALLY, IT DOESN’T MATTER
If you really hate it, go back to the first point: accept it and know it doesn’t matter. You haven’t failed. You put yourself out there, you didn’t enjoy it – it’s the same as if you tried a new type of food and didn’t like it. No one is going to think any less of you (especially anyone who has been in your position before) – most people are too focused on their own life to worry too much about what you have and haven’t done with yours. It’s important to remember life isn’t always about challenging and testing yourself – it is also there to simply be enjoyed. If you’ve tried it and didn’t like it, then you’ve definitely learnt something from that – and so technically that’s still a win, not a loss at all.