My first encounter with solo travelling is the movie Before Sunset where a handsome Ethan Hawke convinces a stranger, the beautiful Julie Delphi, to jump off the train and spend the day in Vienna with him.
Unfortunately, my own solo adventure didn’t quite look like this. There was a lot of jumping off trains. But that was only because I’d fallen asleep and missed my stop. Here are some of the things I wished I’d known before adventuring as a party of one.
Pick social hostels
These are the best places to start meeting people as they are full of like-minded travellers embarking on the same adventure you are. At the start, I made the mistake of picking boring, sterile places that had no energy, and struggled to make great friends. Focus on hostels which have reviews raving about the social atmosphere or that host their own social events like free dinners or day trips. You definitely won’t get a 5-star meal, but these events are the best opportunities to strike up conversation with strangers and bond over under-cooked pasta.
Bonus points if the hostel has a common room or its own bar that people hang out in. Actually go and hang out in these common spaces. All the atmosphere in the world won’t make a difference if all you do is stay in your room.
Triple check your departure times
And even when you’re sure you know all the details – check again. Train and bus stations can often be really busy and confusing places. Especially if it’s a country where you’re unfamiliar with the language. Some of the larger cities have at least two airports, and multiple major bus terminals. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself arriving at the wrong station, and no feasible (and cheap) way to catch your train out in time.
Hold your plans loosely
Yes, you should have an idea of where you want to go, and what to do. But it shouldn’t be completely set in stone. Festivals happen. Markets pop up. Roommates invite you on a day trip to other cities. Don’t cling so closely to your perfectly planned itinerary that you miss out on all the fun the city has to offer.
You can plan for every single calamity in the world, and things will still go wrong. Traffic accidents make you miss your bus. Trains will break down. Budget airlines will overbook flights and send you sprinting from one side of the airport to the other (true story). You’ll meet people and fall in love with places that make you seriously consider ripping up your return ticket home. You connect so well with a local that he asks you to just stay one more day. I remember meticulously planning out my whole journey, only to scrap half of it and return to Budapest instead. It was even better the second-time round. Try letting spontaneity take the wheel and just roll with whatever happens.
Fake it till you make it
Literally no one knows what they’re doing. Everyone is winging it and figuring it out as they go. Smile, relax and look approachable. Don’t overthink. No one is looking at you and thinking you’re sad because you’re eating alone. Own it. As you meet people and open up about how you’re really doing, you’ll find that everyone else is just as lost as you are. You’ll make mistakes and realise you should have packed more clothes and less makeup instead. Laugh and move on. Kindly tell your anxiety to piss off and meet you back home. In fact, don’t even bring him along.
You can be alone, and it won’t kill you. Let me say that again for the people in the back. You can be alone and it won’t kill you. You don’t have to make best friends in every single place you visit. Don’t force yourself to hang out with people that you don’t click with. Get comfortable with feeling lonely because those feelings will happen again….and again. But you end up learning so much about what you like and who you are. You discover the parts of yourself you usually bury in the company of other people. There is something incredibly attractive about someone who can be by themselves and doesn’t need the company of anyone else.
Not every day has to be spent ticking off every tourist attraction. You’ll probably get sick of having to make the same small talk with people over and over again. Make sure you take time out to relax and do the things you love. I loved finding bookstores with cafes attached to them so I could just sit, read and scribble on postcards. Consider splurging on a private room for one night to recharge your batteries. You’ll appreciate the quiet and a good night’s sleep. By the end of my trip, I was so tired from all the socialising and sight-seeing, that I just spent my last few days camping out in the hostel common room watching Netflix. Listen to your body, and just do you.
If you’re still debating whether to venture out on your own, or nervous about your upcoming solo trip, just commit. Buy the ticket. Pack your bag. Breathe and relax. Everything will go the way it’s supposed to.
And even when things go wrong, at least you’ll have a funny story to tell when you come home.
Ashley Chow is a writer in Melbourne, Australia. You can find more of her words at www.ashchow.com.