Long time, no see. I haven’t written in QUITE awhile and that is due to the fact that in the last couple months, I graduated university, got a pretty insane first job, and just spent the last seven weeks backpacking by myself through Southern Europe. On said trip I hit Athens, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Rome, Lake Garda, Genoa, Nice, Barcelona, Ibiza, Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos, and Agistri. I booked everything by myself and I traveled completely alone from place to place.
When I first told some of my friends I planned on going alone, they looked at me with incredulity. “You’re going ALONE?” They would ask almost in hushed tones, “Aren’t you scared?” And even now when I tell people what I just did, they are impressed that I would embark on such a trip all by myself. Honestly what I’ve found, is that people have two major hang ups about going on trips alone. 1.) Security and 2.) Companionship.
Security is an understandable concern. I was a lone female traveler and there are of course crime and shady characters to watch out for. But honestly, you’re probably not that much safer from pickpockets and such with friends than without. And as long as you’ve got a reasonable degree of street smarts, you’ll probably be fine, especially in Europe. Which brings us to our next concern, the much bigger concern: Companionship.
At our core, humans aren’t really meant to be alone. We like being around other people because we want someone to share our experiences with so we can be sure someone understands us. This was the hardest fear for me to overcome as well. Right before I left, I had an anxiety-ridden conversation with my mom in which I relayed my reservations to her. I had started freaking out that I had just signed myself up for seven weeks of pure loneliness. However, as soon as I got started, all those fears quickly dissipated.
The thing about traveling alone is that you get to be COMPLETELY selfish. I quickly learned that I could get up when I wanted, see what I wanted, eat what I wanted and meet/not meet the people I wanted. I didn’t have to drag my travel companion out of bed, or worry about their food proclivities or even worry about a girlfriend at the club. I didn’t have to worry about compromising with family, and I most certainly did not have to worry about staying on track with a tour group. I got to do WHATEVER I wanted, WHENEVER I wanted, and HOW I wanted. That may sound horrifically indulgent to some, but that’s because not many of us get periods of time in our lives where we get to be this selfish. That’s the price we pay for companionship. There’s always someone else to worry about, therefore we can usually never focus solely on our own desires.
Now, just because I was selfish almost to the point of hedonism doesn’t mean I was alone. Oh no no no, in every city I met new people–Finnish, Canadian, Australian,French, English, Italian, ALL SORTS! Aside from my first day, there wasn’t a twenty-four hour period in which I didn’t meet at least one person and hang out with them in some capacity. In Dubrovnik, I partied with a tour group filled with Aussies and then kayaked all of the next day with a girl from Finland. I met a friend in Italy and met up with friends of said Italian friend when I got to Barcelona. I encountered a string of Canadians from Genoa to Nice and actually had the most romantic night of my entire life in Santorini.
Because you are constantly seeing new things and meeting new people, the companionship problem solves itself. You meet people who are in the city for the exact same reason as you and you can make plans together or plans to meet up later. Either way, the option to have people to share your travels with creates itself. The onus is on you to create the opportunity for people to meet you and to facilitate compelling conversation.
In short, I got an average of four hours of sleep per night, saw sights in the morning, lived at beaches in the afternoons, drank a lot of wine and beer…and liquor, gorged myself on carbs and ice cream, and had more than my fair share of flirtatious encounters in every city. I saw some of the most beautiful places and got to meet different and interesting people every night, and I loved EVERY SECOND OF IT.
The thing with traveling alone is that it basically is the ultimate test in putting yourself out there. You have to check your insecurities at the door and you have to overcome obstacles all by yourself. But because you’re all alone, there’s also no one to judge you if you do screw it up. Sure there’s tons of people you’ll interact with everyday, but the beauty is that YOU NEVER HAVE TO SEE THOSE PEOPLE AGAIN. Most of the time, you just gotta swallow your pride and go for it. I didn’t have data/wifi so you bet I was lost all the time. I bought the wrong kind of ticket at least three times, and sometimes my transport was simply on strike. To make friends is even more humbling. Twice, I faked not knowing where I was going so I could ask fellow tourists for directions and ultimately infiltrate their group. I met two people in France while savagely devouring a kebab and later accidentally dining and dashing. I desperately begged one of my roommates in Ibiza to save me from another roommate and when all else failed, I simply would spend a little time wandering alone.
I honestly learned a lot on this trip and thought I would break down any tips I picked up into more posts, so if you are curious as to how I fit seven weeks of stuff in a backpack, or how I didn’t get sick, or even tips on travel boredom, be on lookout for those articles in the coming weeks.