At the age of 26 I decided I was fed up with being a Responsible Adult with a Full Time Job, so I took a six month career break. It was a culmination of many things, but I’d just about had enough of my full time retail job. I had this unshakeable feeling that there was so much more to life than selling furniture. Guess what, I was damn right.
There were a lot of things I wanted to do with that six months. Mainly I needed some time out to re-evaluate what I was doing with my life, but one of the other big goals was to travel. I had some money saved which had been sat for a long time doing nothing, and fueled by a huge case of the YOLOs, I decided to spend it. Obviously I needed to spend some of it on paying rent and stuff, given my lack of income, but I had enough for a spot of travelling too.
Since I can remember I’ve wanted to travel. As a teenager I always said I wanted to visit every country, and I kinda still do. There are some I could probably leave out, for the sake of my own safety, but I still have pretty ambitious plans where travel is concerned. Most people don’t have the money or the inclination to want to travel as much as I do, so when it really came down to it I realised the only way I was going to even begin fulfilling my dream was to go it alone.
Travelling solo is TERRIFYING but also FANTASTIC. I’m not a particularly outgoing person. To be honest I had all these visions of going away a quiet, meek thing and coming back loud and confident. It didn’t quite happen that way but I still wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. That’s not to say there aren’t some thing I wish I had done differently.
I wish I’d stayed in more hostels
One of my biggest challenges when I was travelling was being by myself. You might be thinking “you travelled on your own, OF COURSE you’d be by yourself!”. But it was a complete lack of social contact, and it really got to me. I’m not adverse to my own company at all, but being so far from home and having no one to hang out with for three weeks is hard.
It didn’t help that I decided to stay in Airbnbs. I thought this would be a good option for me because I like my own space. Being in a different country and being constantly surrounded by strangers seemed like it would be overwhelming, but actually having stayed in hostels since, it’s so much better. You can chill on your bed if you want to and people generally won’t bother you. Or, you have the choice of going to the common areas, even the bar if the hostel has one. It’s a really good way of meeting people in a similar position.
I did stay in two hostels on my trip, and the second one was one of my best nights. The first one was purely out of desperation and I had to be up at 5am the next day. I had to take a bed in a mixed dorm because it seemed to be the only one available in Barcelona at short notice. In the second hostel in Vienna I met a lovely lady, who I ended up going for a long walk with in the evening and grabbing some delicious Austrian desserts.
If you’re planning a solo trip for the first time, I strongly suggest staying in a mix of hostels and Airbnbs. Hostels tend to be more centrally located, and make it so much easier to meet people. If you really can’t stomach sharing a room with a bunch of strangers, you can always visit the hostel bars. Many allow outside people to come and drink there, you just need to find them.
Be prepared for changes of plans
Luckily my boyfriend was at the end of the phone, though I couldn’t get wifi so I had to pay for roaming to be able to call him. He calmed me down and helped me find somewhere to stay and a bunch of stuff to do on my extra day. Looking back I’m glad it happened, because I got to see so much of Barcelona. My little mishap also caused me to rethink my plans. Instead of going a day late to Marseilles, I went to Geneva for a night. Stopping in France was only a way to get to Italy anyway, so I actually gained a better trip through being forced to deviate from the plan.
If I had been more mentally prepared for things to go wrong I might have handled it differently. I had planned so meticulously, or so I thought, that I was sure everything would be fine. It was fine in the end, and I think I have come out of it a more relaxed person. All my life I’ve been a planner, but now I like to go with the flow a bit more. Being in a situation where you HAVE to accept a change makes you realise that it’s not all that bad.
Spend more money
I didn’t eat much during my first week or so, partly because I was nervous, but also because I was trying not to spend. There are so many foods that I’m sure I missed out on as a result. Doing bit of research could have helped me find the cheapest places, then I still could have been thrifty but also enjoyed local cuisine.
Skipping out on things you really want to do isn’t value for money. When you’ve already paid to get to a place and stay there for a bit, it’s best to embrace it and just do things, else you might come back feeling like you didn’t really do anything. There are plenty of free activities, and loads of things to see just by walking around a place, but things like river cruises and museums are going to cost money, and usually they’re totally worth it.