Before I left, a few people asked me, “What do you hope to gain from this trip?”. Honestly, just completing this trip seemed like a big accomplishment (I would have never imagined doing something like this a few years back). I didn’t expect some Eat Pray Love sort of self discovery … but of course I’d take some Love if it came along ;) and Eat, hah, that’s inevitable! Anyways, here are the lessons I learned:
1. Figure out all directions beforehand
For me, the biggest stress of travelling is getting from point A to B. So before I left, I figured out how to get to hostels, airports, and bus/train stations. Not only did I write down the directions, I also took screenshots of the maps. My whole trip ended up being stress free.
2. If you don’t like being alone, you don’t have to be alone
If you are on the extrovert side of the spectrum, like me, and truly dislike being alone, you will find the confidence you need to go and make friends. Yes, there were times where I felt awkward putting myself out there, but for the most part it was easy breezy beautiful meeting new people. In many places I’d wake up expecting to spend the day alone, but then I’d be invited to join someone else’s plans or someone would ask if they could tag along with my plans. So many people are in the same boat as you!
3. Sometimes you just need to be spontaneous and change your plans
In Barcelona, I was set to leave after 5 nights. On the last night I was too sad to leave the city and all my new friends, so I made an impulsive decision to skip my nonrefundable train ticket to Madrid and stay an extra two nights. I am still so happy with this decision. Yes, it cost me money to get another train ticket (and pay for the two nights I missed in Madrid), but it was 100% worth it.
4. Mixed dorms are generally more social
Other than in Galway, the female-only hostel rooms that I stayed in were extremely quiet and anti-social. My presumption is that many girls who select female-only rooms tend to be more reserved/shy (though this could just be my experience). That being said, a benefit of a female-only room is: if you have a crush on a guy in your hostel, he wont have to see you in all your no-makeup/drool-while-you-sleep glory! ;)
5. Free hostel dinners and free pub-crawls are key
As mentioned in pretty much every post as of late, look for hostels that offer free dinners. The nightly dinner works like magic when it comes to making friends at your hostel. Bonus if there are pub crawls after dinner, nothing like alcohol to officiate your friendships! (Drink responsibly folks).
6. If you go out at night, have a “designated buddy”
As lame as a “designated buddy” sounds, the reality is when you are a girl you should not be walking home alone in the middle of the night in a foreign city. Even if this means staying out a little longer when you are tired and ready to sleep, better safe than sorry. Just find someone you trust and lookout for each other.
7. Couldn’t be bothered with social media
You’d think I’d be all about constantly posting to Instagram, making everyone back home “jealous” of me … but to be honest I hardly wanted to touch my phone. I truly wanted to live in the moment and be present. The technology detox was nice.
8. You will suffer from exhaustion. Take a night or day off just to relax.
This hit me hard in Madrid. When you are touring cities all day and going out nearly every night, you are prone to be hit hard with exhaustion as well. Take care of yourself! When I arrived in Portugal I knew I needed a break, so I skipped the hostel dinner and went straight to bed, knowing that if I met cool people I’d probably be staying up late with them. The next day, after a good rest, I started socializing.
9. Always keep a litre (or more) of water by your bed
Stay hydrated! Whether you are roaming a city all day, drinking with friends, suffering from a traveler’s cold, or dealing with the summer heat, always keep lots of water by your bed. Load up that hydration station! You will be so grateful when you wake up in the middle of the night an have that glorious bottle of water next to you.
10. Keep in touch with the people you meet
When you travel you meet like-minded people from around the world, and many of these connections turn into great friendships, so it’d be silly not to keep in touch. I’ve been really lucky with some of the connections I’ve made abroad. Yes, I suck at keeping in touch on a regular basis, but when I meet up with my long distance friends, it’s like no time has passed.
11. Finally, travelling solo is not that big of a deal
Leaving home, I felt like a noble hero for going on this big adventure by myself. No one could believe that I’d do something like this. To them, it seemed scary (and probably unappealing) to travel solo. During my trip I never felt scared or uncomfortable. Plus, when you meet so many people doing the same thing as you (and sometimes for much longer), you realize your experience isn’t this rare gem. It’s actually quite common!
I’d love to hear any lessons that you learned traveling solo! If you haven’t traveled alone before, I hope this makes it seem less daunting!