Picture it, your home, 192-…uh sorry, 2018, you’re scrolling away on your phone, you see that girl Aubrey that you can’t stand (why is everyone named Aubrey or Audrey now?), and she’s on a solo trip in Rome. Dammit, you hate her, don’t you? But you secretly love her. Why? Cause she’s doing something you’d love to do but haven’t mustered up the courage to actually do yet. Travel alone. Yes, you’ve planned it all in your head: the Eat, Pray, Love-like introspection you’d experience, the shapeless linen clothing you’d wear, the deliciously fatty foods you’d spoil yourself with, the Etsy journals you’d write in, and the inspired Instagram pictures you’d post. It’s all there, crystal clear. But there are some things that are holding you back. What if I get lost? What if I get lonely? What if I’m not independent enough? I get it, we’ve all been there, but once you break through those initial doubts and concerns, you’ll open yourself to an experience that is without a doubt, 100% all your own.
My first solo trip was in the summer of 2013, I was newly 21 years old and my study abroad program, in Salamanca, had just ended. I had to leave the day after my last day of classes because the next set of students were moving into my host mother’s house right away. And all of my friends from the program were going back home so I found myself with no place to stay and no friends to travel with. There two weeks from when the program ended to when I was supposed to meet my family in Lisbon and travel together for two weeks (Lisbon→ Madrid→ Paris→ back to Boston).
I had two options, stay in a hostel in Salamanca and hang out in town for two weeks or keep exploring, alone. It was not a difficult choice, I was obviously going to travel alone, but good ‘ol Mikey Mike (and the Funky Bunch), also known as my father, was not having it. He was not okay with me being on my own for 2 weeks but after a lot of negotiating and promising to check in twice a day, he reluctantly gave me his blessing.
I made up my mind, I was going to do my first ever solo trip! Where was I going to go? I chose to travel around Andalucía. I loved Sevilla and I wanted to see if the rest of the region was just as remarkably stunning. I’m going to date myself here, but in that time I didn’t have a smartphone (I got my first smartphone later that summer) and I had to write or print out directions to all the hostels I was staying at from the bus or train stations. Looking back, compared to our present day with Google Maps, I might as well had etched them into slabs of stone…
With all my hostels booked, my directions figured out, and my bags packed, I was all set to go. I felt as cool as a cucumber, totally calm, not a care in the world… HA! Jk. I was very nervous. I had never traveled alone before, not even in the States! But my craving for adventure was too strong for me to back out. In the end, it wound up being a meaningful and significant time in my life. It was a time for me to be completely self-reliant and see how I could handle being alone. 3 1/2 years later, when I moved back to Madrid in 2016, I took three solo trips. And now looking forward, I can’t wait to plan more trips alone. I love traveling with Randy, friends, and family, but sometimes a trip alone is essential. Here’s what I’ve learned from traveling to Rome, Italy, Avila, Spain, Alicante, Spain, and most of Andalucía, Spain unaccompanied:
1. Allow some for free time
Let yourself wander and explore without a strict timeline and itinerary, even if it’s just to rest for a bit. I know it’s exciting to be in a new place but when out every second of the day is planned, you run the risk of not being fully engrossed in the new city you’re in. Focusing on having a full schedule can distract you from the taking everything in that the city has to offer.
2. Pack light
I learned this the hard way. While traveling around Andalucía I had a big duffel bag, a backpack, and a big purse, I. HAD. TO. CARRY. EVERYTHING. ON. MY. OWN. I felt like a packing mule that was about to topple over. Do your back and yourself a favor and pack light.
3. Have a playlist ready to go
I LOVEEEE Spotify premium. It is the best $9.99 a month that I spend (I am not getting paid to say this, this is a true opinion). Whenever I’ve taken solo trips, I’ve set up a playlist with songs that’ll best fit the trip and mood. I also like to listen to comedy albums, it helps with the loneliness at times and gets me into a good mood. The best part of Spotify premium is you can download songs, albums, playlists, etc so you’re not wasting data.
4. Bring a journal
Record your surroundings, reflect on your thoughts, document your days away, just get it all down on paper. I’ve written some very insightful journal entries while on a solo trip. The churches in Europe are gorgeous so when I go visit one I’ll bring my journal, sit in a pew to the side, and reflect on the trip so far. It’s quiet, aesthetically pleasing, and tranquil.
5. Introduce yourself to the people in your hostel room
There may an afternoon or night on your trip that you just don’t want to be alone, it’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed at solo traveling. Connecting with other travelers, temporary or long-lasting, can be great and you never know what it could lead to. I’ve met people while traveling that I kept in touch with on Facebook. When I get settled into a hostel room, I always introduce myself to my roommates. There have been times that my introduction has led to dinner plans and there have been times that it’s led to me eating by myself. Hey, there’s no shame in trying.
6. Embrace the tranquility of not talking
While I do enjoy connecting with others, finding out where they’re from, learning about their back story, it’s also refreshing to embrace not talking. I talk a lot. That’s kind of why I have a blog, to share my experiences and thoughts, but while I’m solo traveling I like to take advantage of the quiet time I have. Most likely no one in that city knows me so I’m not obligated to communication. Being quiet can be restoring for the mind (maybe those monks are onto something).
Comment below and tell me if you found any of my tips helpful or if you have any of your own tips 🙂