Wednesday was October 10th, which means I’ve officially been traveling for one month, and traveling alone for two weeks. So this seems as good a time as any to do a little reflecting.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from one month of travel.
AKA The easier than I thought it was going to be
In case you need convincing, here is one big argument in favor of traveling–it’s not that difficult technically. By which I mean, I have found the technical aspects of travel easy. Booking flights and hostels and finding your way around a foreign city don’t need to be intimidating. Almost everything can be booked online these days, and, on the off chance your ipad is being flaky and won’t let you click on anything on hostelworld.com, showing up on a hostel’s doorstep isn’t that hard either. Maps are easily accessible upon arrival in a new city, and even if you’re not terribly good at reading them, tourist information centers are also plentiful. A good information center can act as a stand in for a friend who’s a local. On more than one occasion in Copenhagen, I went to the tourist information center to ask for help navigating public transit. I’m sure I also could have asked for this information at my hostel’s reception desk. Either way, the information you need to travel smoothly isn’t hard to come by.
A little preview of Copenhagen for you. The bridge in the background goes to Sweden!
AKA The harder than I thought it was going to be
All of that being said, just because information is plentiful, doesn’t mean travel always goes smoothly. A customs agent who didn’t want to let me into the UK can attest to that… but the UK’s strict policies are another story entirely. I’ve been making this trip up as I go along, booking things a week or even just a few days in advance. While this is working well enough, it has resulted in some unnecessary stress and expense. When booking hostels or flights, I prefer to look up my options and then mull them over for a day before I make any decisions. While this may work if you’re planning your trip months or even weeks in advance, waiting another day when you need a hostel tomorrow isn’t an option. I’ve had to become more decisive, especially since I’ve been traveling alone, because every choice is up to me. If I don’t pick a place to stay now, then I’m not going to sleep anywhere tomorrow night, so I’ve started picking places now.
And another example from the UK: don’t leave purchasing train tickets until the last minute because they will be horrifically expensive and make you want to cry.
The view out the train window will be lovely though.
AKA The harder than I thought it was going to be WITH humorous results
Since I’ve started traveling alone, there are many fewer photos of me. This is not terribly surprising, but it is a little disappointing. When traveling, you want nice photos with various landmarks to send home to Mom. I’m not a huge fan of asking strangers to take my photo because I get nervous talking to people I don’t know who aren’t appointed to help me (such as folks working in tourist offices). I know, I know, I need to get over my nerves, but in the meantime I’ve been taking a lot of selfies with varying degrees of success.
Attempting to take a photo of myself with Emma St in Amsterdam. I did a good job of pointing at the sign, huh? (Maybe I should make an entire post of unsuccessful selfies because I had trouble picking just one…)
AKA It’s honesty hour here at An Opportune Moment
I was lucky in that before I left home, I did not receive the “but that’s so dangerous and scary and you’re probably going to die or at the very least get robbed” lecture, which many travelers supposedly get from family and friends. Everyone from my mother to my then-boss thought it was a great idea for me to take a few months and travel. I had the desire to go, the means to get here and… wait for it… it was an opportune moment (!)
So, prior to traveling, I had lots of people telling me what an amazing time I was going to have. I read many blog posts that waxed poetic about what an incredible and rewarding experience traveling alone was. People said hostels are a great place to meet like-minded travelers, and being on your own makes you very approachable. As such, I went into this experience with a much more specific set of expectations than I realized at the time. I think I imagined myself meeting a new friend as soon as I walked into the hostel dorm room and when they said, “hey, I’m going to Lisbon next week,” I would say, “oh, that sounds cool, I’d love to go to Portugal” and I’d buy a plane ticket too and we’d have wild and crazy adventures across the continent meeting up and parting ways and collecting new friends as we saw fit. Maybe this is the experience that some people have, but it hasn’t been mine.
I’ve chatted casually with other travelers, but that’s about it. I’ve done all of my sightseeing solo. I’m in Berlin now, in part because I have a friend, Brittney, who lives here, and after a couple weeks alone, I really needed a familiar face. Within a few hours of chatting with her, she mentioned that when she heard I was traveling alone she thought that sounded cool, but she wondered, wasn’t I lonely?
And the honest answer is yes, I’ve been lonely. I felt a little lied to by my beloved travel blogs. They had always said I could and should travel alone, but they didn’t tell me I’d be lonely! I wondered, why hadn’t I thought of this? Obviously, I’d considered what it would be like to leave behind the people I love, and the people who make up my support network. But I’ve done this before — when I studied abroad, when I visited Ecuador, when I moved to DC. This is my pattern. I leave behind the people I love, and it is hard. Meeting new people is tiring and I long for people with whom I already have connections, with whom I have history. And then… I make friends, and I have fun, and I forget how hard it was in the beginning. And so I keep leaving.
I like the quiet. I like sitting in cafes reading, and meandering through art museums at my own pace. But when I think of a silly joke, I have no one to share it with. When I eat an amazing meal, no one else can testify to how good it was. Plus, as we’ve already established, I look ridiculous trying to photograph myself.
I’ve gone back and reread a few blog posts about traveling solo and they do mention that you might be lonely, but that it shouldn’t discourage you from going. I agree. I’m still glad I’m here, but I’m also very glad to have Brittney to chat with while I’m in Berlin. And I would encourage people to think about how good they are at spending time with just themselves before they take the plunge and travel alone.
Have you traveled alone? Any advice for fellow solo travelers?