Thoughts on One Month of Travel

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.

The Good
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.

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A little preview of Copenhagen for you. The bridge in the background goes to Sweden!

The Bad
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.

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The view out the train window will be lovely though.

The Ugly
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.

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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…)

The Lonely
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?

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9 comments

  1. Laughing at whatever you need to has always helped me, even now when I’m not really alone but I am far from most people I know well and care about.

  2. Emma, Reading your blog is always such fun. I’m glad your first month of travel has gone swimmingly. I especially enjoyed your pictures of Iceland as I had found a National Geographic the very same day featuring pictures of several of the very places you visited. Too cool! I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I really can’t speak highly enough about couchsurfing. With every one of the four topic you mentioned in this post I kept thinking how your experience might have been positively enhanced had you been couchsurfing.

    Firstly, it’s a great way to get to know a foreign city. Any local whom you would be staying with would be thrilled to pass along knowledge of their city and country and offer suggestions of the best places to go, many of which are probably not listed in any guidebooks. Many couchsurfing hosts also love showing their guests around! Visiting shoppes and museums is infinitely more fun with a friend… and that’s exactly what you have whenever you couchsurf. A lot of people seem opposed to couchsurfing because “it’s dangerous to trust people you meet on the internet”. This is completely untrue because you are the one seeking out your hosts online based on whatever search criteria you desire. For example, if you need a couch on short notice, you can search for that. If you only feel comfortable staying with women or couples or old people, that’s totally acceptable. The whole site works on a reference system so you can see that if twenty-seven people have had a positive experience couchsurfing with someone and there are no negative reference, then that’s an extra reassurance.

    The experiences I’ve had couchsurfing have absolutely been the highlight of all of my travel experiences since I started two years ago. Hotels and hostels seem so sterile in comparison. One fellow I stayed with in Montreal knew that I liked homebrewing beer so when I arrived he took me out to several of his favorite breweries. It was so helpful to have a French speaker navigate the metro with me as well as a buddy to appreciate delicious beer and food with. Another person I stayed with had a buddy having a BBQ the night I was arriving. So we picked up some grub and headed over… to an epic rooftop BBQ on top of a high-rise overlooking the entire Montreal skyline and river. Views to die for… did I mention swimming pool and hot tub? I also got a free boat ride up the canals because another girl I stayed with’s roommate was the boat captain. When I came to Hawaii, I met a man whom I’m now good friends with and he took me on several cool hikes I never otherwise would have known about. I stay with him whenever I visit Oahu. Another girl I stayed with in Honolulu was so kind as to insist to pick me up from the airport. I helped her pick out a cat to adopt from the shelter and taught her how to make bread. Then when my brother Jim came to HI he spent several days with her and he loved couchsurfing for the first time. She took him sailing! Sorry to go on and on, but I could, because I have so many awesome stories about couchsurfing!

    Another great aspect is that it’s totally free. And in my experience, many hosts love to cook for their guests and teach them about local cuisine. This means you’ll spend a lot less on food while you travel too. Though it’s polite to arrive with a bottle of wine or something to cook up, if cooking at home’s the plan. When I hosted travelers back in Asheville I loved to show them around town, take them hiking (or geocaching) and cook up yummy things new to them. So many cool people came through and I absolutely scoped out their profile very well before I chose to host them.

    I’ve done this solo, as a female and never had a bad experience. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s changed my life because if it hadn’t been for my super positive couchsurfing experiences I would not have enjoyed traveling so much and I probably would still be living my old boring life rather than traveling as I am now.

    Still not convinced? If sleeping on a stranger’s couch sounds too weird, you can also search the site for members who are not able to host but are available to “meet for coffee”. This is a great way to meet like-minded people in a strange city and get advice about travel or just have some company for an afternoon.

    Sorry to go on and on, but you asked for advice for solo travelers and I honestly think it would enhance your journey. Keep blogging, Emma. ♥

    couchsurfing.org
    Far

    1. Everyone keeps telling me to couchsurf, but you definitely make the most compelling argument. I’ve been shying away from it because I’m worried about being in someone else’s space and not getting along well. I also think maybe it works better for short visits because I don’t want to impose on someone for more than 2 or 3 nights. Although I suppose in that case you just switch hosts partway through the visit, meet more people and see another part of the city. That’s what you did in Montreal, right? Anyway, I sent three requests to hosts in Krakow, so hopefully I’ll do some surfing in Poland this weekend!

  3. Thanks for the shout out, it’s been awesome having you here!!

  4. […] my reflection on one month of travel I wrote about, among other things, feeling lonely traveling by myself and how seeing my friend […]

  5. […] had a friend in Berlin, and spending a week with her was exactly what I needed. When I wrote a reflection on one month of travel, I admitted to feeling lonely traveling solo in Amsterdam and […]

  6. […] Throughout The Great European Adventure, I visited a number of destinations during the low tourist season (like Dubrovnik, Croatia in late November), and it felt like I was the only backpacker there. If you’re traveling with a friend, like I was, or hoping to connect with locals, this can be perfect because you don’t have to deal with crowds of tourists. However, if you’re on your first solo trip, and there simply aren’t a lot of other travelers around, you might have trouble meeting anyone and end up feeling lonely, like I did when I first started traveling solo. […]

  7. Krystal · · Reply

    Reading through I found myself nodding and smiling, I started my first ever solo trip this year although it was only for a short week but at the end of the day, it’s amazing. I just wished I could have mingled more with people I didn’t know, still working on that.

    1. I love hearing that people can relate to my experiences! I think whether you’re traveling for a week, a month or a year, going solo is both difficult and wonderful. I’m still working on mingling when I travel too — I think it just takes practice, and a little bit of luck to find people you click with.

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