This time last year I was midway through one of my biggest travelling adventures to date: a 66 day solo travel trip through 32 countries with nothing but a 30 litre backpack and a keen sense of adventure! By being a lone backpacker trying to spend as little as possible, living in hostels and throwing myself way out of my comfort zone I learnt a great deal. One year on, I’ve decided to impart some of my new found wisdom about solo travel. So here are 5 top tips for solo travel through Europe:
1. Be as bold as brass!
This is perhaps the most important thing I learnt during my trip. Confidence, bravery and an appetite for adventure are the three most essential character traits to develop before even considering boarding that train, plane, bus or ferry. Fortunately, if you’ve taken the time to google “backpacking Europe alone” (or anything else to that effect) and found this page, you’re already half way there! Solo travel is certainly not for the faint hearted; when you find yourself crammed into a minibus full of Croatian men and Bosnian children (none of whom speak English) with no idea where you are, or even what country you’re in for that matter, your nerves will start to fray to say the least! But those all important character traits will always be there to reassure you that everything is going to be fine and most of the time it is.
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2. Be prepared to change all of your plans at the drop of a hat!
Whether it was for your own reassurance or simply because you want to plan your time effectively, 90% of first time travellers – myself included – have a planned itinerary and a route drawn on a huge map of Europe. Having these items seems of paramount importance before you leave and in some ways it is quite handy; knowing roughly where you’re going is hardly a bad idea and the process of planning helps to get rid of those pre-departure jitters, but the chances of you sticking to your dates or even your route, are slim to non-existent. But rest assured, this is for the best. Flexibility is the best weapon in any solo travel arsenal and, whilst it can be daunting not knowing exactly what’s coming next, the sense of complete flexibility is very freeing and incredibly exciting!
3. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone: Form a team!
The old expression goes: ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and this couldn’t be more relevant than when on a solo travel adventure. It’s all very well memorising the side streets of Venice before you arrive but with no one to share your time and experiences with you won’t be having much fun. Introduce yourself to everyone you meet; the hostel staff, the Aussies playing cards in the corner and even that hairy guy drinking alone in the hostel bar. They will all have something interesting to tell you and you might even learn a few things but most importantly, you’ll pick up some companions for the day. In every place you go you’ll have to form a new team; this will consist of a group of 4 or 5 people to explore the city with, relax on the beach with or do whatever you have in mind with. The more diverse your team is, the better. Everyone brings something to the table and with more diversity will come more ideas and more entertainment. And who knows, they might even become life-long friends! Solo travel doesn’t mean you need to be lonely!
4. Don’t be afraid to question the locals!
You can wander around Paris trying to find Mont-Martre for the best part of a day if you choose to, but why bother? Crack out the GCSE French stored somewhere in the peripheries of your brain-box and throw a “Bonjour” out there! Fortunately for those of us who can barely order “un coca s’il vous plait”, the chances are that Pierre, the stereotypical, beret-wearing Frenchman you’ve stopped on the Champs Élysée, will probably speak perfect English and he might even show you a shortcut or point out a lovely patisserie en route (in case you’re wondering, this man does not exist!).
5. Do something new as often as possible!
Solo travel is all about trying new things, meeting new people and having an adventure! The best way of ensuring that you do all three of these things is to force yourself to do something new every day. This could be as big as doing a bungee-jump or as small as trying a new cocktail: they both count! By doing unusual, obscure and just down right weird things you’re guaranteed to arrive home with some serious memories and a bank of stories to tell!
Don’t miss my tip on How to Keep a Travel Journal!