Having grown up covered in sand and watermelon juice on the beaches of North Queensland, and later on Australia’s Gold Coast, I didn’t have my first taste of the city life until my university studies, for which I moved about an hour north to the city of Brisbane. It was my first bout of solo travel, and I loved it. Culture, creativity, arts, galleries, museums, culinary delights, coffee, and music—there was so much to savor, and I relished every last morsel of that magic metropolis.
As soon as my degree was done, I moved back home and worked two jobs so I could save enough to see the cities of Europe. My initial plan was to travel with girlfriends, but they took too long, and I couldn’t wait. So when I had the cash, I organized my visa, booked my flights, and flew by myself to London. I never hesitated or reconsidered my traveling plans just because no one could go with me. Initially my parents were a little hesitant, so I worked for a family in the UK at first before strapping on a backpack and taking off on my adventure through Europe when summer hit. Just me, my shadow, and I.
First stop was Barcelona, where I spent two weeks exploring because I loved it so much. This was followed by a week in Nice, Monaco, Villefranche, and Cannes, before I hit the Italian leg walking around Venice, Rome, Lido di Osta, and, finally, the heel of the boot at Brindisi, where I caught the ferry to Greece. I arrived in the crazy, busy city of Athens and traveled my way down to the island of Kos. I worked here for a bit in one of the local bars, went scuba diving off the coast, and caught a (very dodgy) boat across to Turkey for the day. I had the best time of my life and never felt lonely, not once. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Nothing can prepare you for the feeling you get when you land in a new country by yourself with just a few things on your back and a free schedule to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes. It’s the most liberating experience knowing you have all the freedom in the world, a place where time doesn’t seem to exist. In fact, for my entire trip, I purposely left my watch behind and made a conscious effort not to look at the clock.
When you travel alone, you have to adapt to any situation, there is no one to rely on or ask for help, and it’s just you and the world. So you have to be resilient, able think on your feet, and willing listen to your instincts, especially when you are in a country where English isn’t the first language. But it’s amazing what you can achieve when you have to, and every time you accomplish something, whether that be finding your way from the train station to the hostel or finding a vegetarian meal on the menu, you feel an incredible sense of pride and strength that can only be taught in the school of life.
Even though I traveled solo, I was rarely alone. I met so many more people being by myself than I ever would have if I were in a group. Every hostel I stayed at was one big party with at least one representative from every corner of Europe and the U.S. I made lifelong friendships and even met my now-husband while traveling through Nice. You never know who you’re going to open yourself up to, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough or even noticed the people around me if I wasn’t alone.
As a woman, traveling solo can be met with some criticism from people around you telling you that it isn’t safe. While you should always do your research before you leave and take some precautions, in the end, basic common sense prevails, and this accounts for everyone, regardless of gender. I discovered my inner strength on that trip; what I’m truly capable of now post-travel far outweighs what I thought before I left. I gained a new confidence in myself both physically and mentally because I did it all by myself, without anybody to help me, just my own wit and skillset. What could be more empowering than that? These skills have carried through into my professional life, too.
I decided to backpack in August; this is peak European summer travel time, so of course all the hostels were booked way in advance. Despite no accommodation online, I decided to wing it anyway and arrived in Nice without a place to stay. I walked out of the train station and straight to the long line outside the tourist information booth. To my luck, I met some beautiful Swedish girls looking for a place too. We were approached by a man with a van and a promise of rooms for rent on the hill, overlooking the ocean. What do you do? Do you trust this stranger or continue in line and maybe miss out on a place to stay? Well, I teamed up with the stylish Swedes and went with my gut. I stayed in the best hostel of the entire trip, the views were stunning, we had the best parties, and I also met the love of my life.
Put most of your feelings about being alone to the side, because when you backpack solo, you are rarely by yourself. I was constantly surrounded by people of all different cultures, religions, and ethnicities with whom I had the most fun of my life. I can’t tell you how much enjoyment just the memory of those fun times still gives me now. If you’ve been thinking about it, save up the cash and just do it. You won’t regret it.
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This story was originally published on July 14, 2015. Updated by Sacha Strebe.