*Originally published by 9 Honey Travel
Earlier this year I was unhappy, my self-esteem was at an all-time low and I was struggling under the heavy weight of depression.
I had finished university a few months prior and managed to save a bit of money while working, so I decided to be brave and do something which would push me out of my comfort zone.
I packed a backpack, kissed my friends and family goodbye, and boarded a plane to London. I was about to spend the next five months backpacking across Europe. Alone.
I was filled with nerves during the entire 26-hour journey. What if I didn’t make friends? What would I do if I missed a train or a flight? What if I got lonely, or homesick, and wanted to return early? Despite the jitters I knew this adventure would be the best thing for me.
I was right. Solo travel has been liberating, empowering and exciting. Every destination is a new adventure. I’ve seen cities I’ve dreamt about for years and made friends for life. My world has literally opened up; I’m constantly learning about history, languages, different cultures and meeting an incredible assortment of people.
It has been hard at times. I’ve been lonely and downtrodden. I’ve felt challenged and in over my head. I’ve been tired, grumpy and longed for the comfort of my own bed and a home-cooked meal.
However the cherish memories and lessons more than make up for the hardships. I’ve learned a lot about myself, others and the world in a relatively short space of time. Here’s some valuable lessons I took away with me, for anyone considering solo travel.
1. Get out, even when you don’t feel like it
You’re not going to experience anything new while lazing in bed or sticking to the well-worn tourist path. At times, I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to settle in with a good flick. But I was in a new city and out to see the world, not the inside of a room, so up and out I went, whether it be on a hike, sampling local food or simply wandering around camera in hand. Every time I was grateful I did, and every time I fell a little bit more in love with the world and the people in it.
2. Less is more while on the road
There’s a lot to be said for the saying “collect memories instead of things.” Carrying a heavy backpack around for months on end sucks, especially as you’re sprinting up flights of stairs to make a train (and realise you’ve packed way too many clothes).
When you’re on a budget and luggage space is limited you can’t always splurge at the shops. Experiencing somewhere through social interactions, friendships, adventures and photographs has left me with longer lasting memories than any souvenir could.
3. Spontaneity is the spice of life
Some of the places I accidentally stumbled upon or didn’t have any expectations for, turned out to be the most special. At the start, I was planning activities, transport and accommodation weeks in advance. It didn’t take long to realise the value in having the flexibility to spend more time somewhere or with people I really clicked it.
Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, will forever be one of my favourite cities. I was meant to spend two days before heading to Bosnia, instead I found myself there for a few weeks. Some of the most special memories of my trip came out of this place, so leaving some wiggle room in your travel plans can be rewarding approach.
4. Travel insurance is essential
I’ve learned a lot about myself, like how accident prone I am. I’ve chipped a tooth, been hospitalised with a painful ear infection, missed a flight, lost my kindle and chipped my tooth again. Thankfully travel insurance has saved me from being hundreds of dollars out of pocket; it’s just not worth skimping on.
5. Travel isn’t always glamorous
You know those exotic envy-inducing travel pictures on Instagram? Yeah, backpacking isn’t quite like that.
I rarely washed while staying in beach towns during summer – when I was spending my days in the ocean, was there really any point? I’ve been packed like a sardine into crowded train carriages, slept in an airport, eaten copious amounts of carbs because they’re cheap and I was almost out of money, and learned to hold my bladder for ridiculous amounts of time (when you’re by yourself, there’s no one to mind your bags while you dash to the bathroom). But you learn to take the good with the bad (and the smelly).
6. Solo travel forces you to become a problem solver
With no one else around to help you out of a crisis, you’re forced to tackle problems head on. Things like missed or cancelled transport or lost belongings are irritating, but you quickly learn that at the end of the day, this mishap doesn’t signal the end of the world.
Travelling by myself has improved my sense of direction tenfold. And logistics? I’m a pro at working out the cheapest travel route, finding deals on accommodation, tours, and sniffing out the best eats in town.
7. Being alone is liberating
Some people find love in their travels. I found independence. Months ago, I hated being alone. Without being able to hide behind the company of others I was forced to confront how unhappy I was, and now, I relish this time. It’s an opportunity for reflection and introspection.
Many people assume solo travel to be lonely but it really isn’t. From striking up friendships in hostel dorm rooms to chatting with people on city walking tours and nights out, I found the hours I had to myself to be few and far between. So when I had them, I learned to make the most of it.