Solo travel | My Experience & Thoughts


My travel background story

I didn't grow up travelling internationally, like so many lucky people do who live in Europe for example, with a vast array of neighbouring countries on their doorstep.
As grateful as I am to have been born in New Zealand- the downside is that it is literally at the bottom of the world, far far away from everything else. With the exception of Australia of course- only a three-hour flight away, and some of my childhood friends were lucky enough to go on vacation there but our family didn't quite have those kind of funds.
Instead, we toured New Zealand by car, every couple of years in the Summer time we would either go North or South, so I am very lucky to have explored my entire country numerous times from top to bottom.
I had always had that desire though- to reach beyond those borders, and it wasn't until I was 22 years old that I finally saved enough money for a 4 week holiday to Australia, where I got my first taste of international travel. I was instantly hooked, and thrived on the many differences between our two countries.

Since then I have had the pleasure of visiting over 20 countries in Europe and South East Asia. I absolutely love travelling and cannot imagine my life without it. I enjoy so much the experience of visiting new places, learning about new cultures and languages and different ways of life, I enjoy trying new food and drink and soaking up that rich history that New Zealand lacks.
Travelling has certainly changed my life, as has taking that next step into solo travel.
It has made me a more independent and confident person, and it is something I'm really proud of to look back on. Here I share with you an outline of my experience.
I have also written a blog post on Travelling Solo | My Top Tips.


My Experience

As a lot of you might know, last year I went on an exchange at Konstanz University and lived in Germany for 6 months, and before and after my semester I travelled as much of Europe as I possibly could.
My biggest trip was after the semester had ended when I left Germany and travelled all over Europe from July to September before flying home. I had an absolute blast!

The first part of my big trip I travelled all on my own, for over two weeks. I started from Konstanz, Germany and travelled to Vienna, Austria, then to Budapest, Hungary, through Slovakia up to Krakow, Poland then via Wroclaw, across to Prague in Czech Republic.

My solo travel, from Konstanz to Prague & all the stops along the way

I did this all by bus! It is so cheap to travel by bus in Europe, all though it's not exactly the most fun way to travel, especially when the bus is full and it does take a very long time.
But, it's all a part of the experience and I relished in getting to see with my own eyes, the very different countries rolling past right before me.

To be honest I was a bit nervous about travelling on my own at first. I was still pretty new to travel, and I had never done anything like this before. Also, I was going to Eastern Europe and I had no idea what to expect. I was a bit nervous as well that I had no data on my phone, I was solely relying on pre-printed maps and notes I had organised for myself before I left, to get to and find my accommodation once I arrived in each place (going old-school!).
But my first 4 nights in Vienna were perfect- it was just like Germany and they spoke German there so I felt right at home.

Meeting the pandas at the world's oldest zoo in Vienna! (Yes I asked a stranger to take this pic for me!)
I had a lovely time walking though the beautiful streets, enjoying the delicious Wurst and Apfelstrudel. I got a 48 hour Hop on Hop off tour which was a great way to see the city and it included a free walking tour and river cruise that I did as well. I visited the famous Schoenbrunn Palace and the world's oldest zoo.

Budapest for me was a tad more of a struggle. I was definitely in Eastern Europe now! I had a lot of trouble finding my accommodation- it took me hours, and it was down very crumbly and dodgy looking streets, so I was a bit nervous walking around the area. It wasn't a very English-speaking country, but I got by. I did enjoy my time there, but I stuck to the main tourist hubs and definitely made sure that I was home each night by the time it was dark.
I only had 2 nights there but I again did a Hop on Hop off tour which was great, and I got to see quite a lot of the city thanks to that. I really enjoyed the food and beer and super cheap prices of it!

Budapest Parliament, Hungary
Poland and Prague I found more than fantastic. Again it took me hours to find my accommodation in Krakow so by the time I reached Prague I gave up and took the easy road- I got a taxi from the bus station! (Taxis are so much cheaper there anyway).
I felt perfectly safe walking around both cities by myself, but again I did try to not stay out too late just to be safe.

I was in Krakow for 5 nights and met a nice French girl on a free walking tour I did, she was also alone so we met up again another day and had dinner and drinks which was really nice.
On another tour in Krakow- this time a food and drink one, the tour guide was really cool and afterwards offered us all to join him at a pub he knew of that had 1 euro pints (Krakow has the cheapest beer in the world!) and to just hang out. So a lot of people did and it was a really enjoyable day.
It turned out my tour guide was a huge Lord of the Rings fan like me and had been in our New Zealand media and I knew who he was! He had paraded around the streets of Wellington dressed as a goblin trying to get into The Hobbit movies.

My tour guide & I in Krakow
So we got along really well. (Actually the conversation first started when I mentioned to him "Nice tattoo- I have the same one!" (The elvish one ring script). Here's the news article about him if you're interested: Article.
In Krakow I did a day trip to Auschwitz which was very sobering, and also went on a trip to the Salt Mines. I really enjoyed the Medieval Square (the largest in the world) and all of the very old and beautiful historical buildings.

I had 4 nights in Prague and also went on a few tours there. On a food and drink tour everyone afterwards stayed together and all had more drinks and dinner and that was really fun. We were all from different corners of the world with different stories and the conversations were very fascinating!
So even if you travel alone, there are always so many situations where you can meet new people and still have just a good a time as if you were with friends.
In Prague I made sure to visit the famous castle and I absolutely loved the old town streets and beautiful buildings.

Medieval Old Town Square, Prague
From Prague I flew to Dublin where I met up with two of my friends living in London and we had an awesome long weekend there. I went back to London with them afterwards and stayed there for a week before joining a Contiki group travelling from London down through France and Spain.
It finished in Barcelona where I was again solo for 5 more days. I really enjoyed my time there but again tried not to stay out late.
I did just one night when I went to see the Magic Fountain light show, and I was pretty nervous walking around the subways, but as it was very packed with people I tried to move with the crowds to not be targeted as a solo female. I always made sure my bag was strapped over my chest as well and facing more to my front. I was always alert but I never had any trouble.

Gaudi's work, Barcelona
In Barcelona I pretty much just walked and took the subway everywhere, and enjoyed the Paella, Sangria, the shopping and the beach. I loved visiting the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell and seeing all of Gaudi's work.

From Barcelona I flew to Athens where I did another Contiki tour, this time around the Greek and Turkish islands. It was so magical and I made some great friends, in both the Contiki groups.
After that I just had one more night alone in Athens, and then three of my awesome Kiwi friends flew all the way from New Zealand and met me there. I stayed in Athens for a week in total and then together we went on to travel Italy and finally ended for me back in Germany at Munich for Oktoberfest (which was one of my ultimate dreams come true).
My friends then travelled on but it was time for me to go home after nearly 8 months away.

Acropolis, Athens

It was a really incredible trip and I enjoyed my solo travels just as much as any other.
It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life and I really encourage from the bottom of my heart for you to do the same. Even if it's just a small trip, you really do get in touch with yourself and you will relish the ultimate freedom of doing whatever you please. You will grow as a person, gain confidence and can take anything that life throws at you!

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Top Travel Tips for beginners


As a self-confessed Wanderluster, I'd love to share some of my top travel tips and opinions to hopefully help out some first-timers.
Over the last 3 years I've had the pleasure of visiting over 20 countries, so it wasn't that long ago that I was jetting off for the first time, and I've definitely learned so much in that short time.
I do believe the best way to learn is to get out there and experience it for yourself, but you can absolutely avoid some quite common mistakes and hassles if you do a little bit of research beforehand. Here are my top tips and advice for beginners:


Packing

You know what I'm going to say even before I say it don't you? Don't over-pack!
It's the worst having to lug around a heavy suitcase, especially if you have buses and trains to catch with it too. Not everywhere has lifts and escalators, so often you do have to carry your suitcase up stairs.
I never wear all of the clothes I pack- as I usually just end up wearing the same things all the time!
Pack the absolute minimum you can and plan beforehand your clothes to mix and match so you can wear each item multiple times (but still look different in each day's photos!).
You will probably be going shopping anyway, so save the room in your suitcase for the way back! Also if you really do need to buy something there that you may not have brought with you, it's just a great excuse to do more shopping isn't it?


My hand luggage/carry-on essentials

  • Passport
  • Phone with music, games and kindle books loaded
    (or a hard-cover book) 
  • Phone charger 
  • Headphones
  • Ear plugs 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gum
  • Chap stick
  • Panadol
Arriving in Berlin!

I also take with me my expensive items that I would hate to loose in case my suitcase goes missing. (*Knock on wood it never happens!*) This includes my camera and jewellery.
I'm also in the habit of taking a spare t-shirt and pair of underwear in case this happens too, or even just to change into at layover airports if my flying time is over 20 hours.
If I'm bringing my laptop away with me I'll also be taking this with me in my carry-on backpack.

For long haul overnight flights I also carry my toothbrush and mini toothpaste, an eye mask (only on certain carriers they give these out for free, but those aren't very soft and comfortable anyway), tissues, makeup wipes, a neck pillow, and extra cozy socks (take your shoes off and put these on- much more comfy).

If the layover is a long one, e.g more than 4 hours then I will definitely have a shower, even if it does cost $20! Totally worth it in my opinion. I hate that dirty feeling when you get off the plane, and then if you have to get back on for another round still dirty- I don't know, I just much prefer to freshen up and get back on feeling so much better (especially since I can't really sleep on planes, so showering also helps with tiredness).


Water! 

As exciting as it is to be on the plane and have an open bar at your beck and call (if you are of age), having more than a couple of alcoholic drinks is going to do far more damage than good.
The plane blasts non-stop air conditioning which is extremely dehydrating, so already you need to drink extra water to make up for that. Drinking alcohol combined is going to make you feel a lot worse than normal, and that's not really how you want to start your holiday is it?

My advice is to have no more than two alcoholic drinks, and drink extra water- as much as you can all throughout the flight. I always take a bottle of water with me (empty through the screenings), and then I refill it before the flight. All airports should have clean water fountains and also on the planes, there are water stations near the toilets to fill bottles.


Jet lag

How to deal with jet lag? Well there's no miracle cure, but the best thing you can do is keep really hydrated- drinks lots of water, and exercise helps.
As tired as you might be, once you've arrived at your hotel it might be tempting to take a nap, but the best thing you can do is to take a shower, get refreshed, and then head outside and walk around. (Based on if you arrive during the day- if you arrive at night, try to stay up for at least a couple of hours before going to sleep).

Try to adjust to your new local time as soon as you can. Set your watch ahead and tell yourself this is your new local time before you arrive.


Planning activities

Something important to realise is that you won't have time to do everything you want to (unless you're there for weeks), but the likelihood is that you're going to have to pack in a lot of things into a short amount of time. Don't plan anything too significant on the day you arrive if you've come a long way, you will be too tired. Just take a walk, get your bearings and see some of the main sights, go to a local restaurant etc.
For the upcoming days, don't plan full-day activities every single day. They are very draining, especially if you are still jet-lagged. Maybe do a full-day one day, and the next day do a half-day, and make sure to have a rest if you need it. You don't want to stress your body, you want to feel good and enjoy yourself.

Research what you would like to do before you go and group activities together that are in the same area. Factor in timings for things that you may not normally be used to, such as traffic, crowds, and delays, especially in peak tourist areas.
If you go during tourist season as well (which is normally Summer), you will have to wait in line for hours, unless you pay for a skip-the-line ticket- which I really recommend!
Also, you can pre-book many activities online for certain time periods which means you can walk right through at that time and most places offer online discounts as well.
Plan activities in a relative order that you would most like to do/see, so if you do for whatever reason happen to run out of time and can't do everything, you won't be too disappointed.
Have a backup plan for outdoor activities, in case it does rain.
Remember to factor in some daily time for yourself. Whether that's chilling by a pool, going shopping, or having a pint at a pub, don't forget to unwind and relish the moment.


Sanitize!

Coming from New Zealand (and it's the same in Australia), we hardly use physical money- coins and notes. We use eftpos for everything, even if it's a $1 pack of gum.
When I went on my first big trip to London I was very excited to be using this new foreign money and I would quite often count my coins and notes at the end of the day to see how much I had left etc. I'm pretty sure at least a couple of times I forgot to wash my hands afterwards- and I got really sick!
I hardly ever get sick. It might have been combined with my first long haul flight as well- because the air conditioning swirling around in the plane is just everyone's recycled air... but I'm pretty sure the touching of money was the set-off. Because money is SO dirty!
So my tip is- wash your hands as often as possible and carry hand sanitizer with you everywhere! Use it every time before you eat and after touching things like hand railings and grips in the tube/subway, because public transport is usually so packed in big cities that you just can't avoid touching things.


Free walking tours

Most cities I have been to offer 'free' walking tours, where a tour guide will take you in a group for a couple of hours around the highlights of the city by foot. It's a great introduction to the city and to see the main attractions that you can note if you want to go back to see.
It's also an excellent way to learn about the history of that place too, as the guides are full of interesting stories and facts. They also always offer to answer any questions at the end of the tour, for anything from best things to do to recommendations of restaurants to eat at.
For their time they ask if you enjoyed the tour to give a small donation, as it is their job.
But I think it's totally worth it and still a very cheap tour and great way to start off in a city to get your bearings and learn the basics.
Here is the link to one of the free walking tour sites I've used frequently on my travels:
Sandeman's Free Walking Tours
I've done them in Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, London, Munich, Prague and Krakow. I've also been on a few extra tours they offer for a good price, such as local food and drink tours.



Try the local food & drink

Speaking of which, in my opinion one of the most enjoyable things about visiting a new place is trying the local food and drink!
It is always absolutely delicious. I always research beforehand local cuisines and make a little list of everything I must eat and delicious new beers to try. You deserve it if you've been walking around exploring all day! I really don't understand people that go to places like Italy and eat McDonalds! Like- what is wrong with you? Eat pizza for breakfast!

I don't know what it is- but I'm having it!

Get off the beaten track


Sometimes to get a more authentic experience you need to venture further than the main tourist hubs. My first time to London was amazing, I was there for two weeks and I did go on day trips to Stonehenge and Bath, but I stayed every night in Trafalgar Square- which was perfect for my first trip, but I didn't really get to experience 'authentic London.'
I did all of the main tourist sights and activities and ate nearby. Whereas, my second and third trip to London- I got to stay with a friend of mine who lives on the outskirts of central London.
I was just as excited to stay in that area she lived in (Tooting- even though it cost a fortune to travel on the tube), because she lived in a proper, British television show like suburb, with rows and rows of beautiful old matching houses.

Tooting, South London
It was a mecca for Internationals and Londoners alike, as it was not so expensive to live in, and my favourite part about it- the foxes!
Foxes run around the streets at night and they are so cute! I am now obsessed with foxes... anyway, that's just a random example. I have many more, like in Rome, Italy, the second time I went I stayed outside of 'tourist central' and the local restaurants were half the price, and authentic fresh Italian food!
Many tourist food spots in central Rome are way overpriced, and might have even been pre-frozen. A tip from a Roman tour guide was to go off the beaten track and avoid menus that have pictures! They are a sure sign that it is a tourist trap and the food will not be as good.


Ask for help

Don't be afraid to ask a stranger for help if you need it. I travelled solo for quite a bit last year and my goodness, the amount of times I had to ask someone for help!
From my first arrival in Zurich needing help with what train to catch because it wasn't in English, to asking shop keepers in Krakow for directions because I was completely lost, (and someone let me use their wifi for help!), to asking a random guy in London to use his phone because mine didn't work and my friend was supposed to meet me an hour ago and I had no idea where to go... I have a few stories!

The point is, I asked for help and it was always given to me. I am a very wary person and normally avoid at all costs talking to strangers, but it sort of proved my faith in humanity a bit. Everyone I talked to was so nice and helpful, and I in turn have had a lot of people ask me for directions and I am also very nice and helpful, so I suppose it all does come around. Just don't take any offers of rides from strangers okay!


Be aware

Speaking of strangers, you will hear a lot of warnings about pickpockets and scams, but you don't need to be afraid. Just be aware.
I have never had anything stolen (thank goodness), and I have travelled through some very packed cities and even 'dodgy' ones that are known to be 'pick-pocket central', such as Bangkok, Rome, Athens etc.
I always carry a side satchel type of bag with a strap that goes across my body, and then as a habit I always have a hand placed over my bag, especially whilst walking and standing in crowded areas. This stops any 'flap-lifting'.
If you carry a backpack which is totally your choice, and especially if you're a guy, you can't exactly carry a handbag- but just be aware it does target you as a tourist, so do have a good lock for it.
I always carry a normal over large handbag (if I need to bring a few things), or my side satchel, and this seriously makes me look like a local (well in Europe anyway). I've been asked for directions in Germany, Austria and even Poland!

As for scams, I have had small experiences with that where I was nearly sucked in, but quickly knew something was wrong and walked away. This is especially prominent in the places I've been to in South-East Asia- in Indonesia and Thailand, where people go around handing you scratchies or something similar and saying you've 'won something.'
I've also had gypsies in Paris train stations and in the streets trying to scam me by picking 'something' off the ground (usually a piece of jewellery) and trying to give it to me.
But I had read about that sort of scam before and knew that they try to get money off you for it so I completely ignored the person.
On one of the Greek Islands I went to as well I witnessed African men reaching for tourists as they walked past and putting home-made thread bracelets on them without their consent and then demanding payment.
You don't have to be afraid of these people, but do ignore them and walk away and be firm if you have to.


Be present

This is one of my most important tips. Forget about the internet while you're out and about.
Do you really need a food place with free wifi so you can just be on your phone the whole time, updating social media and not taking in your surroundings, meal, or company you have?
Sure, if you really need it for directions and help purposes, then by all means. Just don't get sucked into it, try to really be present during your holiday.
Your friends and family don't need daily updates and photo bombardments (they'll be jealous enough already!). Share your photos when you get home.
Really enjoy yourself and take a break from being glued to your phone- it's quite a nice feeling! Take plenty of photos of course, but do remember to look at everything with your own eyes as well- not just your lens!


Stay positive

Lastly, have fun, be patient and don't let the little things get you down. Just expect that not everything is going to go to plan.
There will be delays, you'll spend SO much time in airports, you will get lost, you will probably eat something not so nice, you might get ripped off, it might pour with rain, some people will probably hassle you.
Not everything is going to be perfect, but everything else that does go right should more than make up for that. If you go in with a positive attitude those little things won't get you down.
So get excited and have a great time! Travelling is life-changing, and I'm sure in no time you will be hooked, just like me and forever counting down until your next trip!


Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to know in the comments if you have any upcoming trips you're excited about or if you have any travel tips of your own I may have missed!

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*This post contains images that are not my own.

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