Travelling alone can be a daunting thought for some. Before my first solo trip I’d never imagine I’d be hopping on a plane all by myself. However, times and circumstances change. I wanted to see some of the world and I wasn’t going to let having unavailable friends stop me from doing that. Travelling alone as a woman has got a bad rep with people always concerned about your safety. All I will say is, have your wits about you at all times and trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Let’s get in to the reason you’re here…
It’s Okay to be alone.
I for one have never been a big fan of spending time on my own. I think purely down to the fact that I spent the majority of my young adult life in relationships, I never really learnt to be okay with being alone.
Learning to sit by yourself in a restaurant, or confidently walk down streets you don’t know is enough to put some people off travelling alone. However, I’m here to tell you that I felt those same nerves, but I pushed through and did it anyway. Once you get over the initial fear, it’s a breeze! And this is coming from the girl that was stupidly nervous of going through airport security by herself.
If I can do it, so can you!
I do also feel like it’s different in different countries, cities and towns. For example, I feel that if I were to sit in a restaurant by myself in my hometown, many would look at me and, not necessarily judge me, but I feel they would create a certain perception. Like I’d been stood up, or something was wrong with me. Now, I don’t feel like this would happen in the hustle and bustle of London. Similarly, as a female travelling alone, I didn’t feel like people were watching or judging whilst I was exploring Lisbon.
Please don’t let the thought of being alone stop you from exploring this wonderful world that we live in!
You make lots of memories
Now, full transparency I do have good and bad memories. From each. However, not the type of memories you’re probably thinking.
Ever had an angry Spanish lady shouting at you because you weren’t wearing a coat and it was ‘freezing’? I have. And, realistically it was 15 degrees, I’d been travelling most of my morning, and hey let’s face it, I’m English and that’s basically TROPICAL to a girl like me! However, I don’t speak Spanish. The pleasantries as most. So to be stopped in the street, when I’m already tired and emotional, and shouted at by a lady I didn’t know, nor did I have a clue what she was saying to me, was not something that was pleasant at the time. BUT – it makes for a good story. As does the next part – a lovely Spanish lady coming over laughing explaining, in English (obvs) what the hell had just happened.
Another negative one for you…
Deciding to bite the bullet and book in to a hostel for the first time ever, knowing full well it’s not very… “Me”. Turning up to my room, with the only available bed being a top bunk (I’m 5 foot by the way) and no ladder to assist me in getting there. To having to make my own bed and quickly discovering that my four-wheeled suitcase didn’t fit in the locker provided. All that was left to was to gather my incredibly important belongings (passport, phone, money etc.) and take them to my bed with me.
I was disturbed, despite the eye mask and ear plugs I was recommended by the internet to take with me, at least 8 times by other residents of the room. Leaving me with very little sleep. Fine.
I woke up in the morning to discover that someone, during the night, perhaps during one of my few hours of sleep, had been THROUGH my suitcase. THROUGH IT!
I was tired, grumpy, emotional (that’s just me when I’ve not had enough shut eye) and not prepared to stay in that room another night. So what did I do? I called one of the only people I knew I could rely on… My Dad!
With a tearful phone call done with, I had a cosy hotel room booked just a couple of blocks away from the famous Sagrada Família! Perfect. And I loved the rest of my trip!
Well, that’s the ugly out of the way!
The memories you make whilst you’re travelling alone are insane! If you let them be. Trying to eat a steak the size of my head and getting drunk on copious amounts of Sangria in Barcelona. To my takeaway pizza dinner being disturbed by some religious march through the streets of Lisbon, which I can only describe as the scene from that Twilight film, New Moon I think, when they’re all walking the streets in red gowns for Saint Marcos Day Festival. Standing in the centre hall of Sagrada Família, admiring all of the amazing architecture and beautiful colours being reflected on to the floor of the cathedral, before climbing the tower to see the amazing views from the top.
Experiencing the insane amount of steps up to Porto’s cathedral, and then the view from the top! Making new friends on St. Patricks Day in the least Irish Bar ever in Lisbon who were also travelling alone. From all over the world. America, Sweden, Australia, I even came across a couple of Brits!
I’m not saying everything is amazing, it’s not. Some bad things may happen – not too bad I hope. Just remember… nothing lasts forever. And that brings me to the next thing…
You get to challenge yourself
When times are tough, you don’t know the language, you don’t know how to use the local metro. Perhaps you’ve got a little lost and you can’t remember the way back to where you’re staying. Little things like this test us.
When I visited Porto, just last month, I came out of the airport and straight to the Metro only to be greeted by a ticket machine that translated the instructions to English… but they made NO sense. The Metro in Porto works in zones, a little like London (and probably most European cities I guess) but I couldn’t understand which ticket I needed to buy to get to my stop. I purchased a ticket, off of a whim, and continued my journey.
They’re very trusting in Porto, you see, you have to touch your travel card on these machines on your way in and out of the stations. However, there’s no turnstiles or implication if you haven’t got a ticket. Anyway, I tapped my ticket on exiting my first stint on Porto’s Metro to find it beeped red. I didn’t have a clue. But what better way to find out than to ask. I approached a hench looking guy who looked like he worked there, to be told I had most definitely not bought the right ticket and I hadn’t paid enough. He made me feel so guilty! It was a challenge to try and speak to him, with the language barrier, and a challenge to understand why I didn’t have the right ticket!
Travelling alone can also be physically challenging.
If you want it to be. Whilst travelling alone, I have walked more steps than I care to remember. It was so physically challenging climbing the hills of Lisbon all day for 4 days straight. I remember screaming in the shower because I just needed to relieve my calf muscles. However, I was only there for four days. This pain would subside eventually. I reminded myself that I was only in this beautiful City for four days… So, I pushed through the pain and got on with it!
I did some things I never thought I’d do. It’s good to challenge yourself. It makes you realise just how much you are capable of.
Expand your perspective
Sometimes we can become a little stuck in our ways. Settling into routines and believing certain things should be done a certain way. Travelling alone makes you see everything from a different perspective.
Whilst I was in Portugal, it became very apparent that although it’s far from a third-world country, many parts seem poor and run down. That’s not to say they are, just my personal view on the areas I explored. Portugal experienced an economic crisis between 2009-2016, so that may be the reasoning for my thoughts.
I digress… What I noticed through watching people, talking to locals and just generally observing my surroundings, is that people were generally happy. They weren’t overly stressed. And, if you go in to any real Portuguese home, they don’t have a lot of ‘stuff’. Just the basics. Their bedrooms aren’t brimming with bits’n’bobs, just simply a bed, tables, lighting and storage.
From my point of view, the Portuguese go to work and when they’re done they surround themselves with good friends, good food, a good drink perhaps and they’re happy. Many don’t have a lot, but they helped me to realise that we don’t need ‘stuff’ to make us happy. It never will.
Observing how other cultures live fascinates me, and something I wouldn’t be able to do without travelling.
Taste different cuisines
Oh my goodness, one of my favourite topics! Bearing in mind, I’ve only been to four destinations so far, the variety of food and different cuisines are phenomenal! Maybe you’re used to your bangers & mash or fish & chips in the UK, but let me tell you one thing, pizza will never taste the same again after you’ve eaten it in Italy!
If you happen to find yourself in Portugal, opt for a Pasteis de Nata. It’s essentially a custard tart, something I didn’t like until my first trip to Portugal, they’re delicious. But try to get them warm out of the oven!
A couple of other dishes from Portugal:
- Francesinha – a HUGE ‘sandwich’ made with bread, ham, sausage, roasted meat, smothered in cheese and topped with a hot tomato and beer sauce. It sounds pretty gross and it’s probably an entire weeks work of your recommended calorie intake, but just try it!
- Bacalhau – It’s Portuguese for cod. But my oh my, do the Portuguese love their cod fish!
- Soda Bread – not a fan personally but whatever tickles your fancy. If you’re up for trying new things, pair it with a traditional Irish Stew.
- Boxty – a traditional Irish potato pancake. It’s inbetween a pancake and a hash brown kind of texture.
- Guinness – obviously!
- White Pudding – I know this isn’t technically ‘Irish’ per se, but I always associate it with Ireland as my Dad asked me to stop at Dunnes before I got the ferry to go home to buy him some. Ergh.
Simply put, whilst travelling alone, try everything. All the food. All the different pastries and cakes, but make sure you get something nutritious as well!
You get to take time out
Sometimes life can just get a bit much, right? Whether you’re feeling stressed from work or your home life, in your routine has just become a little stagnant and you feel a bit ‘blah’. There’s nothing better than packing a few essentials in a suitcase and hopping on a place to get away for a couple of days.
Spending time outside of your normal surroundings just allows you take a bit of a break and reset. There’s no harm in that! By travelling alone just those four times, I’ve made some drastic life changes when I’ve returned home. Some times you just need a break!
There you have it, just a few of the things I’ve learnt whilst travelling alone. Have I missed anything in your opinion? Have you been solo travelling? Let me know what you learnt by dropping me a comment below.
Until next time,