I know, I know. It sounds scary but my 3-week explorations taught me a lot about myself and about the people that I’d like to surround myself with.
What Inspired This Whole Thing
My solo journey was inspired after I got ditched in Bucharest, Romania last December by my traveling companion. We took the train from Brasov to Bucharest and intended to spend a night in the city before heading to Prague the following day. Neither of those things happened because during our commute to Bucharest we realized that we weren’t compatible traveling companions.
The Truth About Traveling Companions
If you don’t know this, traveling with someone can be VERY intimate. You’re not only sharing a space with this person but you’re also dealing with the frustrations that might arise from your journey together in a foreign country. We were friends throughout college and kept in touch post-college but I never anticipated this sudden end to our trip or to our friendship.
Throughout our journey, I began to realize that perhaps the years had changed us or we never knew each other well enough, to begin with. But there I was, alone, in a Southeastern European country, searching for a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi so that I could find a hotel room for the night.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
A lot more could’ve gone wrong but my time alone in Bucharest and Prague taught me that it’s not all as scary as it may seem. I knew that I could definitely do it alone the next time around and so, I did!
You Can Do Whatever the Hell You Want When You Want
I met a Brazilian girl during my stay in Berlin who could attest to this feeling. She was traveling with two coworkers and soon came to realize that one of them was very bossy. A trait she hadn’t noticed in this coworker before. Her experience resonated with mine.
I was always on my own time. I explored wherever I wanted to and being that I’m a vegetarian, I got to try vegetarian restaurants in every city that I visited. I was free to do so without having to worry about a companion’s carnivorous diet. I was happy to find that wherever I went, there was no shortage of vegan/vegetarian options.
More to come on the awesome bars and vegetarian restaurants I discovered.
You Get to Meet New People
Your traveling companion might show no interest in chatting with locals since you have each other. Although that’s not always the case, I found myself more open to interacting with others when I was alone in a store, a cafe, or at the airport.
The beauty of it is that I found people who were like me, backpackers and expats who weren’t intimidated by the world. The majority of people I met were very liberal and open to other cultures. I was surprised to discover how politically aware they were about the American system.
In Berlin, I came across posters for viewing parties at bars for the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and in Amsterdam, I had long conversations with a well-informed Dutch journalist about the current political climate. With no exaggeration, the world was watching this year’s election.
You Get Alone Time to Find Yourself
I found that I was at my loneliest while eating out at restaurants. Everyone dined with a partner, family, or friend. I always kept my Kindle in my purse to catch up with my guilty pleasure Hollow City by Ransom Riggs or mostly just observed the people around me. I found that Europeans rarely used their phones while eating out. They were constantly engaging one another.
Check out the books I’ve reviewed.
It takes a lot of courage to travel alone especially if you’re a person of color. The locals were curious and of course, I got a lot of stares which did make me uncomfortable but I never felt threatened, not as a woman or as a person of color. Budapest and Vienna were the most homogeneous of all the cities that I visited and I’m definitely not excusing the behavior but I understood it.
An Open Mind
There were times I thought, “This is awful!” a natural reaction until I discerned my first world expectations which were clouding my experiences. As communication scholars and ethnographers would say, “go native” which means to really embrace the experiences of the locals. Try to participate in their world and view it through their eyes.
On Keeping Your Cool
I learned that endurance and a calm demeanor is crucial. I had a 6AM flight from Milan to Berlin so I left my hostel quite early. Apparently, it was a holiday and the services were altered. I found myself waiting out in the cold for 2 hours for a bus to the airport. An uber would’ve cost between €140-180 and so I thought it would be best to wait. At one point, I nearly took the wrong bus after snapping at the ticket sales guy assuming he’d sold me a later ticket. My bus rolled up a few minutes after. I gave him an apologetic smile before boarding the bus that he’d assured me would be arriving soon.
Although this section requires its own entry, I believe it’s important to touch on it here because it is a huge concern for women who’d like to travel alone. The best advice is to always be alert and to always trust your instincts.
While in Budapest, I came across this older, disheveled man hanging about in the lounge area in my dorm hall. I was immediately on high alert for 3 reasons: 1. It was unusual to come across someone this much older in the dorms; 2. I wasn’t made aware that my floor was a mixed dorm; and 3. Something seemed a bit off about him.
I nearly brushed it off and told myself he might’ve been employed with the hostel until I saw him again later that afternoon. I decided to address it with the receptionist since I couldn’t shake the feeling that my safety was being tested. I learned that I had reason to be concerned because he was senile and he was, in fact staying in the dorm hall rather than with family or a home which could better cater to his needs. I was assured that I had nothing to worry about but addressing it informed me about his presence and his comportment.
Doing it All Over Again
I’ve already begun mapping out the cities that I’d like to explore the next time around and I’d be happy to share them with you. In the meantime, take a gander at the places I’ve visited.