Backpacking Through Europe Solo: Comparing my Expectations with Reality
On deciding whether or not to go
I wondered if traveling alone was the right choice. Though some people I spoke with and articles I read were supportive about solo travel, there were many that were not. The night before I left, I considered how much money I would lose if I chose not to go.
On planning my itinerary
I booked housing and transportation between cities prior to leaving. For me, having this figured out was worth the sacrifice of sticking to a plan and not having the freedom to make certain choices spontaneously. I did not plan any days out, but made brief lists of potential activities and eateries I was recommended and found online.
Organizing a trip to countries I had never been to before was difficult. I booked things off of websites I didn’t know much about. I had little to no idea what commute and public transportation would look like.
I chose to pack fairly light, taking a carry on and a purse. I had access to laundry facilities in a few of my stops. Having minimal to keep track of made getting around easier. Packing lightly also allowed me to save a considerable amount of money since I did not have to pay for luggage.
There still exists plenty of stigma around females traveling solo. I received plenty of non specific advice, which was just to “stay safe”. There were certain times along my trip where I ended up feeling unsafe. Perhaps some of these situations could have been prevented if I did some more research prior.
For the most part, I felt the things I encountered was a normal part of exploring new cities. I learned better ways to take care of myself and to avoid similar scenarios in the future. Overall, I chose to be cautious and I’m thankful I was able to avoid feeling uncomfortable for extended periods.
On choosing my activities
I heard so much about how traveling alone is fabulous because I get to choose all the things I want to do. Since I spent most days alone, I really had to consider what I felt like doing. I was never tagging along, but creating my own day based on what I was feeling.
I enjoyed being able to do how much I wanted each day, as slowly or quickly as I desired. It’s silly, but I feel insecure going to museums with others. I’m always thinking about whether or not I spent enough time looking at various exhibits, afraid of looking dumb. Going to museums alone and spending as little or as much time exploring was liberating.
On the act of traveling
I traveled through cities casually and prioritized relaxing over just crossing things off a list. Though I expected I would do certain things at each destination, I chose to do what felt good in the moment instead of trying to do everything.
On handling unexpected situations
There were tons of random scenarios that I encountered that I did not expect. It sounds cheesy, but focusing not on what happen, but how I choose to react to it, was pivotal in regards to this experience. I learned to differentiate between what I could and could not control, and chose to focus on the positive.
On feeling lonely
I enjoyed the time to myself and didn’t really feel lonely. I did get restless a few times.
I know this is a common reason individuals choose to travel in groups. If this is what is holding someone back, I would say definitely do not worry about it. There is plenty of opportunity to meet solo travelers and locals.
On meeting new people
I met many other travelers. It was so interesting to hear their stories and learn about what brought them on their journeys.
In day to day life, I am wary of meeting new people in situations such as transport or in cafes. I usually have things I want to accomplish in a flight or at a coffee shop. But since I was spending so much time alone, I had more energy to meet people in these situations and was amazed to hear so many unique stories.
The increased likelihood that I would never see these people again made it easier for me to form genuine connections and focus on learning about someone new.
On learning about myself
It was a really valuable experience for me to take some time to reflect on myself and my priorities.
I also realized so much of my anxiety comes from wondering if other people are having a good time. As I did all my activities, I wondered if I was having a good time. And if I wasn’t, I adjusted accordingly. It was cute.
On how I feel after
For me, traveling through Europe on my own was a great choice. I am happy I had the confidence to go and am grateful to those who offered me encouragement and advice. I want to emphasize, though I felt I gained a lot from the experience, they were wholistic takeaways; I didn’t just go to Paris and suddenly feel like everything had changed. Like day to day life, some days were great, and some days were stressful. Ultimately, I feel that traveling alone allowed me to grow my skill set, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and gave me the freedom to focus on myself.
I hope that my post travel thoughts are candid and helpful to those considering traveling solo. Thank you for reading!