The Traveler Stories Series. Each month we feature a story (or two) written by another fellow traveler, who shares with us their own travel experiences. This month, meet Lauren, the beautiful foodie and blogger at Global Locavore. She shares with us her story of solo travel, and some of the mistakes made and lessons learned.
I was all alone in a dim and drafty airport when I realized I would be spending the night on a plastic bench. Gone were my visions of comfy couches, wifi, hot food and glasses of wine. I was standing there alone in an empty airport at 11pm and my flight didn’t leave for over 7 hours.
It was my first night being a savvy solo traveller and I’d already made my first mistake!
Here’s the truth: I like to think of myself as an expert traveller who doesn’t make mistakes. I thought I had this travel thing figured out. My first international trip was to Spain when I was 18 months old, and since then I’ve taken more flights than I can count.
Over the years, I’ve travelled on ferries, busses, planes, trains, and cars. I’ve travelled to budget hostels, 5-star resorts, gites, pensiones, rental apartments, fancy hotels and slept under the stars. I’ve travelled with my parents, with my boyfriends, with my sister, with my friends, with coworkers, with fellow students and even with strangers.
But somehow, at the age of 27 I had never travelled to a new country completely alone.
And let’s face it, we all make mistakes when we try something new.
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How did I make the particular mistake that had me sleeping on the floor of an airport?
I had decided a few weeks before that I wanted to explore Italy solo. When I found an incredible flight deal from Liverpool to Naples, I didn’t hesitate – even when I realized there was no train to the airport in time for my 6am flight. This meant I would have to arrive the night before, and sleep at the airport.
As many budget travellers can attest, sometimes your wallet wins over your comfort. What I failed to realize was that the check-in desk would not be open so I’d be trapped in the airport entrance without a single amenity. Thus I found myself without food, entertainment, comfort or company.
Lesson One: Always Be Prepared
I could have felt deflated, but I think that making mistakes is part of the adventure and mistakes certainly help you learn. My first solo travel lesson – always be prepared.
Travel with a few essentials like snacks, a set of warm clothes, headphones and an eye mask. You never know where you might end up and you’ll only have your own supplies to rely on.
The next day when I arrived on the Amalfi coast, I got my first real taste of solo travel and it tasted like freedom! The freedom to go where I wanted, eat when I wanted and do what I wanted. A week of lounging in the sun, enjoying delicious food and swimming in the Mediterranean was exactly what I needed to kick off my solo adventure.
That being said, Positano, where I’d chosen to base myself, isn’t an easy place to be a solo traveller. Positano is a romantic destination popular with honeymooners, so it can be expensive and difficult to meet new people. Most of the accommodations and restaurants cater to couples interested in luxury.
I found one, small hostel on the outskirts of town with a long walk to the beach. Finding casual dining options meant packing a picnic or a rare budget pizzeria. While I eventually made a few friends at my quiet hostel, I did spend most of my time alone.
Lesson Two: Do Some Research
If you are planning your first solo trip, and are looking for a particular atmosphere, research your destination before you book.
Luckily, I was happy to spend the week strolling the streets taking photos, reading my book on the beach, and feasting on gelato. Had I been interested in a busy social scene or late night parties, I would have been disappointed.
Before leaving for my trip I was worried about all kinds of things, big and small. How would I handle an emergency? What to do with my bag while I went to the bathroom? Would I be afraid to eat at a restaurant alone? Would I push myself outside of my own comfort zone? Would I be lonely? All the classic worries that could have prevented me from going on an adventure on my own. I needn’t have worried!
One of my favourite evenings in Positano was when I braved a fancy restaurant alone. I sat outside under on a beautiful courtyard that overlooked the water, watching the setting sun. I had brought a book to keep me company but I decided to leave it in my bag to truly experience the lovely moment. I savoured a bowl of the world’s freshest, tastiest seafood pasta and embraced my solitude.
I was alone, but I was completely happy.
Lesson Three: Don’t Be Afraid
In that moment I realized would rather be alone than not be there at all. I realized I’d rather travel solo than miss out on adventure. Most importantly, I understood that I was happy being in my own company and was a truly freeing realization.
Being alone isn’t always easy, but it is definitely worth it. Travelling solo gave me the opportunity to learn to trust my instincts, to be responsible for my own happiness and to enjoy being alone.
Having completed my first solo trip, I was grateful for the quiet moments of reflection, the lessons I learned along the way and yes, even the mistakes I made.
Lauren is on a mission to change the world through the power of food. Global Locavore is a sustainable food tourism website dedicated to connecting travellers to local food experiences. Lauren chronicles her journey around the globe through stories about growing, sharing and eating really good food. Follow along on through her Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you have an interesting story to tell and would like to be featured in our series Traveler Stories, please get in touch!
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Great info to read before traveling solo for the first time, thanks sending this to a friend!
Thanks so much for sharing! I hope your friend finds the inspiration to take a solo trip!
I loved reading this so much! I am going to be a solo traveller one of these days and I am so nervous about it because I get really anxious but at least this post has helped me to feel a bit better and prepared!
Hey Kristy. I absolutely get the feeling of nervousness around solo travel, but I think as long as you take general precautions – telling someone where you are going, staying alert – there is no need to be afraid. I found that people are by and large, kind, friendly and welcoming! You will meet so many new people and learn so much about yourself if you decide to go. Best of luck with all your planning! 🙂
I love this post and it’s so helpful because my boyfriend and I are talking about backpacking through Europe. I would love to travel alone, but an extremely afraid. This post gave me confidence that I can do it. Thank you.
Hi Sara. I’m excited to hear about your trip to Europe with your boyfriend! What I found was that by travelling with a partner, I got more and more comfort in my travel skills which gave me the confidence to eventually travel alone. A suggestion: take one day on your upcoming where you travel solo in a city apart from your bf and then at the end of the day meet up to share your adventures. It’s an awesome way to dip your toe into solo travel! Have fun!
Great thoughts! I am married so I don’t ever need to travel solo, but if I went back in time, these would be great tips.
I love how you share tips and lessons! Very insightful!
I think once you have mastered solo restaurant eating everything else falls into place. It would be criminal to miss out on all that delicious food!
I completely agree. A lot of people face the fear of eating alone and I definitely did at first. Now I do it all the time and have a hard time believing it ever bothered me. I think the casual option of street food in Asia is easier to experience solo than a lot of sit down restaurants in Europe but both can be enjoyable with a little practice.
Love your honesty! And Solo travel is so much fun!
I’ve done many a solo trip – can make the family trips all the harder…;)
Ha! I think you are very right. After you get used to the freedom of travelling alone, it can be challenging to go back to travelling with others. I love that I now feel confident to mix in both forms of travel and that keeps things interesting!
I think we all will keep making mistakes even though we have traveled a lot. Last year in Europe, I made several mistakes. There were many things I wasn’t aware of. This year I am going back and I am trying to correct the things I did wrong last year. Well, lets see what new thing comes up.
Absolutely – and isn’t making mistakes part of the adventure? I always think that a lot of my favourite memories came from the moments where things didn’t go exactly as planned. I hope you have an amazing time on your Europe trip!
Sometimes making mistakes traveling solo is better than when they happen and you’re not solo. I booked a flight a year later coming home from Boston once. It was an obvious mistake that the airline was quick to correct, but we had to stay another night and my friend….well he wasn’t so happy about it. Great read. Made me giggle.
Love this! I’ve flown by myself a bunch but I have never truly traveled alone. I’m working up the guts to do it (although it won’t happen for awhile since I have two little kids) but it is on my bucket list.
Great tips. I travelled to Switzerland on my own last year, and completely agree with what yo say in your post. It’s very liberating.
Loved the final thoughts on this post! Traveling solo isn’t always easy, but it’s rewarding because you learn that you have to love being in your own company before anyone else.
Great to read about Lauren’s solo travels. I love travelling alone and long for it now that I’ve got a family – those days of solo travels while I was working as a travel writer were some of the most liberating and joyful travel experiences I’ve had. It can be a bit scary at first but once you do it, you definitely won’t regret it. Lauren’s tips are spot on! #MondayEscapes
Love this post! I mostly have fears about dining alone so at worst, I’ll mentally prepare myself to pack. More solo trips to ‘test’ next!
Hi Soraya! I hope you’ll be pleased to know that since I really liked this post I cited it here: http://www.fromdreamtoplan.net/2016/09/01/solo-vs-non-solo-travelling/ 🙂
Thank you lovely! That is so kind of you 🙂