I’m guessing solo travel is not for everyone.
And I’m not talking about booking yourself onto a tour because to me that’s not going it alone, you’re surrounded by everyone else on your tour group and you have your guide to assist you if required. And your days have been planned out.
I mean solo travel in every sense of the word. Travelling by yourself. I aspired to it. But I didn’t know if I would like it.
I read over and over how it changes peoples lives and I didn’t doubt that for a minute. Personal challenges always have growth opportunities, some we want to repeat and others not so much. I just didn’t know which one that would be for me.
I know I am an over-sharer and that is one of my many reasons I wanted to travel solo. To see if I could get over the need to share everything with someone else. To be able to sit quietly and contently acknowledging some wonderous thing that I achieved all by myself or that I witnessed.
I’m not usually an over-sharer on social media. I rarely post on my personal profile, and it is only lately that I have adopted a more personal sharing format on the Travel Charm Facebook page. It is my poor partner, Dan, that cops the brunt of it.
And speaking of Dan, it’s not like I don’t have someone to travel with. I would love to travel with him, and we will, but the need to travel solo and see what it’s like spoke strongly.
So off I went.
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What did I learn from my first big solo trip?
Here are the top 5 things that I learnt from travelling solo in Italy for three weeks.
1. It’s Exhausting
Travelling itself is tiring. You are on the go all the time, and that’s not something that you usually do at home. Or at least I’m not.
There is no routine or not much of one. I tend to stay longer in one place rather than move around which does make things easier. But geez was I exhausted at the beginning of my trip.
I was seriously laid low for three to four days. And that’s hard when it’s just you. When you are travelling with someone, you tend to spur each other on a bit more. Also, if you decide to stay in you can take it in turns to go out and get something to eat. And there is someone you can talk to, hang out with.
Decision making is all up to you. Yep, just you. No one to bounce ideas off, to help with directions, to decide what to do for the day.
And because I had no one to reign me in, I just kept walking. And walking. I would head down one laneway, then another and pop out somewhere entirely new. I got lost so many times it was ridiculous. I loved discovering new places — most of the time.
Until I felt like I could not walk another step, and my legs and feet were screaming at me, and I would realise I was at least 30 minutes from my hotel! I spent a lot of time hobbling around.
Travelling solo is physically and mentally draining.
My feet were killing me, but don’t you love my socks from Mount Vic and Me?
2. Get ready for the Emotions
I read that solo travel could get lonely. And it does.
You can sit inside your head all day, every day. Sometimes you will connect with people. Sometimes you won’t. You start to realise the genuine need to communicate with other human beings, and not just on a superficial level.
I very much understand what it is like to be surrounded by people and to feel completely alone.
I am a HUGE introvert and very happy spending time on my own. I was not prepared for this feeling of isolation at all. I became desperate for a connection. More than a “can you take my photo please” type of connection. I was desperate to get to know people and for them to want to know me. For part of my trip that didn’t happen.
As an introvert, small talk is not what floats my boat. We like to have more in-depth chats, and that can be difficult when your travelling.
I had to get over that fast.
There were tears of exhaustion, emotions, pain (when I fell over, twice!), homesickness and frustration.
But there were also feelings of pride.
So much pride in myself for dealing with things. For going out every day and exploring. Pride for coping with my emotions and not letting them get the better of me. And pride in the strength that I have and now acknowledge.
And I learnt to enjoy things on my own. A delicious meal, a beautiful sunset or an amazing vista. So many things to enjoy and now I know I don’t need someone else to make it special.
Now I just need to learn to take better selfies!!
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3. Feeling Free
No compromises. No doing what doesn’t interest you.
But with the good comes the bad. I am downright lazy at times and with no one else around to push me, I can just end up hanging around. I had to push myself.
And we can get stuck in what we do, what we like and how we go about things. Having someone else around and sharing their interests with you can open up a new world.
Or bore us to death.
It could go either way.
I don’t do churches and museums. Well, I do museums when it’s of interest, like Castelvecchio in Verona. I liked that. But churches not so much. Yes, they are beautiful, the architecture is impressive, but I don’t feel the need or the pull.
Castles on the other hand, well, let’s just say my imagination can go wild imagining life in medieval times and how people lived and survived.
That’s the beauty of travelling solo; I can choose exactly what I want to do. And when.
My most precious memory is of walking down a street in Bologna, in the morning, scarf tucked cosily up and under my chin and walking down one lane, and the next and stumbling upon a small piazza framed on one side by a Palazzo with a beautiful church on the other. Nothing special, just a moment in time feeling free and at ease.
And the realisation that I didn’t need someone else to enjoy the moment. I still get a little smug smile on my face when I think of that morning.
There is also a sense of freedom from yourself. The judgements you place on yourself, how you look, what you do. It’s just you doing what you want without a care in the world.
And travelling carry on luggage only gave me the freedom to not worry about what I looked like and what I wore. My choices were limited. Once I wrapped my head around that, the sense of freedom was extraordinary.
Castelvecchio in Verona
4. Choose the right accommodation for you
Don’t do what I did and go against your gut feeling just because you are trying to save on your travel budget. It ended up costing me much more than it needed to.
For Verona, I chose a B&B. Partly because I thought it would be more sociable and I would meet other guests and partly because it was cheap.
What I looked at first and foremost was that it was close to the train station and so that upon arrival I would not have far to go. I didn’t think the 15 – 20 min walk into the centre of Verona would be an issue.
Here’s how it actually went.
I arrived in Verona from Florence. I had had a fall in the street in Florence a couple of hours before I left. I was very sore and feeling sorry for myself and completely drained. So, I caught a taxi from the station to the B&B.
The B&B was not in a nice area and felt isolated from everywhere. It wasn’t that far into Verona itself, but after a long day of walking, my feet were hurting a lot and my stiff and sore body protested. I didn’t feel completely comfortable walking it at night, so after two nights of being at the B&B from 4 pm and not wanting to walk into Verona again for dinner, I decided I had to move.
The other guests at the B&B were completely unfriendly, to the point of rude. I was the only English-speaking guest (and that’s ok) but would a smile be too much to ask for instead of a scowl when I came into breakfast?
I ended up moving to a hotel closer to the centre, and everything changed including my mood. The room at the B&B had been fine, but the strange, unwelcome feeling I got, coupled with the long walk and aching body was enough to make me spend the extra money on different accommodation.
I should have continued with my initial plan when I was preparing to solo travel.
In the future, I will rent an apartment. I love to cook and would have liked to have bought fresh produce and pasta and cook some of my meals to enjoy as well as my breakfast. That way I would have gone out later and enjoyed coffee the Italian style at the bar.
The other issue when staying in a hotel or a place that has a daily cleaning service, is you need to leave the room. Or at least I felt compelled to go.
With an apartment, I can come and go at times that suit me. An early morning walk to take photos, come back for a leisurely breakfast, some work if needed then out again before and around lunch. Siesta in the afternoon and either out for dinner or cook up a storm for me, and stay in for a quiet night.
5. Pre-plan (at least a little bit)
I am an over planner. I had mapped out places I thought I would like to visit, and started to put together an Italian itinerary. But then I tried to scale it back. and not plan everything.
But it’s not me. And I would rather know what I am doing and not be faced with an entire day and thinking of what to do. I should have followed my own travel planning checklist!
In the future, a good balance of booked tours, a list of activities (which I did have), plans for what to do if it’s raining and free time would be perfect.
At the last minute before the trip, I booked a heap of things, but for some reason for Verona, I didn’t. I only had one food and wine tour, which was excellent, but nothing else. I was also the only person on tour, so even though it was wonderful having my own “private” tour I didn’t get to meet other travellers.
I don’t know why I forewent my usual free walking tour, but I won’t make that mistake again. I didn’t feel compelled to go on day trips from Verona because most places I had already been to or was going to.
And if your budget allows, book a day tour. Don’t feel like you are letting yourself down. By booking a day tour, you give yourself a day off from planning and organising yourself, AND you still see and experience something new. It’s a good balance of solo travel and organised tour.
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Would I solo travel again?
Did Solo Travel change my life?
It has certainly changed me. More and more aspects are emerging in my daily life since I have been home. A sense of being able to accomplish things I hadn’t thought I could before. Being more independent than I had been and the desire to get out and do more on my own — the ability to see and appreciate the small things, like flowers on the side of the road or the warble of a magpie high in the tree without someone beside me to share it.
As time goes on highlights of the trip emerge in conversation and reflection.
The experience is still fresh, and at the moment the experiences are muddled. Over time a memory pops up that stands out from the rest — things like a short but sweet interaction, people I met and conversations I had over a shared meal.
More will come to mind as I talk about the trip, or think about a particular place or moment.
When you are travelling, you are doing. You are getting through each day, and even if you have achieved something monumental, it is all just part of your day.
It’s once the trip is over and the memories come flooding back do you realise, “I did that!”
I loved all the places I visited. I would certainly do some things differently, but then nothing is ever perfect.
What stood out for me the most was that I could do it.
I can travel alone.
I can be alone and enjoy moments without the need to have someone else by my side. I don’t need anyone else to validate the experience. Or me.
There are lingering moments etched in my memory that would mean nothing to anyone else. And the knowledge that I can jump on a plane and travel when I want to, even if I don’t have a group to take or a travelling companion, is liberating.
Who knows where my newfound ability will take me?
The knowledge that I have the freedom to choose what I do, not only in travel but also in life, is the biggest lesson I have learnt from solo travel.
If you ever have the chance to try it, please do. It is an experience you will never forget.
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