7 lessons I learnt traveling alone – Paula EVS volunteer

Traveling alone was something I had wanted to do for a very long time but never had the courage to actually do until October 2017. I really wanted to challenge myself, push myself out of my comfort zone and be able to succesfully manage myself in unknown places. So I took a decision I would always be glad for: I was going to travel around Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia by myself for a week.

I truly believe this kind of “adventures” are not only for experiencing them, but also for reflecting and learning from them in order to grow as a person. After evaluating the whole experience of my trip, these are (just some of) the lessons I learned while traveling solo:

LESSON NUMBER 1: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE THE BRAVEST PERSON TO DO IT
Some people might thing “wow you were so brave” or “I’m not brave enough to do that”, trust me, I wasn’t that brave either and I’ll tell you why. To me, the scariest moment of the whole trip was actually BEFORE THE TRIP started and not during it.  Let me explain. It is true that I really wanted to do this trip alone, but it’s also true that it was something way out of my comfort zone that made me extremely nervous and anxious. For me, it was only two days before the trip when I had just booked all my bus tickets when I realized what I was actually going to do, and I FREAKED OUT. I started thinking of every single bad or dangerous thing that could happen to me and due to this I got really scared and regretted what I was about to do. Luckily, I talked with friends who calmed me down and I slept on it that night… Or I’d better say I TRIED to sleep that night because I barely could… I couldn’t stop thinking of the trip and when I finally managed to fall asleep I had two nightmares (if you know me you know that I normally sleep like a baby and never have nightmares). In any case, the morning after that long sleepless night, I woke up and took the smartest and “adultest” decision I could have taken: I WAS GOING TO DO IT EVEN IF I WAS TERRIFIED.

LESSON NUMBER 2: DON’T EXPECT PEOPLE TO SUPPORT THE IDEA OF YOUR SOLO TRIP
Most of the people (although not everyone) I told about my future solo trip looked at me like I was crazy. One guy said to me “I would do it, but I wouldn’t do it if I was a girl” and another one literally said to me “do you want to die?” To all of them I’d like to say they don’t have to worry, I’m still alive, nothing bad happened to me and they should start changing their mind in that sense. So don’t expect everyone to support your solo trip because that’s not going to happen, especially if you are a woman. There’s still this common misbelief in society that women being alone and doing things by themselves put themselves in dangerous situations and that’s NOT the case anymore. So if you really want to do that solo trip, just do it for you and prove everyone else wrong.

LESSON NUMBER 3: TRAVELING ALONE MEANS FREEDOM
When you travel with friends or family you have to agree with them on EVERYTHING: what to visit, where to go, when and where to eat, at what time you prefer to go to a certain place, etcetera. Don’t get me wrong, traveling in a group is a lot of fun, BUT when you are by yourself you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, as many times as you want and however you want. You decide whether you want to go to a museum or to a park, whether you want to wake up early in the morning or sleep until noon, or whether you want to have coffee or pizza for breakfast (or both). You manage your time and money as you want and that is one of the best things of traveling alone.

LESSON NUMBER 4: MAKE A PLAN, BUT DON’T FOLLOW IT
By this I mean: plan some things of your trip, but be also open to improvisation and changing your mind all the time. I personally “planned” not to walk in the street at night alone but when I was in Belgrade and it was getting dark, the city center was so full of people and so full of life that I couldn’t just stick to my “plan”. Instead, I went for a drink with someone I met from my group of the walking tour I did that day in the morning, enjoyed local beer and had a nice conversation about differences between Sweden and Spain. Also, everyday I would “plan” in the morning what to visit that day in the city, but I would end up putting my map back in my pocket and just walk in the streets and get lost.I actually found some of my favourite spots of many cities just by doing that, so THERE’S NOTHING WRONG IN GETTING LOST!

LESSON NUMBER 5: TRAVELING ALONE DOESN’T MEAN BEING ALONE
Some people are scared of traveling alone because they are afraid they are going to feel lonely or bored for not having anyone to talk to. In my experience, I realised that traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean being alone, but having the choice to be on your own as much as you want. For instance, you can decide if you want to discover a city by walking the streets by yourself or by taking a free tour and talking and meeting the people that are in your tour group. Or you can decide whether to eat breakfast in a lovely cafe in the city center by yourself or in the hostel together with other guests while talking about where have you been in your trip and where you are heading to . And all those options are great. And the best thing is that you can chose to be more sociable or introvert depending on your mood and how you feel.

LESSON NUMBER 6: THE EXPERIENCE WILL MAKE YOU MORE INDEPENDENT AND RESPONSIBLE
As I mentioned before, when you travel alone, you make every single decision and you depend only on yourself. There’s no one else around you to take care of you if you get sick or anyone to borrow money from if you get your wallet stolen. I don’t want to sound dramatic but those are just real things that can happen to you every day, even if you are in your hometown. The difference in this case, is that while traveling solo THERE IS ONLY YOU TO LOOK AFTER YOU. But don’t panic, if you act wisely nothing has to go wrong and your decisions will make your trip a success instead of a disaster. Things like not bringing all the money you have for the trip with you, downloading an app with offline maps for when you don’t have internet, carrying a portable charger with you or checking the weather forecast before you leave your hostel can literally SAVE YOUR LIFE.

LESSON NUMBER 7: TRAVELING ALONE IS ONE THE MOST FULFILLING EXPERIENCES YOU CAN LIVE
Traveling alone requires not only that you’re responsible or make the right decisions, but also that you face numerous, different-sized CHALLENGES like taking the right bus, finding where to change some money into the local currency, finding your hostel at night in a street that seems not to exist, etc. Those challenges kept me wide awake during the day, every day of the trip. But let me tell you, the satisfaction of getting where you want to go and getting what you want to get just because of you and nobody else is AMAZING. Everything you see, visit, discover etc is just because of you, because (probably) nobody took you there, you did it all yourself. But also, don’t be shy to ask for help when you need it and people will be glad to help you. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

I can only conclude by saying that I loved the experience because of the places I visited, the people I met and the things I learnt. I will repeat the experience for sure and I recommend it to everyone, no matter if you are 18 or 80. Don’t be scared and go for it!