My first solo travel trip around Europe wasn’t planned.
After an Interrail trip with a friend fell through, I decided to take the plunge. I had already bought the ticket and got some last-minute time off work – what did I have to lose? Before I knew it, I was on a train.
The idea of travelling alone is daunting. I didn’t have much time to get nervous, but the common first-time solo travel jitters were running through my mind. Will I get lost? Will I get lonely? Who’s got my back if something goes wrong?
Once I arrived at my first stop, these fears were soon pushed to the back of my mind. Of course, some things don’t go to plan but challenges being thrown at you is all part of the experience. I found my first solo trip so rewarding and liberating that I decided to do it again for a longer period of time. And I’m sure it won’t be that long until the next one!
Why? Because you’ll learn so much. What? The following, and so much more:
Europe is the best place for first-time solo travellers
Europe is a great starting point for first-time solo travellers. For Europeans, it feels somewhat familiar but has a wide variety of landscapes, culture and history. For those from further afield, traveling between countries is incredibly simple and everything feels so close together if you’re from somewhere like North America or Australia.
Europe’s well-connected train network is so easy to navigate that I’ve visited places in France, Croatia, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia and Hungary without even stepping on a plane. Not sure where to begin? These 7 underrated cities and 5 lesser-known islands are a pretty good place to start.
Rich in history, culture and sheer natural beauty, Croatia should definitely be at the top of every solo traveller’s list. Whether it’s exploring the historic city walls of Dubrovnik, bathing in the Krka waterfalls, wandering among Roman ruins in Split, enjoying the nightlife in Hvar, admiring the Plitvice Lakes, sipping coffee in Zagreb or kayaking along the gorgeous Adriatic coast, this European gem has something for everyone.
Where else would I recommend? Well, with sweeping landscapes and storybook old towns, Austria is quite simply the stuff of fairytales.
The German-speaking country waltzes effortlessly between the urban and outdoors, with formidable mountains making the perfect backdrop for some quiet reflection, while the quaint cobbled streets and imperial architecture in Salzburg and Vienna are a wanderer’s paradise. That’s not to mention the country’s infamous coffeehouses.
For me, Europe was the perfect destination to test the waters and see if solo travel was for me. As a solo female traveller I felt incredibly safe wandering around alone and venturing out at night. Now I feel more confident about going it alone and possibly traveling further afield next time.
If you want to do something, just go for it
I’ve always been an avid traveller but wasn’t sure about going solo. I’d get disappointed when talk of travel plans with friends never materialised and think longingly of all the places I wanted to explore. Now I’ve got nothing holding me back!
As someone who lives abroad, I already considered myself rather resilient and resourceful, but traveling solo can test in ways you haven’t been before. From negotiating with an aggressive and not so understanding ticket inspector to re-planning my train route at the last minute after missing a connection, I feel I can handle pretty much anything thrown at me on the road.
If you’re worried about getting lost, Citymapper runs in a lot of major European cities and is an absolute godsend when you’re trying to figure out an unknown public transport system. And if you’ve totally forgotten how to read old-school maps (I know I have), there’s always Google Maps to get yourself out of sticky situations.
No roaming charges in the European Union is great news for European travellers relying on apps or who simply want to update their Instagram feed before getting back to their accommodation. If you’re not from Europe but are planning on traveling around the continent for a long time, it might be worth looking into buying a sim card to avoid extra charges.
As a vegetarian, I also usually look into how veggie-friendly local cuisine is and research recommended places to eat.
People are kinder and more generous than we realise
In this day and age we tend to have an automatic barrier around us and a culture of suspicion. Having grown up in a large capital, I know I am guilty of having my guard high up in everyday life. While it’s obviously important to have your wits about you when traveling alone, you’ll find yourself in situations where you have to put your faith in strangers.
I’ll be forever grateful to the man who gave me his spare change for the bus when I found myself stranded in the middle of nowhere in the Czech Republic with no currency or signal. Lesson number one learnt: always change some money before the next leg of your trip!
Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely
Naturally, most people’s biggest concern when contemplating solo travel is getting lonely on the road. It was certainly mine. Instead, I enjoyed being 100% in charge of my agenda and being able to travel at my own pace. Most importantly, I learnt how to enjoy my own company.
And you won’t really be alone of course – I met many solo travellers along the way.
Meeting people is easier than you think
Before my first solo travel trip I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to meet people, but it’s amazing how like-minded people tend to gravitate towards one another.
Interactions while on the road range widely – from having a chat with your friendly waiter as you tuck into Baklava in Belgrade to talking for hours with backpacking Americans you’ve just met while admiring the sunset over the mountains before going out for Austrian dumplings in Salzburg.
Chatting to locals can be a great way to find things that aren’t in the guidebooks. Befriending locals during my travels has led to beer and pizza in Prague, a private tour of a hidden market in Budapest and delicious Israeli home-cooked meals in Zagreb.
Another way of getting a truly authentic experience is by checking out the range of day tours offered up by Urban Adventures. They have 775 unique, local-led, small-group tours all over the world, meaning you can check out Hanoi’s street food scene, browse Rome’s lesser-discovered neighborhoods, and sample beer everywhere from Beijing to Budapest.
Small group trips are great for solo travellers
Trying small group tours à la Intrepid Travel are a really great and easy way to meet like-minded travellers. I travelled with a small group to the absolutely gorgeous Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and it led to some of my best travel memories – filled with stimulating conversations, future travel inspiration, tips, and even an open invitation to California!
The adventures solo travel might lead to for you? I couldn’t say, but I know you’ll want to find out…
There’s nothing like travelling solo on a small group tour. Find out more information about our trips that are just for solo travellers.
All images c/o Selina Sykes.