Sometimes, life doesn’t work out exactly as planned. I feel like I should trademark that phrase, because it certainly seems to be a theme of this blog. But in this particular case, the honest truth is that my plans falling apart turned out better than I could have imagined.
This October, I had planned to celebrate successfully completing my first 3 months at the new job by taking some much-needed vacation time in Europe. After I purchased my non-refundable, multi-city flight into London and out of Paris for our 8-night trip in mid-October, I heard from the friend I had planned to travel with:
She wasn’t going to go on the trip after all.
Naturally, I contacted all my travel buddies to see if any of them could get 8 nights off work on relatively short notice. Unfortunately, none could make the dates work. Reality sank in…
I was about to go on my first solo trip abroad.
Finding the right accommodation
As soon as I got over the initial shock and accepted that I was about to embark on a solo trip abroad, I got excited. The complete freedom was really appealing… 8 days and nights in Europe, doing literally whatever I wanted! Even though I valued that freedom, I recognized that I’d get really lonely if I spent the whole trip exploring Europe by myself.
I’ve got nothing against air bnbs or hotels, but staying in a hostel is one of the best ways to meet people when you are traveling. I always book hostels through HostelWorld, and I spent some time reading reviews prior to settling on the right places to stay on this first solo trip abroad.
I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels around the world, and the culture from hostel to hostel varies wildly. While I'll be the first to admit that hostel experiences depend greatly on the group of people who are there when you are there, I was looking for a place with reviews that talked about people connecting and a hostel with a welcoming atmosphere for solo travelers.
When you get invited to do something, go
After some deliberation, I decided to stay at Astor Hyde Park in London for my first four nights, and I could not have gotten luckier. The first night, I was sitting in the kitchen deciding what to do when one of the guys who worked at Astor walked by and said, “We’re about to leave on a pub crawl, are you in?”
So I said, “Definitely.”
(I’m not one to turn down a pub crawl, after all).
The entire pub crawl group was made up of solo travelers from all over the world. Based on those initial friendships, I had a family of people to go to dinner, museums, walking tours and day trips with during the rest of my time in London. I met another solo traveler at Astor who was heading to Paris after London also, so we met up when she arrived and saw the sights there together.
My advice: If you are traveling solo (or traveling in general), jump at the chance to meet new people. Those friendships might just make your entire trip.
Connect with friends in the cities you are visiting
After posting the dates I was planning to head to London on Facebook about a week before the trip, I heard from a friend I haven’t seen in 8 years who happened to be visiting London on the same dates. We made plans to meet up for a walking tour in London and catch up.
Another reason to meet people whenever you can, wherever you are in the world… you never know when you’ll be looking for friends to meet up with on a future trip!
Would I go on a solo trip abroad again?
In my opinion, the true test of whether or not a trip went well is if you would do it again. In this case, the answer is a definite yes. The main challenge of this trip is that I got sick with a sinus infection/cough situation, but that had nothing to do with traveling solo (mostly it had to do with the fact that my immune system consistently goes on strike when I leave the country for some reason). Otherwise, I saw everything I wanted to see and did everything I wanted to do in both London and Paris (and made some new discoveries in both cities as well).
I wouldn’t trade my experience on this first solo trip abroad for anything, and I’m looking forward to future travels (both solo and otherwise) when I can reconnect with everyone I met.
Until next time…