After years of dreaming, I finally decided to do my first backpacking trip to Europe. After finishing the opening season I feel that my first solo travel experience was successful. Great memories, new places, new people, and unforgettable experiences.
How the first time solo travel turned out, what I did, where did I go, and what is most important, did I learn something, and was there also a growth? Let’s find out!
Why I Went On A Solo Trip
To explain that, we need to go back in time, exactly at the beginning of the new year of 2020. We have a tradition to get together, sit down, talk, and make plans for the future. We write down new goals, dreams about what we want to achieve in the upcoming year. I already knew that I wanted a change from my everyday life and to do something exceptional. So one thing I wrote down was to do backpacking to Europe. This idea has served me for a longer period, so I thought that I´m going to make it happen, no matter what.
New Reality or Opportunity?
At the beginning of the year, I thought this was going to be a special year, and just after two months it turned out, it’s going to be “special”. Some weird uninvited “friend” decided to change the World (Corona, if you didn’t get it). A nice and hurtful kick right to my sweet spot. Is it a new reality, that I should accept it, that better stay at home? At first, it might have felt that way.
Nothing Changes Until You Make a Choice
But soon after I gained some courage, made some important decisions like I’m ready to quit my job, I did eye surgery to get rid of classes and I still decided to go backpacking. It seemed like nobody else (from the people I would love to go adventure together with) set the same goal at the beginning of the year. It seems like I am going to travel solo for the first time.
Preparation For My First Solo Travel
It started with the most important action. One day I just randomly looked at flight tickets, that where I can solo travel with the least money. It was Vienna, which was the cheapest. That year I made a lot of quick decisions and I knew if I don’t buy it right away, then it’s easier to procrastinate. So I chose a date and made the purchase. Now there wasn’t any other option to cancel my plans.
Basic Preparation For a First Solo Trip
After that I bought all my gear, starting with a backpack, a sleeping bag, a mattress. I decided not to go for a tent because it takes too much room in a backpack. To my surprise, all this backpacking gear has been made so minimalistic, that you can fit a lot of stuff into one backpack.
Also, I did some research about COVID restrictions, what documents to bring and it was pretty much everything. I wanted to leave a lot of room for spontaneity.
First Time with Couchsurfing
For the first few days, I also looked for a place to sleep. I decided to try out this legendary app Couchsurfing. It’s a community where locals host travelers. I can tell I had many great memories thanks to that application. I sent many requests and one local accepted me without any references in my account. Plus points to my host for that trust to host a total stranger.
Where Did I Go on My First Solo Travel?
As already mentioned my first solo travel destination was Vienna, Austria. Then after that with no plan or even map I started wandering around. After Vienna, I visited Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. I did some touristic tours around the city. Visited smaller Slovakian places like Nitra and Banska Bystrica. Continued my road to still one of my favorite cities Budapest (Hungary) and after that, to my accident, I relaxed around Lake Balaton for two weeks. Then I had an active and quick week in Slovenia. Finally ended my journey doing a tour around Italy in five weeks.
So during my 10-week solo travel adventures, I visited five countries and all their capitals. With the first experience, I saw so many new places, made a lot of great memories, and hung out with locals. I put a pause to my travels, soon the “second wave” started to kick off and cooled down in Ljubljana (Slovenia) for another two and a half months.
What I Saw and Did During My Adventures
I saw new places that I haven’t seen before and did some things that I never had tried before. Well, isn’t that a whole point to make unforgettable memories? What legendary trip would that be if you don’t do something for the first time?
Leaving Some Room for Spontaneity
As already mentioned I wanted to leave as many as possible to spontaneity. At least I knew where I wanted to go and had some points in the “bucket list”, but mostly I moved around by recommendations from locals or just found randomly unique places. There were so many times when I woke up and had no clue where I was going to sleep the next night. Sometimes I was lucky and got hosted, then other times I slept under the stars.
Doing Some New Things
Well, I was traveling alone for the first time. I was backpacking solo and I didn’t want to spend that much money, so I lowered my needs and found some out of comfort zone alternatives.
1. How to Get Free Sleep?
For sleep, I did a lot of as already mentioned Couchsurfing, which isn’t anywhere near too uncomfortable, it’s the most awesome thing you can do during your travels. But wild camping on the fields, beaches, or someone’s property isn’t exactly like sleeping in a bed. There were some periods in Italy where I wild camped for four days in a row. Also without showers for days. But I won’t complain, it was fun.
2. Catching a Free Ride
For years there has been on convenient way to get a free ride – that secret weapon is hitchhiking. I tried it a lot, I failed a lot, but also saved some money. Once I was lucky and got a place to sleep after I hitched a ride next to the road.
3. Volunteering For a Week
A new thing for me was also volunteering. For that, I used the WorkAway app and spent one week close to Lake Balaton, and helped one family with their farm work. It was such a great week, where I had a different solo travel experience. I had such a fun time with the family, and I would do volunteering again.
The Most Important Thing To Have The Best Solo Travel Experience
Many little things made my journey enjoyable. But the most important part is meeting new friends from hostels, Couchsurfing, or even from Tinder. Hanging out with locals around the city, hiking together in mountains, or having a proper night out. As the old mantra says: “It’s not really about the new places you see, but more about new people you meet in those places”. It’s truly great advice when going alone for the first time.
Things You Have To Deal With While Solo Traveling
The first solo travel experience might not be the most pleasing sometimes, especially in the form of backpacking. An ordinary backpacker is someone who wants to spend as little as possible. As previously mentioned wild camping and hitchhiking are some ways to lower needs and spend less. Also, there are some other things to deal with when to travel alone.
1. Some Alone Time
That’s one thing that sucks sometimes. Traveling to a new place you will start all over again. You don’t know anybody in a new place. So you open some apps to find some new faces, but I wasn’t lucky all the time. Sometimes I was in some places too short of a period, so it wasn’t realistic to meet someone fast.
2. Main Challenges
Three main challenges each day with backpacking were where I am going to stay tonight, how I move forward, and what and where I eat with as little money as possible. It wouldn’t be any challenge when you have a short trip, but at first, I did not have any end date. So I lowered my needs pretty often, to not end up eating macaroons for the last weeks. It wasn’t easy to find a wild camping spot or a hitchhiking ride. Also, extra food and water in my backpack gave me some additional kilograms. But again I won’t complain, because it was my choice.
I would say it’s a key thing to have a successful first-time solo travel experience. After the first trip, it looks so clear. But imagine when you are so strict with your plans, like how much time you want to spend somewhere or when you want to arrive somewhere. I am pretty sure that everything doesn’t go along with the first master plan. The thing is to be flexible and move forward with a flow. Might not have time to visit all the places you want, but at least you need to take most of the places you have time to visit.
Benefits of traveling alone
Along the way you will discover several solo travel benefits. Starting with the courage itself, ending with self-independence. Here are some few.
1. Being Your Best Friend
Some say that solitude is something to try out. To find yourself, what you are good at, how you react in uncomfortable situations. So feeling lonely isn’t something that bad. It’s a vital skill to learn how to cheer up yourself when there isn’t anybody on your side to support you. Putting more focus on internal than external factors is the way to win most of the situations when your moods want to persuade you not to take important actions.
2. Meeting People
When there is too much alone time, then it’s recommended to meet new awesome people. Luckily a solo traveler will find new friends easily, well because there is a need for communication after a while. You will find new buddies in a hostel, travel apps, in bars, or if brave enough then on the street as well. The first solo travel experience will be much more memorable if interacting with the locals.
3. Taking it Chill
Traveling solo or not, but exploring new places makes you happier. There is nothing too much to worry about, just taking it day after day, and feeling relaxed.
This is one skill that first-time solo travelers will learn, that when not overreacting then most of the struggle is dealt with ease. I mean when traveling alone, then you have to make all the decisions by yourself. Where to sleep, how to get there, what to eat, and all the what if’s. After some practice, it’s easy.
4. More Courageous, Experienced, and Empowered
The decision to go traveling alone for the first time is already pretty bald and will get you some honor medals from friends. Not everyone wouldn’t do that, because they think they don’t make it well. I don’t know why, but I heard that excuse from others when I traveled.
Another thing is that people are afraid to go alone in a new environment, well because what if everything goes wrong. I am sure that unpleasant things can happen everywhere, even at home. But these decisive decisions, actions, and just seeing the world, will make you more courageous, experienced, and empowered. Paint the picture of the world with your own eyes, not through the media.
Why Should You Go Traveling By Yourself?
If you like traveling, then why not. But alone? It’s the same, but it may push you a bit more out of your comfort zone, you have to make a lot of decisions by yourself, and deal with part-time loneliness. After overcoming them, you have learned some important stuff and gained some life-changing skills.
Doing something new for the first time will enlighten your life from this everyday routine. Like doing wild camping on the beach, hitchhiking with strangers, or getting hosted by locals.
My first solo trip was amazing, I am sure that it’s the same for everyone who will make that decision.