When I set out to backpack through the U.K. for three weeks on my own. I got a lot of responses, that ranged from “that’s insane” to “eh, no big deal”. I have to say that the latter would piss me off more often than not. Because, to be totally honest with you, I was freaking out a little. Sure, I’d done a lot of things on my own, but no one really thinks about what it’s like to be traveling completely alone. We take for granted that having another human being to count on most of the time, really has it’s benefits. For example, I am really bad at directions, so I found myself lost a lot on this trip. I also found myself stranded at times because train stations shut down or I even got locked out of an air BnB at one point and spent most of the night in their laundry room. I’m serious! Having another person with you, to brain storm what to do next or maybe even just to keep you warm when the other guests lock you out and you’re sleeping next to a dryer, it can make a difference!
Here are 10 things I learned as a fist time solo female backpacker:
1. You’re going to feel like you can’t do it:
The way that I got through each day when I first started out, was to remind myself that I “just” had to do things. I “just” had to figure out what bus to take I “just” had to find the hostel. I didn’t wake up in the morning and overwhelm myself with the fact that I was taking three different busses and two trains in a strange country, I gave myself manageable goals, so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.
I have a lot of world traveler friends, all of which I was surprised to find had not done a solo trip before! However, they were all totally supportive and on board with my choice. Those people in my life who have not traveled as much were totally against it. It was rather interesting to see how strongly they felt. As if I was deliberately diving into a pit of poisonous snakes, no one could understand why I would CHOOSE to do this. People will discourage you, they will make you feel like the world is a scary place and you’re just a girl who shouldn’t venture off on you’re own. Trust me when I say, do it. Do it now and do it again and keep doing it! Because you’re stronger than you know and you’re stronger than they know.
3. Hostels are weird, try them anyway:
This was my first experience with hostels, I had no idea what to expect. I did book a few air BnB’s along the way as well because I’m not 25 anymore and I wanted to make sure I got some sleep! I’ll say this about hostels, it’s not as bad as you think and it IS as bad as you think. haha. Remember that in the U.K the drinking age is 18, it makes a difference where you stay! For example, I was in Bath for the weekend, not knowing that their college was graduating that weekend and it was a non stop party at my hostel and the bar below it! I had a blast and I didn’t mind the noise, it’s all preference really. I stayed in another hostel that was in a national park in Notting Hill in London and I could hear the London Opera from my bedroom window every evening… Mixed bag, but worth the experience at least once!
4. You’re Awesome – Make Friends
Here’s the thing. When we’re in our normal lives, with our normal places and our normal friends, we tend to stick to those comforts. When you’re all alone in a strange place, it’s imperative that you make friends. Not just because they can tell you the best things to do and places to go, but because it’s absolutely fascinating. In fact, I decided my entire trip was going to be about meeting as many people as possible. I wasn’t interested in monuments or tourist attractions, I was interested in the people. It was the best decision I could have made. I met the most incredible people and I heard their stories, I shared beer with them and sang karaoke with them and just generally felt so much joy and acceptance. Make friends! It’s easier than it sounds, I promise. You literally need only begin a conversation.
5. It hurts
I was not prepared for the physical toll that a 50 pound backpack was going to take on me. I mean, I could handle it, but my back was killing me! Since I also was notorious for getting lost, I had to carry the load a lot longer than anticipated most of the time. So, take breaks when you need to, rest when you can and please just take out 2 pairs of shoes that you don’t really need.
I’m actually kind of embarrassed to admit this, but one of the hardest things I had to wrap my head around during my trip is that I couldn’t do my normal beauty routine. I know how shallow that sounds, but I like make up, I like doing my hair, I like heels. I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that if I did my make up, it would be melted off my face by noon. (See above, I was sweating a lot!) Also, here is something that needs to be said… Your hair is amazing, you are stunning without make up and people will gravitate towards authenticity, werk. Seriously, whatever your hair does on it’s own, naturally, without product is amazing. We all think it’s crazy, frizzy and gross, but trust me when I say, I got more compliments letting my crazy red hair fly than I ever have being perfectly groomed. Your natural beauty is gorgeous, rock the shit out of that.
I was expressing my reluctancy to a friend just before my trip and he said something to me that made total sense “what are you worried about? You have technology and money”. Literally, those two things can get you out of ANYTHING. It was a comforting thought to realize that I’m really only a phone call or an uber ride away from anything. Granted, I wanted to challenge myself to use both of these as least as possible while I was traveling, but the truth is… they are there.
8. Let people teach you
I first made the mistake when people tried to tell me things while traveling of saying something like “oh, yea I know that, thank you!”. Something to that affect. People want to teach you things, let them teach you! Who knows what else it will lead to. Sure, you know which bus to take or how the Oyster card works, who cares? Let them tell you all about it and you might learn something new. Don’t dismiss anyone who is willing to help you in any form along the way. I learned some really interesting things this way any made tons of friends!
9. Plan enough, but not everything
It’s totally possible to book a hostel or an air BnB at the last minute. Unless, there is some kind of crazy festival going on, you will be fine. I was really worried about planning a place to stay at each place I visited fearing I wouldn’t be able to book something upon my arrival, this kept me to a pretty strict schedule. Had I not had places booked ahead, I might have stayed in certain areas longer because I’d met some amazing people! So, don’t over plan where to stay. However, it WAS true that booking my train tickets online ahead of time, saved me a ton of money. So, you’ll have to kind of weigh out what makes most sense to you.
It’s cliche, but it’s true. Once you’ve done literally everything you can possibly do on your own. You’ll realize, you really can do it. You don’t need to be surrounded by friends or family all the time. We really limit ourselves by doing this. There is so much to be gained by spending time with ourselves and by meeting complete strangers. I talked to people on this trip that I would never have thought about striking up a conversation with before and I learned so much about them, but more about myself. It really pushed me outside my comfort zone and every day I felt so proud of myself for completing the smallest of tasks haha. Everyone is different, a solo trip to some will be a breeze, while others may never make it. I think everyone should try, at least once in their lives to do this. You’re going to grow in ways you never knew possible. You go girl (or boy!).