How I Became A Solo Traveller

spring city breaks

I never intended to travel on my own. I’d left the UK in 2010 with someone I’d, at that point, been with for four years. I spent two years working and travelling in Australia with him. And then, two months after arriving in New Zealand, he was suddenly no longer a part of my life. Single and alone in a new city, I set about making new friends. I didn’t know, then, that the friends I made at this unplanned low point would become lifelong friends, but they did. I didn’t know, then, that I’d ever be able to find the courage to actually go out and see the world on my own. But, eventually, I did. Although it took some time.

I remember sitting in bed in the flat I’d rented in Auckland, watching the roads below lit up with cars in the dark, and wondering how I’d ever be able to see a new city on my own. To land somewhere new and have the confidence to put one foot in front of the other and explore without someone holding my hand. I’d been on planes on my own before, even travelled back home to the UK from Australia for a funeral. But going it alone properly? That seemed too big, for me. Too much.

I put it to the back of my mind. Concentrated on rebuilding myself, on learning how to be on my own again in a city where I was quickly making friends, quickly setting up a new life for myself. Quickly realising that perhaps I was going to be OK after all. Because sometimes I was; I was fine. During the week I worked in office, I went to the gym, I drank wine after work with people I’d only known a few months but who had already become firm friends.

tauranga new zealand

We hired cars on the weekends, drove south to Taupo and Rotorua, west to the black beaches of Piha, paddled in the sea at Mount Maunganui, got our fortunes told at a market in Matakana. One weekend we were all invited to a wedding in Taupo. Only one of us knew the bride, and going to a stranger’s wedding felt, well, strange, but I dug out a bright blue dress from the back of my wardrobe anyway and we piled into the car.

We flew to Wellington, took the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens, saw the city sprawling below us, the harbour glistening in the distance. When the leaves turned brown and orange, we flew south to Queenstown, hiring a car and driving four hours to Milford Sound to see fjords rising from the choppy waters and seals resting on the rocks.

We, we, we.

I’d learned to be on my own again, and I’d always been independent. Always loved my own company as much as other people’s. Never felt like a Saturday afternoon couldn’t be spent alone reading, as a child, or playing guitar, as a teenager. But I still hadn’t travelled anywhere alone properly. I was okay with that. I was okay with being the designated driver as Gemma read the map on the way to Taupo, okay with holding Nina’s hand in the dark as we waded through waist-deep water in the caves of Waitomo, okay to have lost someone but found so many others when I could have taken my broken heart and gone home.

How I became a solo traveller

It wasn’t until I moved back to the UK in 2013, moved to London, that I went on my first solo city break. I picked Amsterdam because I found cheap flights. Because I knew I’d love the architecture and pretty canals. And because, well, why not Amsterdam?

‘Why not just choose anywhere’, I thought.

Amsterdam bridge with bikes

Amsterdam turned out to be a good choice. I walked for miles with my camera in my hand, capturing the unique architecture and pretty canals I’d only seen in guide books until then. I’d booked myself on a food tour where, at the end, a group of us sailing along the canal drinking Dutch beers, I was serenaded by strangers singing ‘Happy Birthday’, and a bottle of bubbly was popped to mark the occasion. I’d gotten lost a few times, but always found my way back. Eating in restaurants alone was still scary, trying to speak a language that didn’t fall perfectly off my tongue was still awkward, trying to look like I was confident (when, inside, I felt the exact opposite) was still hard work, strangers were still intimidating. I knew I still had a long way to go, but I beamed with how far I felt I had already come.

I sat in cafes, despite how awkward it felt to be eating alone. I walked into a restaurant one night, my heart pounding in my chest, the city’s alleyways bathed in light as the sun set on another day, and tried to feign confidence. Tried to look as though choosing a table, sitting on my own, reading a menu in a language I didn’t speak, came totally naturally. It didn’t, but I ordered red wine and read a book and ate a kind of Dutch stew that I couldn’t pronounce but tasted divine. I went to bed happy, feeling accomplished, feeling like maybe I could do this. No, that I could do this; this travelling alone thing.

I was surprised to realise that my fear of solo travel wasn’t because I thought the world was a dangerous place. I knew it wasn’t. I knew I had more chance of something happening to me on my daily trips across London than on a weekend city break. I knew that people were inherently good. What bothered me was whether I’d be able to get by without speaking another language fluently (yes), whether seeing the world would be as special without someone to share it with (yes), whether I’d be lonely (sometimes, but overall no).

Not all of my solo travel misconceptions were proven wrong on that first trip. It took a few more solo city breaks, a few more occasions where I felt out of my depth, to feel totally comfortable stepping off a plane in a new city. To realise that there were things I used to believe about solo travel that I no longer believed.

In Porto, I got lost. Properly lost. Seriously can’t even see where I am on Google maps lost. I’d walked too far, enjoying the sun on my skin, and found myself navigating a series of back roads, deserted apart from two older men who appeared to be drunk, who were dressed in many layers of clothing despite the heat. I continued along curving roads, checking behind me every few steps to see if they were still walking the same route, knowing that I’d never be able to run away without tumbling forwards down the ever-steepening streets.

Later, at a river-side restaurant, the water lapping at the wall beside me, a glass of wine reflecting the pink-hued sky, I knew I probably hadn’t been in danger. Probably should have known that the narrow, winding road would lead to a larger, familiar-looking main road. Probably shouldn’t have let my heart pound in my chest like I had. It was easy to scold myself in hindsight. But I learnt to trust my instincts. Learnt to keep my wits about me, instead of blindly letting my feet lead the way.

cafe scene paris

In Copenhagen, it felt as though all of my solo travel confidence had been swept from under my feet, but I eventually found my footing again, bundling up against the cold and trying to make the most of my trip. In Paris, I learnt that you don’t have to love every city you visit. In Dublin, I went to gigs on my own for the first time. I went back to Amsterdam and felt instantly at home. Went back a third time and fell for the city all over again.

And even though I don’t always travel solo. Even though I celebrated my birthday in Berlin with one of my best friends, went back to Amsterdam with two of my favourite blogging friends, my confidence in going alone has grown in myriad ways. Somehow, I did what I never thought I’d be able to do: see the world without him.

Beverley x

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Why I Keep Going Back To Amsterdam

Comments

  1. says

    I think even if you don’t travel solo all the time, it’s just nice to have done it and enjoyed it at least once, and know you have the option. It means the world’s open to you, rather than not going to places because your mates / boyfriend / girlfriend aren’t interested or able to go. And if all else fails, just get on a tour.

    Even if I travel with someone, or fly off somewhere to stay with people I know, I usually try to plan in a stretch of time where I’m by myself. Sometimes I wonder how people who travel in couples / pairs all the time do it because I’m not sure how I’d cope with going on holiday and knowing I’d be staring into someone elses face at dinner every. single. night.
    She Loves London recently posted..35 Extremely Achievable Things To Do In LondonMy Profile

    • says

      I’m the same; I love travelling with my friends, but the idea of constantly travelling with someone else – UGH. I mean, I did for two years in Australia and LOOK WHAT HAPPENED 😂 I think you’re right, though, it’s nice to know you have the option rather than not “being able” to go somewhere just because you can’t get someone to go with you. Life’s too short to wait around for other people to want to do the same things as you.

  2. says

    Great story! I’m happy you discovered the world and yourself in this way. It’s hard to go alone the first time, and even the second time. But as you show: you just have to keep trying and learn more about yourself in difficult situations.

    I just love going on a trip by myself now. I grew because of it in so many ways:
    – I trust myself more in weird and unknown situations
    – Doing things alone in my hometown (like going to a coffeebar) doesn’t feel awkward anymore
    – I learned more about organising trips and packing. All because there is no one to fall back to

    So traveling by yourself is indeed a thing that I suggest to anyone. Even if you don’t want to do it all the time, just do it once or twice.

    At this moment in my life I just plan a trip to somewhere (often just to where the flight tickets are the cheapest) and ask my friends if they care to join. If they do: Cool, trip with some friends! If they don’t: Well, looks like I will be able to enjoy some me-time and just do what I want to do.

    It’s awesome of you to share this story with the world. I think it will help a lot of people that are still insecure about it.

    Cheers
    Fred

    • says

      Thank you, Frédéric! I’m exactly the same! I look for cheap flights and ask people if they want to come along, but if they don’t want to I still go ahead with the trip :)

  3. says

    LOVE THIS. It’s amazing how much we try to limit ourselves and how much we’re capable of once we just try.

    On my recent trip in Europe, one of my first times travelling alone, eating in restaurants by myself terrified me. And still does! Eating out alone is definitely going to be one of my main goals on my next trip. Imagine all the great food I missed out on just because I was too scared!

    • says

      I genuinely think eating out alone is one of the scariest things about solo travel and yet hardly anyone really talks about it, I suppose because it’s assumed that if you’re travelling solo you’re going to be staying in a hostel (NO THANK YOU) and therefore you’ll either be cooking in a communal kitchen (AGAIN, NO THANK YOU) or meeting new people who’ll go eat with you. I try and think about eating alone in restaurants now as a kind of treat. Even if I’ve spent all day sightseeing by myself, I tell myself it’s a chance to rest and read and enjoy some nice food without interruption :)

  4. says

    This is super inspiring. After our last big trip, my partner said he doesn’t have the same interest in seeing the world like I do… so it looks like in the future I’ll be either finding friends or going alone. So far I’m not a huge fan of being alone because I’ve noticed I skip meals rather than eat alone and I rush through sights because I want to see everything! I suppose it will get easier with more practice.
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  5. says

    Wow, what an incredible story. I travelled solo in 2012 and found it interesting to get used to, but I’m still really really glad I did it. Sometimes I still like to travel alone just so I can do the things that I want to do and not have to worry about anyone else.

  6. says

    I love this post so much! When I was younger, I traveled alone all of the time. These days, I travel with my life partner and sometimes that’s great and other times it’s a pain to compromise on stuff. But I find whenever I make the decision to visit someplace alone, I always feel out of sorts the first day or two. But then I settle in and explore by myself and enjoy the experience. You’re so right that it takes getting used to, but as She Loves London said, everyone should travel solo sometimes, even if they’re in a relationship. It expands you in ways that you don’t realize until you do it.

  7. Erika says

    I just loved this post! I always travelled with company, but lately I became a solo traveller also for a lot of reasons…My sister (and best travel companion ever!) got married, and it´s hard to find friends who are in the same job situation or vacation period as you have…My other sister can´t take vacations as the same time I do, so I had no choice to explore the world by myself, and I can tell you it´s one of the best experiences! My first solo travel was in 2011, I spent two weeks in London for a professional course and it was one of my best trips, I hope to come back there soon! After I got the taste to travel alone, a lot of new places I went to discover this way (Buenos Aires, Milan, Madrid) and I have no regret at all…I think travelling by yourself is one of these things you have to experience in your life, at least once for sure.

  8. says

    Inspiring read! It’s all about taking that first leap – and once you do and realise how accessible the world gets, it’s done. Being a shy introvert, I was probably never destined to travel the world alone, but that’s exactly what happened. Now – having been to almost 50 countries just by myself, I kinda feel like there’s no limit anymore. I just love the thrill of going somewhere new, and discovering it by myself. Travelling solo is the best way to get to know yourself and the places and people you’re visiting. You immerse yourself in a whole other way than when you travel with others. In a few weeks I’m off to Iran, Azerbaijan and Belarus by myself, and I can’t wait.

  9. says

    I just got my passport last december and have yet to use it but I am so excited to experience life like I have never done before, and the UK is one of my top 3 passport destinations that I want to visit! However, I wont be traveling solo, I’ll be with my 10yr old son! He is excited as well, so that is always good.

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