On this very first episode of the Girls Go Abroad podcast I’m going to be talking all about my personal solo female travel journey. What I’ve done, what I’ve learned, how my first solo trip was a complete disaster, and how traveling alone has changed me as a person. Let’s go!
How I Got Started with Solo Female Travel
I started my solo travel journey almost 3 years ago when I decided that I desperately wanted to try out this solo female travel thing I had been hearing so much about on different travel blogs and on Instagram. I wanted to be in with the cool kids, and I wanted to see if I would experience the life-changing things that everyone was talking about.
Essentially, I wanted to challenge myself by traveling solo. Because I struggle with anxiety and depression I knew that it would be hard for me to travel on my own. That it would test me in ways I had never been tested before. But I also new that if I overcame those tests, I wouldn’t just be proud of myself, but I would grow as a person too. That by knowing that I could overcome those challenges, my confidence in myself would get so much bigger.
And guess what? I was right.
My First Solo Trip
So after I decided that I wanted to try out this solo female travel thing, the next thing I had to do was actually plan a solo trip. So for spring break of my first year of college in Scotland, I decided that I was going to go to Switzerland. Switzerland is the country that my grandmother is from, so it’s always meant a lot to me and I knew that I would be comfortable because I spoke the language.
So I literally banned my boyfriend Daniel from coming because I was determined to have this be a life-changing solo travel experience, and planned my itinerary down to the hour, because that’s what I was used to doing for all of my travels up to that point.
Saying goodbye to my friends in Paris and setting off on that train was simultaneously super exciting and super scary. Because sure, I’d taken planes and trains on my own before, but there was always someone waiting for me on the other side. This time, I was completely on my own.
I got to Bern, checked into my hostel, and that first night all I really did was go out and get some groceries, since Switzerland is super expensive and I definitely wasn’t going to be eating out.
The next morning, it was gorgeous and sunny, and I walked around the entire city and was so, so happy. It was a great start to my first ever solo trip, and I was so ready for that to just be my entire experience.
Of course, nothing is ever that easy. And things went downhill pretty quickly from there.
My next destination after Bern was Lucerne. The first day there was also sunny and gorgeous and I spent it in the mountains and I was definitely in a state of bliss. But, I was also starting to miss my friends and boyfriend and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with that.
And the next day, it poured. Cats and dogs.
I tried to go out and go to a museum, which I did, but when I got back I was completely soaked and totally miserable. I called my boyfriend crying because I was so lonely.
Because here’s the thing about Switzerland that I wasn’t really expecting: hostels there aren’t exactly hopping. Switzerland is just not a budget travel destination, and especially because I was there in the shoulder season there simply weren’t a lot of people hanging around. And the people who were the weren’t super interested in talking to me. I had really been counting on there being tons of people in my hostels who I could make friends with and I wouldn’t be lonely, but that wasn’t actually the case.
So I was feeling lonely and the weather was shit and I just wasn’t happy. So that’s where I was in Lucerne.
I tried my best to stay optimistic though because the next place I was going was Interlaken, where I visited with my family when I was a kid and absolutely loved. I was so excited to get out and hike and enjoy the mountains.
Where Everything Went Wrong
But then, when I was on the train there from Lucerne I checked the weather. And this is really where it all went wrong, because when I checked the weather it said that it was going to rain the whole four days that I was planning on being in Interlaken. Which isn’t exactly great for a destination where the only activities are outside.
And, in true me fashion, I had a little panic attack on the platform of Interlaken train station and randomly decided that I was going to go to Germany.
Don’t ask me why, because I honestly don’t know.
So off I went to Heidelberg, Germany, a small little town another 6 hours away from Interlaken. It was the first place that popped into my head, and so I went.
And while spontaneity and doing what I wanted to do was definitely one of the reasons that I wanted to try out solo travel, I never imagined that I was going to be this spontaneous.
Like, I thought I might throw out my plans to go to a museum one day and just sit in a cafe all afternoon or something. I definitely did not think I would randomly decide to hop on a train to an entirely different country.
And sure, it’s Europe, and popping over to another country isn’t a big deal, but still. It was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Which I guess tells you something about how much of a planner I am.
So then I spent 2 days in Heidelberg, visited the castle, wandered around the town, all that. And on the one hand, I was high on doing something crazy, but I was also super confused about how I got there and felt totally in over my head. I started to think that maybe this whole solo travel thing just wasn’t for me. I needed to have someone else around to straight up just keep me sane and stop me from doing needlessly crazy things.
At this point, I was pretty sure I was never going to travel solo again. But I still had a flight leaving out of Geneva in a few days, so I had to soldier on and head back to Switzerland.
What was nice about this, though, is that it meant I could add Zurich into my itinerary. Zurich is the city my Grandma was from, so I can’t really tell you why it wasn’t on my original itinerary. And once I got there, the weather cleared up and I immediately felt so. much. better.
I walked around the whole city, I took cool tours, and just got back into the groove that I started in in Bern. Phew.
Finally, I went to Geneva for a day before flying back to Scotland. And it was there that I finally met cool people in my hostel and got into an interesting conversation and finally experienced that meeting cool people and making cool friends part of solo travel that everyone had been raving about.
I talked to two girls from Kosovo and Japan into the wee hours of the night. Our life experiences were all so different and the reasons that had brought us all to that little hostel in Geneva were all so different. And my soul just felt so happy for having known them.
What I Learned from My First Solo Trip
So that was it! That was my first solo trip. It was a total roller coaster of ups and downs, and there were times where I definitely felt like just quitting. But I also did learn a lot about myself, and I experienced some really amazing things. And I learned a lot about solo travel in general.
Now, I think I’m going to do a whole separate episode about lessons I’ve learned while traveling solo, so I won’t go too in-depth here, but I just want to quickly talk a little bit what I learned on my first ever solo trip.
So what did I learn? Well, the #1 thing I learned is that you will be lonely when you travel solo. It just comes with the territory. No matter the amazing stories you hear people tell about traveling solo online, there are going to be times that suck and all you want to do is go home and be with your friends and family.
I also learned that it’s harder to get caught up in the moment and that, yes, people might look at you a little weird if you’re eating in a restaurant or hiking on your own. But that you shouldn’t let it get to you.
And yes, I learned that spontaneity–while it can be great–doesn’t always go to plan. You can sometimes go a bit overboard and get in over your head and freak out about what you just did. But that’s ok.
So yeah, my first solo trip was definitely not what I expected, and I definitely didn’t discover that soul-changing confidence that I was expecting. BUT, I did discover that I loved having the ability to do whatever I wanted. To change plans at the last minute. To wander around pretty towns for hours on end (an activity Daniel isn’t the most fond of). To spend as much time as I wanted taking pictures. And that soul-changing confidence came later.
Continuing My Solo Female Travel Journey
So even though my first solo trip didn’t go exactly as I had hoped it would, I liked it enough that I new I didn’t want to give up on solo travel quite yet. So I kept traveling solo.
I did a few short solo trips after my trip to Switzerland – 3 days max. And it was on those trips that I started to enjoy myself more because they were so short that I didn’t have the chance to get that feeling of loneliness. Instead, as an introvert, they became rejuvenating breaks from the rest of the world. And I started to build up a bit more of that confidence that I had been hoping I would build on my first solo trip.
And then, exactly one year after my first solo trip, I took my next big one during spring break of my second year of college. I spent two weeks exploring Portugal, starting in Porto (which I didn’t actually love that much, and I even have a blog post about not being happy there and how it’s ok to be sad when you travel on my blog) and then continuing on to Aveiro, Obidos, Lisbon, and Lagos.
And it was on this trip that I really learned how to lean in to doing what I want to do. Aveiro and Obidos are generally day trip destinations, but I spent 2 nights in each of those towns because I thought they were cute and wanted to experience them without the day trip crowds. And as it turns out, little towns where the locals come out at night are my absolute favorite place to be. Since then, they’ve really become my bread and butter when I travel solo because they feel safe and they’re perfect for wandering.
Traveling solo repeatedly (key word here being repeatedly) has in fact made me that confident person that I was hoping it would. Knowing that I can get myself around the world and out of sticky situations without anyone else there to help me has done that. It just took a bit more time.
I love sitting with a book in a restaurant in a new place and having that time completely to myself. I love being able to have time to think and discover more about myself. I love being able to do what I want, when I want.
But I’ll save all the waxing poetic about just how great solo female travel is for another episode.
Right now, I just want to leave you with this: With every solo trip I’ve taken, I’ve become a more confident and outgoing person. And I’ve been able to see so much more of the world because I’m not just sitting around waiting for someone to travel with.
And because of this, I truly believe that every woman should travel solo at least once in her life – just to see what it’s like. And then again, so you actually know what you’re doing. And I bet that second trip you take, you’ll absolutely fall in love with solo travel too.