I’m not here to tell you I had some incredible, Eat Pray Love-style ‘finding myself’ moment travelling by myself overseas. Actually, I was walking through Hyde Park in London listening to an episode of Hack where people were talking about the pleasures and pitfalls of solo adventures when I started wondering if I’d done this whole travel thing right.
My European adventure was supposed to be a family holiday. A luxurious river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam, with a quick trip to London and Liverpool (obviously). Sadly, just a few months out from departing we had to cancel after my dad spent some time in hospital. He’s fine now, but over 21 hours flying and multiple airport transfers just wasn’t going to be possible. This trip was going to be my first outside Australia. I’d been planning some iteration of it for about three years. Cancelling the trip was both a relief (given the health concerns) and deeply disappointing.
Then one afternoon, I thought ‘fuck it, I’m going’. I’ll be honest, of course I asked my partner if he’d come and perhaps we could go over Christmas. I have five weeks of annual leave I’d been saving for three years and our travel insurance was covering the cost of the cruise cancellation. He couldn’t make it happen and that old fear hit me again, the one that had stopped me booking this trip years ago. Would I be safe? Would I have my stuff stolen? And the kicker: would I be lonely? But I booked it. I finally, finally booked the trip, the one I’d been dreaming of for years.
This trip was only possible because my gorgeous friend Jasmine let me come sleep on her bedroom floor in Oxford for like two weeks. I can’t thank her enough for this because it gave me the courage to finally book my flights knowing I’d have someone waiting for me at the other end and I wouldn’t be completely alone. And all this happened about two months out, so it really felt like no time at all before I was cramming scarves, giant sweaters and a huge coat into my bags, saying goodbye to my family at the airport and leaving Australia. I had no time to overthink it.
So, I didn’t have an amazing, life-changing Eat Pray Love meets Wild experience. But here’s what I did learn:
1. There was no time for fear
I can’t even explain all the things I imagined could go wrong when I went overseas. Lost luggage, a lost passport, illness, cancelled or diverted flights. None of it happened. And I basically didn’t worry about it either. Okay, so there was one freak out about London and whether I’d be safe. But as my grandma always said: worry is only interest paid on something that mightn’t happen. Also, Jasmine was a godsend and so reassuring. From the time I landed in Heathrow, I had something to look forward to and so much to take in that there was no time (or space in my brain) for anxiety.
2. When things went wrong, it wasn’t the end of the world
Not much went wrong on my trip, but there were a few hitches. That time I got the wrong train on the way to Bletchley Park and spent four hours trying to get there. That time I got the wrong day for our visit to the Beatles childhood homes. I think they were really the only two things that went wrong. And guess what? It was okay. I was okay. And my holiday wasn’t ruined. I’m going to try and remember this when I get stressed about little things not working at home now.
3. I didn’t need a plan
Okay, so I did have some semblance of a plan. But it was loose, just an itinerary, flights, an open train pass and accommodation. I’ve never been the sort of person who doesn’t have a solid plan. Ever. But on holiday I literally took each day at a time. Basically just planning what I’d do tomorrow the night before. I’ve never been that unorganised in my life and it felt good, Sometimes I felt like maybe I’d missed out because I hadn’t planned things more thoroughly, but I also met people and had experiences I would otherwise have missed.
4. I got pretty comfortable asking strangers to take my photo
Top tip with this one, pick someone who looks like they at least know what Instagram is and can use a camera. Part two of this is I also got comfortable with asking other people to take my photo at the same monument if the first people didn’t take great shots. Obviously I waited until the original person was out of the way, I’m not a monster. I love photography and I loved taking my own photos, but I couldn’t resist getting some properly tourist-type shots with the help of total strangers. Worth it. (Why do people only take one photo though? Always take multiple shots!)
5. I got lonely, but it was okay
Yes, inevitably when I was travelling by myself after staying in Oxford, there were times I got a little lonely. It wasn’t even when you’d think, like in my BnB or on the train. In fact, I savoured those moments and the times I could just relax with a book. No, I felt most lonely when I was in a museum or exploring something cool and would feel the urge to turn to my partner, my mum or my friends and say ‘hey, isn’t that amazing’. But then I’d remind myself to tell them later and eagerly upload a photo or send them a message as soon as I had decent wifi (or any, really). It didn’t weigh too heavily on me because I just told myself it wouldn’t be long until I’d see my favourite people again and to just get on with enjoying my marvellous trip. Which brings me to my next point…
6. I don’t need anyone else to make me happy
I’ve been single for a long time before finding my partner, so I kind of knew this already. But this was a massive challenge and fulfilling it made me finally believe that I can make my own happiness. I felt confident knowing I could get around a foreign country alone and that confidence fed into my happiness at achieving something that’s been my dream since I was a child. I’ve happily, contentedly dined solo in many places (including London) and still treated myself to some little luxuries, not content to wait for someone else to take me or experience them with me. Of course, I wish my partner could have been there – in some senses anyway. Because doing this trip solo showed me I’ve got what it takes to look after myself in this big, bad world. That’s something I don’t believe I could have realised travelling with someone else.
So there you have it. I probably learnt more, I probably should write a humorous post about the little difference between England and Australia some day, I’ll definitely share more location-specific posts and I will absolutely be going back.
Have you travelled solo? What did you think? How did it compare to your expectations?
Want to see more travel photos? Follow my personal/travel Insta @the_unfinishedjourney (Go on, you know you want to).