Advice for First Time Solo Travellers

Dublin 4

On my most recent trip abroad to Dublin I realised how much I’ve improved since my first solo trip abroad to Poland last year. I’ve recognised the parts of solo travel abroad that stress me out, that I love, the things I need to do to make myself feel better. Because of this I decided to write a post with some advice for anyone going abroad by themselves for the first time!

Don’t Judge the Trip by Day One

Dublin 5

When I landed in Poland last February I remember thinking ‘why have I done this? What do I do now?’ and for most of the day I felt quite overwhelmed. I didn’t understand the language, I struggled to know which travel card to buy, I nearly burst into tears as I tried to find my hostel (Google Maps kept telling me I was there but I couldn’t see it and my phone was on like 11% at this point), I was too nervous to order food and I didn’t really know what I was doing.

That night I had dinner at a McDonalds in a shopping centre (the only place I wasn’t too nervous to order food as I knew what I was asking for), went to see a 4DX movie at the cinema then went back to my hostel for a good night’s sleep. And by the next morning I felt a lot better. I set off to do some sightseeing feeling a lot more confident and ended up having an amazing trip.

If you feel completely overwhelmed on day one then don’t stress, I promise the entire trip won’t be like that it’s just you’re somewhere new by yourself and you need time to adjust. It was easier in Dublin as at least everyone spoke English but I’ve realised that I know what I need to do to help myself adjust to a new country more easily and I managed to apply this logic when I visited Romania in January too. And it really helped!

Getting to my accommodation from the airport is always the worst part for me as I worry I won’t find it but of course I always do so I just tell myself to relax and then I calmly follow Google Maps until I find my accommodation. After checking in I go and have my first meal in the country, even if it does end up being at McDonalds. I have a chill first day and then after having my first sleep in the new country I feel a lot better by the next morning and I’m ready to start some proper sight-seeing.

When I travel with my friends we have a running joke that our friend Hirst always decides she hates whatever country we’re staying in on day one due to something small. We landed in Lithuania quite late and on our way to our accommodation we bumped into a couple of weird people and she was like “I’m not a fan of this country!” By the end of our trip she’s usually changed her mind and actually quite likes it.

If you land in a new country and start getting stressed or overwhelmed just keep calm and trust me that after your first night you will feel a lot better. Don’t let the first day stresses define the rest of the trip!

Pick Accommodation That Suits You

Abbey Court Hostel

A lot of people I see that write about solo travel are like ‘get a hostel, you meet new people, it’s the only way to solo travel’ etc. etc. If you like meeting new people and staying in hostels then great, you do you until the cows come home. However I’ve quickly realised that I much prefer hotels.

I’m an introvert and my trips are a great way to recharge my social batteries. My interactions with people selling tickets to attractions or food etc. are enough to keep me going, I don’t feel the need to go out and find a new best friend. And at the end of a day of sight-seeing I like to come back to my room and have some downtime to myself.

In Poland I stayed in a hostel to keep costs low and ended up sharing a room with a talkative girl who was lovely but didn’t understand that once my headphones are on that means I don’t want to talk. Although she was lovely and I was glad to share with her because it was better than sharing with someone who’s miserable it did get a bit irritating when I just wanted some down time whereas she wanted to chat. In Dublin my downtime seemed to come easier as I watched stuff on my Amazon Fire Tablet and everyone pretty much left me alone – they were still nice, we’d smile at each other but none of us were keen to initiate a conversation. I much preferred this.

Find the accommodation that best suits you or your needs. It may be an Airbnb, a hostel, a hotel, whatever takes your fancy but don’t listen to anybody who thinks you should be doing it a certain way.

Public Transport is Good

Bruges

I’ve never understood people who touch down in a foreign country and immediately head outside to find a taxi. How do people afford that? It’s expensive enough getting a taxi from home to our local airport which is why I always catch the train if I can and I’d only get a taxi if I was desperate.

Although I hate the moments between getting from the airport to my accommodation due to the stress and anxiety, I also love it as hopping on the bus to get the city centre is your first glimpse of a new country! I suppose you get that in a taxi but the bus takes detours, allowing you to see things you might not have seen had you gone straight to your accommodation.

Personally I’ve always found public transport gives you a better feel for the country. My favourite form is trams as although we have some in parts of the UK I don’t really use them in this country. There’s nothing I love more than a country with a tram system – Amsterdam’s is probably my favourite so far.

Also public transport is a hell of a lot cheaper. In most countries you can get a card that gives you unlimited transport for a set amount of days in most forms, for example bus, tram and underground. Most of the time they’re not expensive and they’re cheaper than getting taxis everywhere. Equally walking is even better as that’s free but it depends on how big the town is. I probably could’ve walked everywhere in Dublin, and did on the first day, but on the second day when my legs were aching I decided to start making the most of public transport.

Not only is public transport cheaper it’s also a lot better for the environment. We’ll have already contributed enough pollution to the earth by catching a plane (unless you got abroad using a different method in which case good on you!) so why contribute more by getting cars everywhere?

Obviously in some places the choices are limited. In Crete we rented a car because they just didn’t seem to have a public transport system. But in most capital cities they have a perfectly good transport system already in place. Give it a go!

Take Appropriate Safety Precautions

Romania 6

Whenever I go abroad anywhere my Mom always makes me send her the name, address and telephone number of the accommodation I’m staying in. Not to be precious but just so she has someone to call to check up on me if I’m not responding to her texts or an address she can send the police or an ambulance too.

I would personally recommend you allocate someone to send this information to and keep in regular contact with someone. Usually people know I’m okay because I update my Instagram story throughout the day, send out tweets and respond to people relatively quickly if they message me. If you’re in a country where you can’t get data for whatever reason then just be sure to send that person a message when you go out in the morning and when you get back in the evening – assuming where you stay has Wi-Fi.

When booking your accommodation check the reviews. If most of the reviews are positive and the only bad things the negative ones are saying were ‘oh the bathroom was too small’ then go for it. If there are negative reviews of people saying they didn’t feel safe for whatever reason then it’s probably best to avoid this particular place. When booking Poland I panic booked the first hostel I found but once I checked the reviews people were saying all sorts of dodgy things had happened. I immediately cancelled the room, lost my money and booked a new hostel with better reviews. Safety always comes first!

In Romania my room had a safe where I could enter my own code and nobody else could get in so I kept my passport in there whilst I was out and about but if that’s not an option I always keep my passport on me. Make sure you either have a paper copy stored somewhere or an electronic version on your phone, in the unlikely event that you lose it – it’ll make life much easier.

Just basically use a bit of common sense while you’re away, it’s not too difficult to know which security measures to take.

Let your trip be YOUR trip

Bucharest 2

When me and my friends go away we tend to get up early and cram in as much as possible. And that’s fine, for some places where you want to experience everything that’s pretty much the only way you can do it. But sometimes by myself I like to have a lie-in and take the day a bit more easily. A great example of this was in Dublin. Being in a hostel I didn’t sleep great at night and also, Dublin’s not that far away from where I live so anything I didn’t tick off I was bound to go back and do eventually. So I slept in a bit, got ready slowly and made my way out.

Don’t get caught up in how other people have done their solo trips and think that you need to perfectly model theirs. For another example, I knew that after Dublin I was going to have a busy few days and there was a movie I wanted to see but I was worried it would go out of cinemas before I had the chance. In the end I realised I could just watch it in Dublin – I was worried as it felt like a waste to watch a movie abroad but at the end of the day I don’t do much in the evenings anyway, I wanted to see the movie and also weirdly I find doing ‘normal’ things in other countries fascinating. I like to see what their cinemas look like, their supermarkets, their theatres, all the normal stuff!

Plan your itinerary around YOU and what YOU’RE interested in doing, not the things you’ve seen everybody else doing. Even if everyone has recommend the Museum of Typewriting until they’re blue in the face, if you’re not interested in type writing then just don’t go! It’s YOUR trip, nobody else’s.

I hate those ridiculous posts that are likely ‘avoid all the big tourist spots, they’re traps!’ If you’re not a big fan of the big tourist spots then fine but I think you need to experience them at least once. Going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower would be bizarre. Tourist spots are popular for a reason but if they’re not for you then feel free to give them a miss.

That’s pretty much all of my advice other than have an amazing time. Also, double check the weather before you go. I never bother and always end up massively failing.

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Facing Fears

This time last week if you had asked me what my biggest fear was, I would’ve said elevators. There would’ve been no hesitation. I’m scared of a lot of things but top of the list was definitely elevators. Whenever I told anyone I always got “Oh did you have a bad experience in an elevator?” No. I truly don’t know what happened to make me so afraid of elevators.

Elevator

This week I finally conquered my fear of them.

You need to understand that for me that is probably one of my biggest achievements. I have been avoiding elevators for the past fuck knows how many years. When me and my friends stayed in Paris we chose an apartment where the staircase was locked from the inside so you could only go down them, not up them. The only way up was in the elevator. I would make my friends go up, come downstairs and open the door for me.

When me and my Mom went to Spain we were put in a room on the tenth floor. I walked up ten flights of stairs at least two times a day for the entire week we were there; there was absolutely no chance I was getting in an elevator.

I started working in an office building and found out I was on the sixth floor. Every day I had to walk up six flights of stairs for a minimum of four times a day because they decided that because I was the new girl I also had to be the post girl. My colleagues would ask me to come downstairs with them to shift heavy boxes and being afraid of the elevator was a massive inconvenience but I was adamant I wouldn’t change my mind about them.

Then something happened. Last week I told my Mom that for my 21st birthday present I wanted the two of us to go to New York. When I told her I’d prefer a smaller hotel to avoid my fear of lifts, she replied “Oh yeah you don’t like lifts. Well we’d better go somewhere else because it would be a bit of a waste on you.”

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I was gutted. I’d wanted to go to New York for ages and now she wouldn’t even consider taking me just because I was afraid of elevators? Something had to change.

For a couple of months I’d been pushing the door to the elevator, looking inside of it and then sighing as I headed for the stairs. My fear was so bad I wouldn’t even step inside to help a colleague shift a box in there in case the doors shut and it started moving. But I really wanted to go to New York and this fear had been ruining things for me for a while. I really wanted to conquer it but how?

Then I remembered something from when I was a kid. When I was maybe seven years old I went to swimming lessons once a week after school. One week we were taught how to do something new. We were still in the shallow end and we’d all learn how to swim sufficiently and now we were being taught how to sit on the side of the pool, kick off and start swimming straightaway. I sat on the side of the pool and wept because I couldn’t push myself forward into the pool. I was just too scared. I watched as the rest of the class did it and just cried because I couldn’t.

I went home and knew I’d have to go through the whole thing again next week. But I didn’t want to be scared. I wanted to do it! So the night before I had my swimming lesson I practiced in the bath. I sat on the edge of the bath and pushed myself in. I have no doubt I made the bathroom soaking wet but I’d done it. Now I just had to do it in the pool.

The next day I went in for my lesson and we started off with doing the kicking off thing. The teacher looked at me and said “Hollie, can you show us how to do it?” So I did. I kicked off from the wall and started swimming. Absolutely no problems and I wasn’t scared anymore.

So conquering a fear was a bit like that. I remembered that story while I was on my way back from my lunch break and decided to just do it. The elevator was already on the ground floor. I pushed the button, jumped inside and quickly whacked the button for the first floor. The doors closed and it started moving. I was absolutely shitting myself. The elevator went up and less than ten seconds later the doors opened again. Was that it? I looked at the buttons and pressed the sixth floor. It went up again. I’d done it.

I’ve done it every day since then. I’m not afraid to do it anymore. It took absolutely years but now I’ve officially gotten over it!

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The best news? Me and my Mom are planning our trip to New York.

Letter to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self

Me + Raechel

I’m the girl on the left. The girl on the right was one of my best friend’s at the time. I couldn’t find a photo of just me because I wasn’t big into taking selfies at the time. I have no idea what I have scribbled on my face but no doubt it had something to with My Chemical Romance, the band I was absolutely obsessed with at the time. Honestly, I would’ve happily talked about My Chemical Romance all the time if it had been up to me. I loved them.

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me,

It’s been seven nearly eight years and things are extremely different. For one you’re not in school anymore. I imagine now it feels like you’ll never leave but you will and you’ll suddenly find that there are things about Secondary School that you miss an awful lot. And of course some things that you’ve never been happier to leave behind.

First of all, I know you’ve been sobbing to Mom about how badly you want black hair because until you fulfil that you won’t be a ‘true emo’ but it’s not a great idea. When you eventually get bored of it, and trust me you will, it’ll be so hard to get a new brighter colour. I know the idea of anything colourful will repel you at the moment but one day you’ll learn to love it. Stick with the brown hair and blonde highlights. It really suits you and the moment you dye it black you’ll never get it back.

Secondly, stop obsessing over the boys in your year. Honestly, none of them are that great and they’re not worth your time. I know right now it feels like you ‘need’ a boyfriend but one day you’ll realise that it’s not actually that high of a priority anymore. Enjoy the time with your friends and stop getting so stressed out. You’re not ugly or gross if you don’t have a boyfriend, stop acting like you are!

Thirdly, you will get over your My Chemical Romance obsession. You keep insisting right now that you won’t and that you’ll love them forever but you won’t. Okay, you’ll still like them but definitely not on the same level you do right now. Also, they’re gonna break up. So prepare for that.

Now this one’s an important one. You know your best friend? That girl you tell everything to, who you trust more than anything and who you couldn’t imagine being without? You’re not friends with her anymore. Here’s the thing – she’s not being honest with you. I’m sure she’s being honest about a whole bunch of things but there’s also things that she’s not telling you. And then one day you’ll suddenly find that she’s more interested in her new boyfriend than you. And you will spend the next few months feeling extremely, extremely lonely.

And that’s okay. You’ll learn a lot in those few months. You’ll learn how to be by yourself. You’ll gain some independence. It will suck, you’ll hate your life and you’ll feel like you don’t have any friends at all but it will end and you’ll have learnt so much from it.

Here’s the good news. You will find new friends and you’ll wonder how you lived without them in your life. You’ll find you can be more honest with them then you were with your current best friends. There are things you feel like you can’t tell her, aren’t there? Well you can tell these girls anything and they would never tell anyone else. They’re into the same things as you and you’ll end up going on some great trips with them and doing completely stupid and questionable things but you’re going to love every second. Trust me!

The only other advice I have is to stop obsessing what everyone else thinks and just have fun. Have as much fun as you possibly can and don’t regret anything.

Love Twenty-Year-Old You
xoxoxo