Reader Perspective: First Solo Trip to Europe



by Kristina · 20 comments

I knew I’d be nervous for my first solo, international trip, but I had no idea how bad it would get. I spent the entire seven hour flight—from Philadelphia to London—fighting the shakes, breathing through waves of anxiety, and trying to convince myself that it wasn’t a huge mistake.

Things didn’t improve much when we touched down. I mindlessly followed passengers towards customs, where I was quizzed about my travel plans and employment status back home. The customs officer never cracked, never smiled. She slammed my first stamp into my first passport and wished me a good day. I scampered off to the first bathroom I could find. I took my time trying to collect myself and prepare for a world of unknowns.

Outside of that bathroom, the beginning of my self-designed trip to England and Italy awaited. But I couldn’t avoid feelings of self-doubt and regret. I thought that maybe all those women who told me that they would never be able to do what I’m doing were actually right, and that I was crazy for ever believing that I could. I wondered how much longer I could go without real food and sleep.

Originally, I was supposed to meet my friend Kirsten at the airport and travel with her for the first day. But she lost her wallet and couldn’t meet me until hours later. I made it to my hostel alone, where Kirsten watched my stuff for me as I slept for thirty minutes in the lobby. Later that night, I spent $8 to talk to my mom for eight minutes, and she told me she’d fly me home if I hated it. As I cried myself to sleep, her offer sounded better and better.

The next morning, Kirsten left London to fly back to America for a wedding—talk about bad timing! She left me completely alone, but I soon began to realize that I already had everything and everyone I needed.

I took a bus to Bath after I saw everything I wanted to see in London. As I got closer to Bath, the golden canola fields contrasting with the green hills soothed me. I’m not a city girl, so the new scenery felt familiar. When I found my next hostel on Bathwick Hill overlooking the town, it finally occurred to me that maybe I could actually do this on my own. From the second floor of my restored castle hostel, I wrote in my journal, “Things are getting better.” That night, I ate my first real meal—no more white bread, water, and Pepto Bismol.

The morning before I left Bath, I sat on the steps of the Bath Abbey to write and rest. I spotted a man in a sleeping bag across the courtyard on the damp stone floor. I felt a strong connection to him. I didn’t have a home, either—nowhere on that continent, at least. “Homeless” for the first time, I found my permanent home inside myself that travels wherever I go.

A few days later, my home and I flew to Italy, the part of my trip that I looked forward to the most. It began in Venice, where I got lost on purpose on the meandering, narrow streets. As if by accident, I found Ponte Rialto and had my first Italian gelato—lemon. It made me thirsty on that 80 degree day. I drank water but thirsted for more—more gelato, more Italy, more travel.

The next night, in Milan, I very unwillingly got lost for three hours looking for my next hostel. It would’ve been much longer without an undercover policeman with an iPhone. The streets were getting dark, my feet burnt, and I was just about to cry when I found my way to my leopard-print room.

I left Milan, relieved to get away from the big city bustle. Cinque Terre along the Ligurian Sea immediately relieved all of my hard feelings about Milan. I got off the regional train below Corniglia, the middle of the five villages. A twenty minute hike later, I sat at a wine bar in the outdoor garden seating area. I had bread with pesto and olives from the surrounding hills. I looked down the valley where the ocean waited for me. Afterwards, I followed signs to the sea, down crumbling stone steps, past lemon trees, hillside gardens, and the most relaxed cats. From my spot on the concrete dock, the sun glistened onto my face and into the water before the waves crashed onto the rocky shore. I stared down into the water and oddly thought that if for some reason I fell in and drowned, I’d feel as if my life was complete because of that very moment. I’d accomplished the most important goal of mine. I was alone in Italy, living out my biggest dream. I had fallen irrevocably in love with solo travel.

I spent a few more days in Cinque Terre, letting it work its magic, making it very hard to leave. When I finally did, I continued on to Florence where I listened to the chants of Benedictine monks high above views of Ponte Vecchio. In Rome, I had the best banana gelato while sitting on the Trevi Fountain under a light rain after a long day of sight seeing. Then, I took ferries and buses along the glamorous Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy.

When it was time to fly home, I stepped onto my plane with ease, a more complete person than ever before. I cried when the plane left Italian ground. Now, I’ve been home for over a month. Occasionally, I get sad when I think about how far away my trip seems, or how detached from the experience I sometimes feel. But most often, I look back on my trip with an almost guilty smile—what I did was a little crazy, but sometimes, crazy is good. I grew so much as a person, and now I truly believe that I can do anything. We all can. The key is to stop waiting. It will be uncomfortable. It might make you sick. But what we find along the way—outside and inside ourselves—is worth everything.

Written by guest writer, April Watts, who embarked on her solo journey in May 2010. Check out April’s blog, Idaho Daisies, which features her adventures hiking, backpacking and climbing in Idaho.

Elena 1

Great article! I'm seriously contemplating my first solo trip to Europe and like you am pretty scared. I haven't done a lot of traveling alone so I'm not sure what to expect, especially because I can be a little shy with strangers. Was it pretty easy to meet people over there?

Heather 2

This has really inspired me to travel alone, i have been so scared to for awhile!

JerriGirl 3

@Elena @Heather – We're glad to hear you enjoyed April's article. All of the DIWYY staff has done solo travel at one time or another and it is so empowering. Once you get over the hurdle of fear, it is amazing and you actually come to enjoy it! Definitely check out another solo travel article from DIWYY's Jerri: http://bit.ly/97n9j3

And email us with questions! We love inspiring people to travel! kristina@diwyy.com

JerriGirl 4

See our reply below with another great solo travel article from DIWYY.

Meeting people is easier than you think. There are lots of travelers who go solo and it is easy to find them at hostels, hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes, museums. Strike up a simple conversation ("Have you found any good restaurants in this neighborhood" or "Do you know where I can find Internet") and see where it goes – maybe you'll find someone to grab dinner with or share a cab for some sightseeing. Just be smart and trust your gut!

JerriGirl 5

We hope you embark on a solo journey soon. When you do, please share your story with us!

naomi 6

Great article indeed. l've travelled alone before and l would be so excied before boarding the plane. When the plane lands and after going through the usually cold immigration officers, l start feeling nervous.Last winter, l visited Egpt alone l was nervous but after the trip l had made some friends and l think lm much more brave than before.

To all the girls out there who wish to see the world, but dont have anybody to go with, "DO IT YOURSELF".Time waits for no man.Dont allow fear to hinder you from fulfilling your dreams.

April 7

Elena,

I'm glad you enjoyed my article! It's so nice to hear. Please go to Europe! You will not regret it. I am shy, too. But going alone gives you so much confidence! It was very easy to meet people, especially if you stay in hostels. I met people from all around the world. I could usually find someone who spoke good English. And as a general rule, people who stay in hostels are very friendly–they share a common passion and it's like you immediately belong to this amazing support group. Do it!!! If you have any other questions, e-mail me: aprildwatts@gmail.com.

April 8

Naomi, AMEN! "To wait is to be powerless." -Mary Morris

April 9

Heather, I'm so happy to hear that you're thinking of traveling alone! It will be one of the best things you've ever done. You can do it! You just have to make that first step and buy that plane ticket… (I didn't sleep very well that night, ha… but it was so worth it!).

Carmen 10

April, Great article. Inspiring! Congratulations on facing your fears and meeting your dreams. Maybe it will help me pursue some of my own.

April 11

Thanks, Carmen. 🙂

Bernice 12

Awesome article April!

Derrick 13

I'm not a girl but a 43 year old man and I'm traveling to Europe for the first time next week alone and I'm freaking out. Your article was helpful to me as well so thank you!

admin 14

Good luck with your trip Derrick! What countries are you planning to visit?

April 15

Derrick, I’m glad to hear it helped. Don’t freak out–you will be fine!!! If I can do it, you can do it. 🙂 Have a blast!

Nic 16

I know this is an older post, but I had to comment.

I took my first solo trip to Europe in 2008 at the age of 26. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I’m convinced they were all secretly jealous. I had wanted to make the trip for years, but didn’t have the money. I also knew that if I waited for someone else to decide to go with me, I could be waiting forever. As nerve wracking as it was at first, it was worth every minute. I met so many amazing people and experienced so many amazing things. I wouldn’t trade a second of it. Since that trip, I’ve been to Japan on a solo trip and I want to plan a solo trip to South America. My European adventure was so life changing, that I not only want to continue to travel for the fun of it, I’m trying to make a living doing it. I’m in the process of applying to MBA programs with the hope of one day being able to incorporate international travel into my professional life.

I think everyone needs to take the plunge and take a big trip like the one April took. The world is not that scary once you actually explore it. Just be smart about it.

louise 17

i know this is an extreamly old post, but im having trouble planning my first solo trip i just decided on a whim i wanted to go and see the world im going to be away for a year, but dont know where to start nor where to finish i dont know how to plan for it everyone i speak to about it says im crazy! so where do i start? im not so much scared, i am excited!

DIWYY 18

Awesome to hear, Louise! Are you thinking of doing a multi-stop or round-the-world journey or would you prefer to stay in one place for a longer period of time?

Clare Bear 19

Solo travel is awesome!
I am a nurse, and when I started my degree I remember people asking me if I had any aspirations to have a working nursing holiday in the UK/Europe (as it is very easy for Australian’s to do so). At the time, I had very poor self-confidence and didn’t believe I was the type of person to travel very far at all.
Fast forward almost four years, and I have definitely changed! A 7 week adventure with friends in S.E.Asia, followed by a solo study tour in Mexico City, followed by two weeks trekking, again solo, in the Indian Himilayas. Amazing experiences, that helped me grow so much as a person, and helped craft me into the confident excited individual I now am.
So excited in fact, to be applying for my UK nursing license, and moving to London next year!
Girls, don’t let anyone crap on your plans for solo world domination. As long as you have a healthy dose of common sense, self-confidence without being cocky, and the ability to be a social chameleon in any situation, anywhere in the world, you can do it. 🙂

DIWYY 20

Clare-

Thanks for sharing your experience of how travel has changed your life!

Good luck in London!

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