Practical and emotional tips and advice from a novice traveller
I took my first solo trip in October 2016 after talking about doing it for years. I started in Rome, went on a tour to the south of Italy, onwards to Paris, and ended in London. Here are five things I learned, which might be helpful for you.
1. Pack light
This post is not endorsed or sponsored by the pack-light lobby, which does exist I’m told. But seriously, pack light. It takes skill and practice and my first trip with a backpack rather than a suitcase showed me that. I had painful, angry red marks on my shoulders when I got to my first hostel, and at my first hotel two nights later, I got rid of a grocery-sized bag of excess clothes. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but it had to be done. I also tossed half of my conditioner, shampoo and body wash, and kept thinking of things I could get rid of as the trip went on.
I read a blog post that said pack for the best-cast scenario and I wish I took this advice. Basically, pack your basics and absolute necessities and nothing else. If you get a tummy ache, buy some meds; forecast says it’ll rain all week, buy an umbrella; it’s colder than you thought, buy a scarf. I decided to pack a mini pharmacy, $22 worth of snacks and three pairs of flip-flops. You know, just in case.
Also, packing is hard. Not trying to be redundant, but it is. I underestimated how hot it was going to be in the south of Italy and only packed two t-shirts. I did, however, pack a nice black skirt and a fancy top which I never wore but would not part with. I changed climates and it was a lot colder than I was expecting in Paris, where the other clothes I packed were more suitable but I still needed to buy a toque and scarf.
Basically, with an exception of a few things, it felt like everything I packed was wrong.
2.Be prepared for many emotions
You will not enjoy every moment of your trip. You might feel bored, lonely, annoyed or overwhelmed, and at times or places you thought you were going to feel unbridled joy. The reason why I wrote the draft of this is because I was bored in Pompeii eating dinner alone.
The loneliest I felt, ironically, was at the Harry Potter studio in London and this was the place I was most excited to see (I still loved it!).
I felt overwhelmed in Rome, probably because it was the first stop on my trip. I was annoyed in Versailles from all the crowds so I put my headphones in because I need to shut things out and be by myself.
Was I expecting those emotions at those places? Not at all. Was I disappointed and angry at myself for feeling that way, not to mention ungrateful and spoiled, yes, so much.
But, it’s okay. My advice is to temper your expectations and not forget that you’re human and we go through a wealth of emotions every day and this will not change just because you are travelling to beautiful places.
3. Being alone isn’t always easy but it’s also not that hard
I felt lonely maybe twice on my trip, I got lost a number of times and wanted to cry the first time it happened but kind strangers helped me, I felt envious maybe once seeing groups or couples happily sharing the experience of travelling together.
On the flip side, I did things I never had to do before and that’s a wonderful thing. I relied on myself, figured out transit systems in three big cities which is something I struggle with at home (I work in Toronto. This should say tons about my directional ability.) and I planned a two-week trip spanning three countries, including getting between countries, accommodation and flights entirely on my own. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me and I’m happy I did it.
Also, any uneasiness you might have about eating alone goes away the first time you eat alone.
4. It’s a work in progress
I relied on English knowing the locals understood it, I’m still afraid of things that would make me uncomfortable at home and I still hesitate before going into an empty store. I’ve had moments when I beat myself over these things but it’s not realistic to expect you’re going to become a new person in a short time frame. As more time passes and more trips taken, I’m sure I will become more comfortable and less restrained.
Also, when it comes to planning it’s good to research and keep a list of all the things you want to see, but also let the day evolve on it’s own. I am a planner and I like to be organized, but I went overboard and it was a bit much. I’m sure there was a lot I missed because I rushed getting to whatever site I had a ticket too at the right time, or got frustrated and passed incredible things when I was too busy looking at a map.
5. Travel is worth and you’ll love it
Travel is amazing, beautiful, and so much fun. You will see things you thought only existed in photos, you’ll eat amazing food, and it’s the best kind of learning. Once you start, you will not want to stop. Budget, research, book and go.