The past few days has been all about exploring uncharted territory. Yes, I’ve never been to the Scandinavian cities of Copenhagen and Malmo before, but it wasn’t limited to just visiting new places.
One of the reasons I actually ended up heading out that way was because I wanted to try travelling on my own.
Initially, I was going to give solo travel a go on a short two-night break in Eindhoven, Netherlands back in January, but I couldn’t refuse the offer of a friend to come with me and so that is where my idea for this particular trip came about.
Looking back, it was the right thing to do. Eindhoven has three main attractions – the football stadium and museums for electronics giant Philips as well as truck maker DAF. Doing that alone would have left me with a lot of spare time, while Denmark and Sweden had more than enough to keep me occupied regardless of whether or not I had company with me.
Due to the fact that I would be travelling alone and I like finding flights and accommodation for as cheap as possible, I stayed in hostels. Yes, that is something you’ll find on my bucket list, but I also figured that it would help me meet other people in similar positions as opposed to a hotel, which lacks the communal facilities and backpacker convention that you tend to find in hostels.
By nature, I’m quite an independent person. Yes, I’m social. But I can also enjoy some alone time like I enjoy being around other people, which is an advantage as I can be comfortable in most situations. Though as I had never actually breached the solo travel divide, it wasn’t possible to say definitively whether or not I would enjoy solo travel, and lacked the experience to decide whether or not it is something I would do on multiple occasions.
Suffice to say that with this recent trip behind me, I have been able to come to a conclusion
What I enjoyed about travelling solo
I had some idea before I left for Copenhagen’s Katsrup Airport how I would find solo travel, and it went roughly according to the picture I had in my mind.
True to my usual form I had everything pre-planned in terms of flights, accommodation, transfers and an itinerary, and I was able to chop and change things as I saw necessary.
One of my favourite things about travelling solo is that I could eat wherever I wanted. Now that may sound like a silly thing to say. After all when I go with other people, I am not forced to eat in any certain place. But sometimes, it’s only fair to go somewhere that you perhaps aren’t all that pumped for so that your travel buddy can eat at that place that they really want to go to. That’s fair enough, but with solo travel I ate where I wanted and when I wanted at my own convenience, it was great.
It also brought me out of my comfort zone, which allowed me to find out and experience a lot of new things. I’m used to hotels and travelling with people I already know. I don’t need to speak to anyone new, really, whereas going solo virtually forces you into it. Just hanging out in the communal area of Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel (which I highly recommend for a cheap place to stay in the heart of Denmark's capital) was an experience, and soon we had a group consisting of four nationalities – Australian, Italian, Swiss and British. It’s not only cool to meet new people, but sometimes to an even greater extent when they are from completely different cultures.
What I didn’t enjoy about being on my own
There were times on the trip where it would have been nice to have someone with me. It was, funnily enough, mainly when eating meals. I went out to eat a couple of times with people I’d met in the hostels, but there were a fair few times I ate alone. Fortunately, I had my phone on me each time. It made me think that travelling alone say 20 years ago would have been more of a struggle.
Speaking of struggling, doing simple things in a hostel like getting a shower or going to the toilet could include some lengthy preparation. In a hostel, you can’t really trust other people, especially when you are carrying around expensive electronics like I was. So if I was in my room in the evening and had my laptop, phone, camera, chargers and wallet out, I had to put them in my locker before I could do something so simple as to go for a number one. Having another person with me would have been useful in those situations.
And then there’s the obvious – taking a photo. I’ve recently bought quite a bit of camera equipment, so it wasn’t all that bad, but sometimes getting that photo I wanted wasn’t all that easy. A prime example was the almost half hour I spent down at the much revered Little Mermaid statue situated on Copenhagen’s northern shore. With so many tourists being there, I had to wait for ages for them to move so that I could get a decent with my GoPro. I pulled it off, but it took ages. If I was with someone else, then they could have taken the shot while I walked down to the rock and posed for a photo.
Having said that, it did allow my to try out my equipment and allowed me to get creative in order to get some decent-looking pictures.
Is travelling solo something I would consider in the future?
Absolutely! What you have got to understand about travel is that it is situational. Not everyone can afford to go, not everyone has the time. Others may have funds that they want to use to go to Australia for several months, while you operate on a shorter term basis in Europe.
Solo travel lets you do what you want to do and not have to worry about the circumstances of others. So what if your friend can’t come with you to Istanbul, to Madrid, to Rome? Stay in a hostel where there will be plenty of other people in the same boat as you. Maybe even use Couchsurfing to organise meetups so that you can meet people with ease.
One of the biggest stigmas that solo travel has is that going on your own means that you won’t be sharing memories with anyone, though despite that, my recent trip was one of the best I’ve ever had and I even made a couple of friends in the process.
On a personal level, I cannot afford to wait around for other people. I will always ask around to see if there’s any interest, but if there isn’t then my determination to book a getaway won’t diminish or disappear altogether, because now I know that solo travel is a viable option.
I would encourage everyone to give it a go should the opportunity arise. Even if it doesn’t work out, then at least you’ll have learned something new.