While I was travelling around on my 19 months abroad, I always saw younger travellers who struggled. Life – or even a few months – on the road isn’t easy. I was on the road for a long time, most of it as a solo traveller. It’s difficult, and daily I find things that I wish I’d known when I was younger. It’s not just the how-tos, either. Often, it’s the emotional side of things that I wish I known. Writers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed have written about the hardships that hiking solo or living in a foreign country deal you. They’re pretty spot on too. I want to share what I wish I’d known when I was a 19 year old just leaving the US solo for the first time. I’ve written a lot about travelling with confidence. And I’ve shared my advice for a young traveller. Here, for the first time, are five things I would tell my younger travelling self.
five things i wish my younger travelling self knew
From how to pack the most efficiently to what to do when things don’t go as planned, there’s a lot to consider when you’re travelling alone. I would tell my younger travelling self all sorts of things, but I think these are the most important. I’m still in a few backpacker Facebook groups, where I see the same posts over and over again. “Who’s in X place? I’m so bored.” “What should I pack for Y place?” “I just got here and all I want to do is leave, so I booked a flight home.”
HUH?! You’ve travelled across the world to get there, and one day in you want to go home? Sweetie that is NOT how this works.
I get that a lot of people up and go on a whim, but take it from someone who not only battled travelling with depression but also totally solo through New Zealand and Australia: it’s FINE to feel a bit low from time to time, but don’t make it your entire trip.
When I left the US in 2005, heading to Europe for a summer, I scoffed at my mother when she suggested a backpack. In my mind, a backpack wouldn’t carry everything that I thought I needed. I was travelling for a summer semester abroad in Italy – I would need nice clothes for the museums, the design firms, the presentations – and then heading out on a three week trip to Germany, Spain, France, Austria, and Greece with a high school friend. I picked the largest rolling bag I could find and stuffed it with … stuff. I packed clothes for days; I didn’t know the first thing about using a laundromat and I was incredibly naive about washing clothes in the sink. Three months later, I bought a proper hiking backpack, and when I go to Europe (even now, as a luxury travel advisor!) I carry it. Rolling a heavy suitcase over cobblestones is NOT fun!
Tip: pack up, and then cut out half of what you packed. Take underwear for a week – at most – and plan on re-wearing clothes before you wash them. Trust me, no one will notice!
I was nervous when I left the group in Italy and ventured off on my own. I was taking the train from Milan, Italy to Erlangen, Germany, to meet my dad’s friends who I would stay with for ten days. Because I was so petrified of missing the train, of not knowing my stop, of everything, I failed to meet anyone on the train. I sunk into my corner and watched the world go by. Now, I’d make an effort to meet the people in my carriage; you never know what advice or secret spots they can offer you.
Tip: ask a friendly face about the book they are reading, or ask if they’ve read anything else by the author. If you can establish a common connection, the conversation will flow.
fake it til you make it
I tell this one to all the younger travellers I meet. If you aren’t sure of yourself, do something that you *are* sure of, like cooking dinner in a hostel. Go for a walk on the beach. Read a book. Then, take a deep breath and do something you aren’t entirely sure of. Confidence is key to travelling solo, and it does take time to learn.
Tip: it takes baby steps, but you can do it! One small thing at a time, trust me.
you will only be bored if you allow yourself to be bored
Take in the scenes, but if you find that someplace isn’t inspiring you, LEAVE. Catch a bus to the town up the road. Get on a plane, domestic flights are usually cheap. Pick a new city, go on a hike, take a walk around town and stop a random person – ask them what you should do.
Tip: you are not bound to one place while travelling. If you aren’t feeling it, don’t wallow in self-pity, just move on.
embrace it all – the good and the bad
Travel is all about the experience, but sometimes you have bad/negative experiences. Don’t let little things, like missing a bus or train, ruin your trip. SURE, that’s really annoying, and it can have a snowball effect especially if it’s a connecting flight, train, or ferry. And stressing out is understandable. However, you can’t do anything about it, so unless you absolutely have to be at your next destination for a specific, serious reason, let it go. Maybe you meet an amazing person on the next bus. Everything won’t go according to plans, so why would you expect it to? Plan, but don’t over plan. Allow for chance opportunities.
Tip: don’t let one bad experience mar what could be a really amazing place.
What advice do you have for your younger travelling self? Anything you would tell a young traveller? Leave it in the comments below!