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What I learned traveling alone in Europe

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What I learned traveling alone in Europe

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As a young person who loves to travel, it tends to be difficult to find those who are willing and have the resources to travel with you. They also have to be available and willing to agree on a location, as well as where to stay, what to do, where to eat, etc.

As someone who also likes to be spontaneous, much like many of my Sierra Nevada College peers, when I saw that tickets to Paris were $350 round trip I didn’t even give it a second thought. It wasn’t until after I had received my confirmation email that I had just bought a ticket to the other side of the world that it hit me: I was actually going to Paris with no plan on what to do when I got there. I also realized going by myself offered quite a bit of risk. I survived the experience, but there were quite a few hiccups along the way. The good news is that even when things took a wrong turn it made me a better traveler.

Step one of solo travel: Don’t panic.

Don’t panic after you buy your ticket, don’t panic when your mom tells you you’re going to get kidnapped, don’t panic when you get there and no one speaks English, and especially don’t panic when you get to Charles De Gaulle and miss your flight.

Panicking makes everything way worse than it needs to be, and whatever happens you will figure it out. To mitigate the panic, be prepared. It’s useful to download some accommodation and transportation apps prior to your trip, such as Hostelworld and GoEuro.

Hostelworld is an app that shows users hostels all over the globe, as well as ratings and reviews. Some hostels even offer the option of a “hostel chat” where users can direct message to others who have booked rooms at the same hostel. GoEuro is an app where you can purchase flights, train tickets, and bus tickets all around Europe. It was a lifeline for me pretty much the entire trip.

In the approaching days of the trip I managed to hash out some finite plans. I was going to stay one night in Paris, fly to Edinburgh in Scotland, spend a couple of days there, take a train down to London for the women’s march, and spend the rest of my time there until the Dec. 22 when I would take a train back to Paris and fly to California.

I got to the Oakland airport extra early and then commenced my 10-hour flight to Paris. This was where my first “don’t” happened: Don’t forget to make sure that the time change is accurate. I had booked myself a night at a hostel in Paris for that same day and a flight for Dec. 16 thinking that Paris was nine hours behind when in fact it’s actually nine hours ahead. Oops.

As soon as I arrived in Paris I had to get on my next flight to Edinburgh, leaving no time for me to explore Paris. I had booked the cheapest flight I could find with an airline called “Flybe” and was feeling pretty nervous about it, especially since it was a jet-sized plane with propellers, and the weather was less than ideal. Before the flight took off I ordered a drink and said a prayer, and to my surprise it was one of the smoothest flights I had ever taken. I would definitely fly with them again.

Once I got to Edinburgh I took an Uber to Castle Rock Hostel where I had booked my stay for the next couple of days. Even at night Edinburgh was breathtaking. Castle Rock Hostel was especially a great place to stay, walking distance from all of the touristy spots of Edinburgh, including Victoria’s street and Arthurs seat, and is also right across the street from Edinburgh Castle.

A night’s stay is around $23 depending on the type of room. The hostel is Victorian style with quirky décor, some of which include suits of amour and sparkling golden toilets. There is a kitchen in case you want to cook your own meals and also a breakfast for only two pounds a day, while coffee and tea are free of charge! I arrived pretty late at night, and since I was traveling in the off season, I ended up having just one roommate in a room with twelve bunks. The next day she invited me to join her for breakfast and then hike up to Arthur’s seat, a popular trail that leads to an overlook of all of Edinburgh.

After this we decided to do some shopping, and because I didn’t want to haul my backpack around everywhere I decided to go looking for a fanny pack. Seven shops later I finally asked a Scot working in H&M for a fanny pack. The woman burst into laughter. She looked at me and told me that in the UK they call it a “bum bag,” and that “fanny” actually means vagina. Oops.

A must-do while solo traveling in the UK is to go on a pub crawl. On Thursday nights at the hostel there is a free pub crawl that goes to five pubs and ends at a nightclub at around 3 a.m. Although it was loads of fun, this crawl is not for the faint of heart and it’s important to drink lots of water and pace yourself. Of all the things you could do as a solo traveler I would say that this is probably the easiest method of meeting new people; I had met more people that night than doing anything else in my entire trip combined.

Another great way to meet people as a solo traveler is to go on a tour. As I had mentioned earlier I had planned on leaving Scotland early to attend the women’s march in London, but soon decided to ditch that plan when my friend told me about a three-day tour in the highlands of Scotland, which sounded too good to pass up. The tour was through MacBackpackers and was one of the best and most beautiful experiences of my life, not only because of the beauty of the landscapes and castles of the highlands but because of my tour guide. If you ever decide to take a tour through the highlands of Scotland, I would highly recommend MacBackpackers and specifically ask for Neil as your tour guide of choice.

After my time in the highlands I spent one last night in Edinburgh with my friends that I had made from the tour and we decided to do our own mini pub crawl. There were about five of us and we each bought a round of beers that night at the pub. I had a train to London the next morning and having never been on a train before, I had no idea what kind of hangover I was in for.

One of the biggest lessons I took away from this trip was this: do not go drinking the night before a four-hour train ride. After I had taken my seat and the train began to run, just looking out the window at the walls passing by at lightning speed was enough to make me want to put my head between my legs.

Once I got to London I took another Uber to St. Christopher’s Village Hostel, where I was intrigued by their Japanese-style sleeping pods. They were surprisingly spacious and even in a mixed dorm room I felt completely safe and snug in my little pod. So, after doing some sight-seeing during the day I had a train back into Paris the next morning. On the train I felt happy and confident, I had made it through my first solo trip. I was going to get to the airport, board my plane, and head back to California.

What I didn’t know was that the trains would be delayed by several hours because it had been snowing in London, Paris, and everywhere in-between. By the time I made it to Charles De Gaulle my flight was already boarding and I was SOL. I decided to call the airline and see if I could get a flight out for the next day, and they informed me that the next flight didn’t actually leave out of Paris until Saturday.

Not wanting to break the bank by staying an extra week, I did some poking around and found that there was a somewhat cheap flight leaving from London to Oakland a couple of days later, and so I decided to purchase a ticket out of London instead. I had to learn the hard way that if you’re planning on making your flight for sure, it’s best to arrive about a day early because you never know what kind of obstacles may be standing in your way of making your flight on time, and also always make sure that your plane tickets are refundable.

With all of that being said, it was a very fulfilling experience and I’m glad that I did it on my own. Since I was on my own, I met tons of new people from all across the globe. The best part of solo travel is that you’re never really alone, and you make friends with lots of other inspiring solo travelers. One woman who inspired me the most during my travels was Fiona Bituin, a 27-year-old backpacker from Melbourne, Australia who had been backpacking around the world for six months by herself. In those six months she has been to New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, the United States, Cuba, Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Ireland, the UK, Romania, Belgrade, Budapest, Salzburg, Portugal, and Slovenia! This just goes to show that anyone can solo travel so long as you have the resources and the courage. And don’t forget a bum bag!

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