On 16 July at 5pm, my flight landed at London Heathrow after two and a half weeks spent travelling around Central and Eastern Europe alone. Settling down onto an inconspicuous National Express coach seat at 3am on 28 June 2014 for a pretty unspectacular hour and half ride to Stansted airport was the quiet 3,2,1 lift-off moment of an incredible solo trip.
The decision to travel alone was a year in the making and not taken lightly. Much. I am a fiercely independent person who will venture alone simply to avoid burdening someone else. However, I am also outgoing, love meeting people and socialising and am of a generally sunny disposition. While I don’t think these traits are absolutely necessary when travelling, they certainly help.
Despite deciding to travel last year (2013), but not able to make it happen then for a variety of reasons, I took the leap this year. I call it a leap because for me, it was a leap, of faith, in myself and my ability to cope as well as enjoy this experience.
Plus, lots of women from all corners of the world, from all walks of life, travel solo, which pushed me. If they can do it, why can’t I?
I felt positive, slightly brave (not going to lie) but also a bit nervous having made my decision. I didn’t have any other details or logistics planned out. I had a vague idea of route I wanted to take which solidified with further planning. Once I had a confirmed route, I felt more settled and secure about my decision to go it alone. Deciding the route, picking the cities and working out a time frame was the easy part.
Telling family and friends of my decision to travel alone was also not the hard part. Having to answer the why that always followed that one five letter word ‘alone’ which was almost always accompanied by a puzzled or slightly frowning expression was the difficult part. Funnily enough, apart from my mum, who is a worrywart and was genuinely scared about me travelling alone, as well as my family (who worry regardless of where, what, when and with whom) it was mostly the men that were either confused, and / or unsupportive and / or slightly critical of my decision.
While doing things alone is not a new experience for me, travelling alone was a very new and daunting concept for me. When those around me whose opinions matter didn’t fully support or criticised my decision, it began to taint what was initially in my head a positive, assertive and brave step to take. In addition for me, it was a progressive step, a step in the direction of self-development.
I began to second guess myself and my decision to travel – was I right in thinking I could travel? Is it safe for a woman to be out and about alone in Europe at all hours of the day and night? Should I go with friends so that, should anything go wrong, I had someone for help and support with me? All of the questions and doubts that kept plaguing me were about something going wrong. I didn’t need someone with me to have fun and enjoy all the sights and smells of Europe, so why did I need someone should something go wrong.
While I wish I could say I pulled myself out of my own quagmire of self-destructive thoughts, it was a number of different women in my life that helped me see sense and my own self-worth and capability – I am a strong independent woman and I can do this – which helped straighten my head out and strengthened my resolve to go.
With renewed enthusiasm, I got started with making this trip a reality.