2013 was the year my gal pal and I were going to ditch work and uni, and head off to Europe. It was going to be a wonderful and glorious time in which we would escape the daily grind and explore what the world had to offer us. The only problem? After we had told everyone about our plans, things fell through. So there I was, stuck with nowhere to run and an impending solo trip to come.
For those who know me, this was seriously out of character. My family had said multiple times this was really unexpected, and it was. The point was proven when I called home in tears from Heathrow airport saying what a huge mistake I’d made.
Of course two and a half months of solo travel wasn’t a mistake. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. But I won’t deny there were plenty of tears, lots of confusion and a definite lack of sound travel advice. You get safety advice sure, but no one tells you about trying to navigate selfies, foreign tampons etc. So here's a list of all the things I wish I knew before travelling solo.
Think basics, basics, basics. It’s a great idea to get a friend/partner/family member to go through your case and cull anything you’ll never wear. It took me a long time to realise I didn't need 30 pairs of underwear. Take a little something for every season. Even though carrying a coat around in summer can be annoying, it will always come in handy.
Suitcase or backpack
You’d think a suitcase is the easy option yeah? Wrong. Have you ever tried to drag a 36kg case over cobble-stoned streets or up subway stairs? If you’re a small girl who has never entered a gym, then it’s down right dangerous. You will fall over backwards. No matter how little strength you possess (and trust me I have none), backpacks are the easiest option. Let your hips take that weight.
Prepare for your period
Everyone told me that anything I didn’t bring, I would be able to find abroad. And sure, there were plenty of lady supplies. They were just…different. When you are tired, homesick and aunty flow makes an unexpected visit, sticking something foreign all up in you is not all that pleasant.
Lonely Planet pocket guide = your best friend
Lots of people will tell you to forgo buying travel guides, because “Hey! This is the digital age.” But if you are going away and planning on reserving your internet usage for Wi-Fi, then these little pocket guides are DEFINITELY worth the purchase cost. They’ve done all the hard work for you and they make for good time fillers when on long train/plane/bus trips.
Vitamins are your other best friend
I have news for you. Just because you're travelling, doesn’t mean you'll be having a relaxing holiday… If you are backpacking then you will probably do a lot of exercise in trying to avoid transport costs. It’s god damn tiring and you’re going to get sick at some point. So hit the vitamins early. Trust me when I say a trip to a foreign doctor is no fun.
It’s surprising how quickly your money will dwindle away. Booking a place with a kitchen is invaluable. You’ll save SO much money. I can’t even stress how much - think $30 a day back in your pocket. That’s a whole night of accommodation. Even if you don’t plan to cook, making cereal and toast for breakfast will make all the difference.
Most people don’t realise how much money is wasted on currency exchange. If you are going to travel across multiple countries with various currencies, it pays to budget your trip well and truly before you leave. This will ensure you only convert your money once per currency, saving you plenty of coin. I made the mistake of converting all my money to GBP, even though that was stop one of an 18-country trip.
To tour or not to tour
Contiki was the best and worst thing about my trip. If you love spending time with Aussies, getting to clubs four hours before they’re busy and spending a hella lot of money, then definitely consider it. In all seriousness it can be a great way to travel if you are alone, but just consider how much you value sightseeing over partying.
Do not rely on strangers to take a nice photo of you and a monument. Do you like pictures of your feet in front of the Eiffel Tower? Of course you don’t. Practice the selfie, especially if you are going subtle and avoiding the use of the selfie stick.