A few months ago I received an invitation to my friends’ wedding in Vienna. I’d never been to Vienna before so I decided to go.
While I’m at it, I thought, I should really go to Berlin. I’d never been there either and I had an open invitation from an old friend.
And while I’m at it, I thought, I should visit Fiver and Stuart on their boat. They live on a boat every summer and float around somewhere in Europe. This summer they would be floating through the Netherlands. I’d never been to the Netherlands before (can you see the pattern here?) so I decided I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.
And once I’m in the Netherlands, I thought, I have to go to Amsterdam. Because (you guessed it) I’d never been to Amsterdam and that’s just unacceptable.
Thus I embarked on the #2SummersEuropeanTrip, a solo traveling journey in which I was never alone.
Since I got back to Joburg two days ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about this trip and what it meant to me. Basically, it meant a lot. Here are the things I learned.
What I Learned During Two Weeks of Solo Traveling
1) Solo traveling doesn’t have to be solo.
Solo travel, especially female solo travel, is a hot topic these days. When I hear the term “solo travel”, I envision a solitary woman sitting in a cafe, sipping coffee and scribbling in a journal as the world rushes past in a blur. I imagine that person being completely alone, experiencing her travels quietly and introspectively.
I have been that kind of solo traveler before and really enjoy it. But solo travel doesn’t have to be solitary.
On this trip, I reached out to locals I knew (or in some cases, locals I barely knew) and accepted invitations to stay with them and hang out together in their cities. In every place I visited, I stayed with or spent time with locals.
In many ways, this was harder for me than just doing my thing alone. I’ve always struggled to ask for help and accept kindness from others.
But stepping out of my comfort zone was so worth it. I made incredibly meaningful connections on this trip and I feel so much gratitude for those connections.
My friend Jeroen at the Neue Wache, a memorial to the victims of war and dictatorship in Berlin. Jeroen, a travel writer and tour guide, took three days out of his life to show me around Berlin. He and his wife Soulafa also invited me to stay in their flat and were such wonderful hosts. I can’t thank them enough and I already miss them.
Stephan (left) and Joerg (right), aka @ryanm and @jn, are two friends I know through Instagram. Even though I only met them once for a few hours in Joburg more than five years ago, they met up with me on two different nights in Berlin and showed me around their city. Getting to know a city is so much more fun with locals.
My dear friends Fiver and Stuart on a chilly day somewhere in the Netherlands. These two are more like family than friends to me, and the time I spent on their boat was one of the most special travel experiences I’ve ever had.
2) Solo traveling is scary.
Even though I’ve been traveling alone for more than two decades, it still makes me nervous. In the days leading up to this trip I worried I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I had many long flights to endure, train ticketing systems to figure out, and just the general stress of packing for multiple locations and weather systems and navigating through foreign countries where I don’t speak the language, etc. I was freaking scared, to be honest.
You know what though? It was all fine. In fact it was more than fine. I loved every minute of this trip and I would do it all again tomorrow.
3) Google Maps is my friend.
If I could offer one piece of advice to all the potential solo travelers out there, it’s this: Wherever you go, get a local SIM card and buy mobile data so you can use Google Maps while you’re out and about. Getting the SIM card to begin with can be a bit of a pain, depending on the country, but trust me — it’s worth it.
Google Maps doesn’t only offer driving and walking directions anymore; it also offers public transport directions. This means no more feeling perpetually lost and struggling to figure out complicated bus, metro, and train systems in foreign languages — Google does it all for you. It’s a game-changer, I tell you. A GAME-CHANGER.
4) One of the best things about traveling is going home.
When I boarded the plane for my last leg back to Joburg, I heard the flight attendants’ South African accents and felt overcome with joy. I couldn’t wait to get home to my boyfriend and my cat, to my house and my African coffee and my boxing workouts and the beautiful Joburg spring.
I love traveling but I also love home.
There will be more #2SummersEuropeanTrip posts to come.