The Joys Of Travelling Alone
Lily went travelling by herself and has five tips to share with you solo travellers.
‘What if I just went to Berlin?’
‘Mum I’m bored.’
‘Find something to do then.’
‘What if I just went to Berlin?’
‘Yeah why not.’
This is the conversation I had with my mum just before booking a return flight from Bristol to Berlin. I had been very ill and a bit depressed, on and off school for weeks, nothing too serious, mostly just terrible colds. I was mega behind on school work but it was the Easter holidays in three weeks so I decided to go away.
I booked the cheapest flights on EasyJet and found a youth hostel for €11 a night (which for three nights comes to about £26, not baaad) and then wished for the 21st of March to come as quick as possible. I was so excited for this trip that I was packed and ready at least a week before I left whereas normally I leave it to the last hour; that runs in the family.
…the feeling of independence is incomparable.
The day finally came and I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had until five o’clock when my dad was going to pick me up to take me to Bristol airport. There I would be left to fend for myself and I could not wait. The thing about travelling alone is you get all the satisfaction when things go right. Even when things go not so right, for example when one of the straps on the very old rucksack that I was using broke, the feeling of independence is incomparable.
Independence is something that I cannot get enough of. I love it. I can’t wait to move out, I’m one of those people. Even travelling with friends the independence is still there. You’re not with parents, you’re not with school; it’s just you (singular or plural, if you’re with your mates).
Tip 1: For All Travel, Also Every Day Life, Bring Wet Wipes
Honestly if you only take one thing away from this article let it be that wet wipes are so important. When you’re really hot, wet wipe to the face, that will cool you right down. If you haven’t had access to a shower for a while, wet wipes, the perfect makeshift shower. Wet wipes to make your hands feel cleaner if you need that. Honestly wet wipes.
Day 1 in Berlin I went for breakfast with a friend of my dad’s girlfriend and she introduced me to someone my own age (shout out to Otto). I hung out with him and his friends that day and it was amazing. We saw some touristy things but what I loved most was experiencing Berlin as an honorary local. We went on the U-bahn (Berlin’s metro) and I didn’t have to spend five minutes at the ticket machine trying to work out the routes. I also didn’t have to stop every two seconds to look at a map. I just enjoyed the day and took everything in. Otto and his girlfriend took me to an amazing art shop and, if I didn’t have the constraints of having to fit everything into one broken rucksack and also of having little money, I would have bought the whole shop.
Tip 2: For When You’re Travelling On A Budget, Never Refuse Free Food.
Obviously don’t accept food if you think it’s drugged or, I don’t know, mouldy, be sensible. However accepting a biscuit from the boys reading psychology books and going on a skating holiday that you sat next to on the plane or breakfast with a family friend is not going to do you any harm and you will be thankful when you’re out and about and you can’t find anywhere to eat.
Day 2 I went solo. I walked everywhere and I went full tourist (actually that’s I lie, I didn’t have my DSLR and my phone died halfway through the day so I could take so many pics, but apart from that, full tourist). I’d seen the holocaust memorial the day before with my new German buddies so on my list of sights to see was the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the TV tower and the Berliner Dom. I saw all of these and more because I walked everywhere. As well as the main attractions, I found a really cute vintage shop and also sat by a very pretty lake when my legs started to feel weak. I wouldn’t have seen these things on the U-bahn.
I made it from Prenzlauer Berg all the way to Kreuzberg which, if you don’t know Berlin, is a very long way. To give you some context if you go in a straight line it’s about 6.1km. I did not go in a straight line. I’m pretty sure I walked at least 8km that day. I have no regrets though because…
Tip 3: For When You Want To Explore, Walk Everywhere.
You never know what you’re going to see and that is so exciting. You might come across street performers or really amazing food or cool graffiti that you would not have found if you had taken the U-bahn. Sometimes however, public transport is so necessary, for example when you have walked 8+km and you can’t face that same journey home.
The evening of day 2 was spent in the common room of the hostel. This is one of the best places to be as people go there to talk. The stories you will hear are so interesting, as are the people you meet. The standard common room gang was Northern James, Small Town James, French Ben and me. Two British James, what are the chances? James and James were both telling stories of their separate trips to Thailand (btw I would really like to visit Thailand now, anyone want to come with?) I swear I wasn’t just seeing double, they were different people.
Northern James was also telling us about minesweeping in his uni days, that time when he and his mate, drunk one evening, ate all the breakfast for the next day in a houseboat and then threw the plates into the canal to “hide the evidence”, and also stories about his new ‘friend’ Ivan. Ivan who originally called himself Vladimir. Ivan who wasn’t allowed back in the UK for 8 years because he had been arrested for GBH. Ivan who would buy 2 bottles of wine and then hide one in a bush in an attempt to not drink too much??? The Ivan stories were great and had me in stitches. Then when James and James left to go to bed it was just me and Ben left and we were talking until the early hours of the morning about anything and everything. He recommended me films, I told him about my YouTube channel and now we are fb friends and we occasionally update each other on our lives.
Tip 4: For When You’re Travelling Alone, Talk To People.
Talk to anyone, talk to everyone you meet. It’s interesting and who knows when you’re going to meet a friend, you won’t know if you don’t talk to anyone. I would recommend staying in a hostel for this as you will meet other like-minded people. Being alone forces you to talk to other people. Personally I think travelling is all about the people, either spending time with people you already know and love or hearing new people’s stories. So get out of that comfort zone and introduce yourself.
Day 3 and my legs were dead. I got out of bed to go change in the loo (I was the only girl in a mixed dorm) and my legs would not move, I actually had to lift them with my hands. Day 3 was also my last day so I had to get to the airport later to catch a plane. But until then I had no plans. I hadn’t really made any concrete plans for the whole trip, my style is more go with the flow; some might call me spontaneous. What I did that day was I charged my phone in the common room, which is slightly less alive at 10am, and then I used the free wifi in the really cute café next door, who did a delicious pear tea, to update my Instagram and to check for really nearby things to do and I found an art gallery which turned out, when I got there, not to exist.
Tip 5: For When You Need A Rest, Don’t Over-Plan.
This is the worst thing to do. Plans change and if plans fail then you will end up disappointed. Also don’t under-plan, you might end up doing nothing. If your itinerary is so full that you don’t get to enjoy it, you’re doing something wrong. My advice is to plan a couple of things that you couldn’t leave without doing and then make a list of potential activities that you could fill the time with. Also go with the flow maybe sometimes, you might be pleasantly surprised.
I then caught a train to the airport and flew home. I had done it, I had survived three days in a totally new city on my own. I was no longer ill or depressed. I felt refreshed and ready to tackle going back to school. If I hadn’t before I have now definitely caught the travel bug and I just want to go everywhere and I hope you now do too.
Head to the Rife Guide to find out places in Bristol you can travel to on your own doorstep.