I’ve been wanting to go somewhere by myself for a while now. Sure, I have taken many planes, trains and buses by myself to different cities or countries, but always to meet someone at the other end. I’ve never gone somewhere, certainly not abroad, to look around by myself and then come home again without having spent time with someone I know. But it felt like travel on easy mode to always be heading off with friends or family, even if I often do most of the planning. I read lots of travel blogs – most of them authored by women – and, without fail, they all list solo travel as their main method of seeing the world. When I read these amazing stories of women heading off to unknown corners of the planet by themselves, I felt a little jealous of that self-confidence and self-assuredness.
Obviously, there are many, many people to whom solo travel will never appeal. There are a million reasons why someone might never want to travel solo that are totally legitimate. Also, just do what you want. But I wanted to try solo travel, however briefly. Almost shyly, I admitted to myself that I liked the thought of being someone who would get on a plane by themselves, fly somewhere awesome and have a great time.
But, despite having followed blogs by women who have spent months travelling solo for years, and feeling inspired by them, I was still plagued by the most basic of solo travel anxieties. What if I’m lonely? What if it’s unsafe? Isn’t it just super lame to go somewhere by yourself?
I debated booking these flights for months, so much so that I ended up missing the super cheap flights that had originally drawn me back to Budapest. As I was staring at a return flight double the price of the one I’d been considering only last week and realised that I still desperately wanted to book them, it was clear that I should go. Obviously, I should go. Why not?
So, I booked the tickets and a bed in a hostel. I decided on Budapest mainly because mid-July weekend flights were reasonable but also because I’d visited before, in April 2017, and loved it. I loved the museums, the buildings, the dumplings, the drinks and the general mood of the city; I wanted to see more of it.
My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to for the whole weekend. If this blog wasn’t enough of an indicator, I love to ramble and chat and share my internal monologue in real time. I was nervous about seeing all these awesome sights and eating great meals and then feeling flat because I couldn’t offer my thoughts to anyone. Fortunately, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. One of the benefits to having a non-stop stream of thoughts is that it’s actually kind of interesting being in my own head. I still had all the same thoughts but I shared them with… me. It sounds weird but it works.
I do think my blogging and photography made travelling alone more fun. Photography gives me a purpose everywhere I go and knowing that I wanted to share these experiences on the blog later made me feel connected to other people even though I was seeing things on my own. Having this blog gives me more purpose generally when I travel and I love that I am challenged to work through my ideas and experiences, rather than merely noting them and then letting them fade out of my memory. After about an hour of wandering around by myself, it ceased to feel like I was by myself, if that makes sense. I wasn’t doing things alone, I was just… doing things. And I was by myself while I did those things. The distinction is subtle but it made all the difference.
Of course, it’s not as if I spoke to no one for the entire forty-eight hours. I stayed in a hostel dorm in order to meet a few other people (along with it being the cheapest option). Given that I was only in my room for an hour or so during the day, I can’t say I made any lasting friendships (though I will always treasure the time I spent talking to a very drunk Dutch girl at 2am about how excited she was to bang her boyfriend after she got home the following day). But everyone was very friendly and it was nice to chat a little, even if it was mainly introductions and classic travel questions, about where we’d been before and where we were going next. All the people I shared the dorm with across the weekend – the two Dutch backpackers, one hungover Brit and three earnest American boys – were either coming back from or going to massive benders while I was planning to get a good night’s sleep so I could head out to Memento Park early the next morning, so it was clear that we were not about to link up for the next couple of days.
It would obviously have been different if I were travelling for longer, rather than popping over for the weekend. I would have been more invested in making friends and less invested in editing my photos and getting a decent night’s sleep. But, for someone who had originally been worried about being lonely, I found that I relished having some quiet time to myself in the room after the three American guys headed out to an all-night party around 10.30pm, mere minutes after I got back to the dorm. I was so happy to not make small talk and to edit photos and think about my day in peace. Maybe I’m better on my own than I thought…
Even though there were a few things I was nervous about, there were also a number of things I was excited for when travelling by myself. Most notably, I just did what I wanted, when I wanted, with no discussion or compromise. Want to take a break for some chimney cake? Cool. Want to spend all of Sunday morning on a mad dash to a weird collection of statues six miles from the centre? Sounds awesome. Want to change the plan last minute and go for a sunset soak in the thermal baths? Already on my way to the metro.
It was also relaxing to only have my own budget to think about. I knew what I could afford and how much I wanted to spend and that was all that mattered. It’s important to keep everyone’s differing budgets in mind when you travel as a group, but when you’re travelling alone, you only have to check in with yourself before making a purchase, which is so much quicker and simpler. Similarly, eating was so much easier. Rather than doing a protracted back and forth over which restaurant looks like it offers the best food for the best price, I had a quick Google, scanned the menu and headed on my way.
This was by no means a particularly challenging solo adventure. Two days abroad, to a city and region I know well? Please. But this was never about doing some massive trip or taking on a huge challenge – it was just about me, going by myself and enjoying it, in order to build up to bigger things. It was about putting a stop to all the reductive solo travel clichés about being sad, lonely or weird because you want to go somewhere alone. Everyone has to start somewhere. So many people – myself included – put off travel because they can’t find someone who has the same budget, amount of time and travel dreams as they do. I am so lucky to have a partner, friends and family who like to travel with me, but I also want to enjoy my own company enough that travelling alone feels like a blessing too. World, you’ve been warned.