I was born without any sense of direction. And I mean that quite literally. You can tell me that in order to get from A to B, I just need to walk in a straight line, and I guarantee you I will get turned around. Most of my life, I have always relied on friends and family showing me how to get a new place. So I was very apprehensive about my first trip travelling on my own.
It was my last night in Italy as part of a summer abroad program. My friend and I had this grand plan to go to Greece, spending a few days in Athens, then hitting the Greek Islands, and making our way all over Europe until we finally ended up in Ireland to start our creative writing class. But the night before we were supposed to leave, she flaked on me. She wanted to stay in Italy because of this boy she liked in our class. He was going to hang out at the beach, so she wanted to stay and do the same. I was so disappointed, and honestly I was a little scared about travelling alone. Not scared for my safety, just nervous because I had never travelled by myself.
Even though I had my doubts, I couldn’t waste this opportunity. I had no idea when the next time I would be able to go on a whirl-wind tour of Europe, and I wanted to explore. And even though I got lost plenty of times wandering around Athens, I was so glad I went. It was my dream to see the Acropolis, and I know I would have regretted not going. Since then, I have grown to love travelling by myself. Sure, some things are fun to share with friends. But sometimes it is nice to see a museum you really want to see (or not get dragged to one you have no interest in), go explore where you want to go and check out what most interests you. It is great to sit at a cafe and people watch, or find a scenic spot to relax or write in a journal, just taking time for you.
Maybe you are like me and don’t have a clue which way is east or west without looking at the compass on my iPhone. That’s why I like to orientate myself right away. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is go on a walking tour. They usually last about 3 hours. Depending on the size of the city you may also use some public transportation. Some require booking in advance; others you just show up at the designated time and place. I find it a great way to get my bearings and learn some history about the city, as well as tips on some of the best places to visit. Usually the groups are small enough that you can mingle and chat to other travellers, which is fun to do whether you are travelling solo or with friends. But also consider other kind of walking tours—in London I went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour, and in Edinburgh and Sydney I went on a ghost tour. These are fun ways to see the city at night.
Another option is a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. I like to do a full loop, and then I figure out where I need to go. Passes are valid for 24 or 48 hours depending on the city and the type of pass. After that, getting around will seem more manageable.
If you are travelling alone and you do want some company, I’ve found that other solo travellers are easy to find. I’ve previously written about hostels–they are a great place to meet travellers. On different types of tours/group activities, you can usually find one or two people on their own. One of my friends likes to go meetup.com and find out about different activities. If there is a dinner party or a hike he wants to go on, he’ll join the group and go to that event. Another option is couchsurfing.org (see my article on this). You can find various community events posted on their website.
Whatever you decide to do while travelling on your own, the important thing is to go. Don’t let someone else’s decision make you think you can’t go on your own. As for the girl I was supposed to go to Greece with, well, she never got the guy, and she ended up sick from alcohol poisoning and never made it to our class in Ireland either. As for me, I had a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget. And I learned that I CAN find my own way, and have a fabulous time doing so.