The first time you go traveling solo, you’re bound to make tons of small mistakes and wish you had done certain things differently. That’s all part of the process and honestly those mistakes can make for great memories and unexpected surprises. However, being fully prepared for your first solo trip will save you time, money, and a whole lot of heartache. Here are some mistakes I made backpacking through Europe, and how to avoid them in your own trips.
1. Research Transportation… Before You Touch Down
Getting around in most major cities isn’t typically very complicated, but it still helps to fully understand what options are available before you get there. When I arrived in Florence, I knew the city was filled with buses, but I didn’t realize how far away my hostel was or how quickly my phone battery would drop. As such, I was left wandering the streets surrounding the airport, dragging my suitcase for miles along a busy highway, and unsuccessfully trying to board several buses. In some cities you have to buy tickets at certain stations, bus routes don’t let you buy onboard, and recent construction or political events can alter routes at the last minute. Do your research before you go and make sure you know what you’re in for. Also, check in with locals to see if there are city specific apps that can help you navigate complicated transport systems.
2. Don’t Pack for the Pictures
Whether you opt for a backpack or an actual suitcase, thinking about what you put into your pack is hugely important. I went for a suitcase as I was staying in capital cities and didn’t think I’d have to trek my case for long periods of time, so rolling my things seemed to make sense. Boy, was I wrong. Between the hostel rooms that were on the sixth floor (with no elevator) and the many loud, long walks along cobblestone streets from the nearest bus stop to my room, I begrudged every last item in my case. Things like curling irons and extra pairs of shoes began to feel like insane additions to bring along, and I wished I’d been more critical when I packed. Don’t bring the heavy coat you don’t really need because you want it for a picture or bulky beauty items — you’ll want to spend your time enjoying the destination and not getting ready for it anyway.
3. Portable Chargers are a Must
This might seem like a given even if you’re not a seasoned traveler, but taking a portable charger is a lifesaver. I didn’t end up packing one and still don’t know why I didn’t buy one halfway through my trip. I never listened to music or texted friends as I was always consciously trying to conserve my phone’s battery life for directions. This is a must. Buy one, buy many. It will save you so much worrying and hours spent wandering around lost. Having said that, don’t keep your phone fully charged to spend all day on it. You want to remain present and in the moment as much as possible, simply with the reassurance of knowing you always have a backup. If you can’t get your hands on a charger, consider looking into what late night stores have outlets in the cities you are traveling to – not all destinations are filled with 24 hour McDonalds and Starbucks at every corner.
4. Pay (Slightly) More For Fun Hostels
I did my entire trip in an incredibly budget-friendly manner, and I don’t feel like that compromised my experience in the slightest. However, there were a few decisions I made that I came to regret not splashing out slightly more for. I once stayed in a hostel that was advertised as having a beautiful view over the city… and it did. But a view of the city inherently meant it wasn’t in the city, and that only half explained the extraordinarily low price I paid for it. The hostel was more of a campsite, with guests staying in two person tent-like rooms with no chargers or restrooms. Thankfully, my roommate was a sweet guy from Germany and it was perfectly comfortable, but I can imagine the intimate arrangements proving endlessly uncomfy for a solo travel. Plus, having to trek out to a common dining area to charge my phone each night was a huge hassle, especially after long days of sightseeing and going out. The worst part? Cold, unclean showers shared with everyone at the campsi– I mean hostel. I never paid a lot for my hostels, but when I paid slightly more for a hostel in a fun ruin bar in Budapest or a Croatian hostel on a river with free kayaks and a waterfall nearby, I didn’t regret the higher bill.
5. Trust Your Gut
The worst moments of my trip happened when I didn’t trust my gut. I stayed in a room in Slovenia even though my roommate creeped me out, and I came to hugely regret it. He ended up being kicked out, but that didn’t make me feel any better about the experience. Alternatively, I spontaneously went to a party with someone who came up to me on the streets of Prague and it turned out to be a wonderfully fun evening. Trust your gut when it comes to the people you meet and the places you go; more often than not, it’s will be right. Also, keep other people in the loop. Even though you’re traveling solo, you don’t have to feel totally alone in your decisions.