Aged 20 I decided to embark on my first ever solo-trip through Croatia and Hungary. Before, I had always travelled with at least one other person. However, as I was booking my flights, I knew this style of travelling was going to fit my personality like a jigsaw piece. When telling others about my upcoming explorations, I was confronted with confusion and concern for my safety. Anything could happen to me. In a few people’s eyes, I was putting myself in ‘imminent’ and unnecessary danger! As it turned out, travelling solo wasn’t the lonely experience everyone said it would be. It was liberating when I experienced an unrivalled sense of freedom.
The first day was disorientating. I vividly remember sitting underneath a tree in Dubrovnik Old Town wondering ‘what have I done!?’ I was in an unknown location, surrounded by strangers, and soon to be spending the night in a hostel room with thirteen other people who didn’t speak my language.
Lost in self-pity, I wandered aimlessly for a few hours, eventually finding refuge in the supermarket, a place of familiarity and comfort for a foodie like myself. I need not have worried, as a mere few hours later I chatted to a few others, including a girl called Bella. The night ended with Bella, another girl and I watching the sunset, laughing and eating ice-cream. It felt like I had discovered freedom!
By some fate, Bella and I realised we had the same travel plans for the next ten days. For nearly two weeks I had an amazing friend to meet up with, with no obligation for us to stay together if we didn’t want to – very different to a holiday had I purposefully travelled with a friend. To this day, Bella and I keep in contact, brought about because we both chose to travel solo, being in the right place at the right time.
The next few weeks passed in a blur of joy. Some days I explored by myself enjoying the peacefulness of little me standing amongst the crowds. Other days I found people to explore places with. Going out for lunch with strangers is rather empowering, as in everyday life it just wouldn’t happen; but in the solo-travel bubble, it’s the accepted and encouraged norm! I like to call them ‘24-hour friendships’. You find a person or group; chat, eat and laugh together for a day.
You may even ‘friend’ each other on Facebook, but you both know after that day, you are unlikely to speak or see each other again. This knowledge doesn’t lessen the experience. In fact, it meant I had some of the most profound conversations with my ‘24-hour friends’ because there was no fear of being judged in the long term.
You both get the companionship boost you need and are grateful for that moment. It was my first time experiencing this, and it is so freeing. I had very little in common with most of the people I met and wouldn’t remain friends in everyday life, but it doesn’t make my time with them any less significant.
I experienced many more similar and fleeting friendships. Often, we would meet in hostel kitchens, sometimes on tours around the towns. Even when I was eating lunch by myself in a park, a guy wandered over to chat and practise his English. Short human interactions like this were the highlight of my trip.
Initially, I thought I was travelling to explore the architecture and history of Croatia and Hungary. Instead, finding I was traversing the diverse personalities of humanity. Meeting individuals from around the world meant although I was physically in Croatia, I was instead learning about the history of Argentina, the beliefs of an Australian hippy and the passion an American student had for Ultimate Frisbee.
Solo travellers attract other solo travellers, and before you know it, you’ve developed a group of people, you would never have met otherwise. Over three weeks, I realised more about myself than I had in the past 20-years! There had indeed been moments of vulnerability, but having to overcome fears only increased my confidence in my capabilities.
For me, travelling solo was like a bird leaping from the nest and discovering how great it feels having the freedom to fly. A lot of people think solo travel is only for the brave, or people with no friends. On the contrary, I have plenty of friends, although admittedly I was terrified when I first landed at Dubrovnik airport. However, by harnessing my fear, I was able to meet dozens of strangers along the way.
I may not have stayed in contact with 99% of the people I met, but we touched each other’s lives during our fleeting friendships. Solo travel is a freedom like no other where you are released from the mundane responsibilities of everyday living. You can focus energy on living a simpler and far more fulfilling life – something I have never been able to experience beyond my weeks of solo travelling.