How to travel solo (and have the time of your life)October 12, 2010 at 12:25 PM | Posted in Abs Fab, Faces Abroad, Globetrotter | 5 Comments
For my birthday this year, I decided to gift myself with a 10-day trip to Europe. Solo. 5 cities, 10 days. The aghast response was common, “Oh my God, how could you do that?.” Easy, I booked a flight and boarded it.My favorite reaction was from a New Zealand native living in Switzerland visiting Munich for Oktoberfest, “Awesome!.” And that was exactly the time I had.
I have traveled solo before, during an undergrad study abroad program in London. Me and a few other students were planning our destinations during a week break during the semester. I wanted Florence to be on the list, no one else did. So I did the whole week’s break by myself. That was 4 years ago. This time, Oktoberfest was the initial reason for the adventure and subsequently other cities were added on.
I flew into London and then made my rounds to Amsterdam via plane, Prague via plane, Vienna via bus and finally Munich via train. Why solo? Because I wanted to go, so I did. I mentioned the trip to friends, some were interested but no one jumped on board. Oh well. There are moments in traveling by your lonesome that you feel lonely but they were few and far between. Here are a few tips on how to never feel solo on your solo travels.
1. Talk to anyone who says boo to you
I was on my way to the clubs at Stephensplatz and a stranger walked past me, paused and said “Hola.” I thought it was odd since the official language of Vienna was German. I said “hola” back. The Tunisian stranger thought I was Columbian or Dominican. Within an hour I was salsa dancing at a Dominican owned club yucking it up with a Dominican woman from London who just moved to Vienna.
2. Ask the locals
While renting a bike to ride around Amsterdam I asked the sales associate “hey so what do the locals do?” His eyes lit up and he automatically said “Paradiso.” It was near the bike shop and my hostel, so it was a win. Just one simple question, and I was partying with the Dutch til dawn.
3. Get lost and wander
I got lost in Prague and happened upon a wine festival. I got lost in Vienna and happened upon a bike competition and a beach with a bar under a bridge with amazing graffiti artwork. I got lost in Amsterdam and happened upon two Dutch best friends who, doubled over in laughter when I said Led Zeppellin must have gotten their name from Leidseplein (an area in Amsterdam), told me their life stories over drinks, helped me find my bike, and dropped me off at Paradiso. It’s less about the itinerary and more about the experience. Immerse yourself.
4.Talk to the staff
The bartender, the hostel reception, the bouncer or the servers can all be invaluable resources on the country you’re visiting. I have discovered so much insight I had never came across on my google searches on these countries through the personal voices of the residents.
5. Reject rejection
You will not get served beer at Oktoberfest unless you are at a table. I did not have a table at the tent I was in. I walked up to a seemingly friendly face and asked “can I order beer here” he flatly said “No.” Hmmppff. Fine then. I searched for another table and a German man who was table dancing at the moment tapped me on the shoulder and screamed “Sit down.” The whole table were “Bavarian natives” (not German, they said) 2 liters in, Julia, and I were making plans for her visit to the states in the midst of the table screaming “Prost” and singing along to the band’s rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York.’
6. Be a tourist
The fest finished around eleven and I was left standing outside the tent with a Augustiner beer glass, conveniently put in my purse by my new German pal (I had nothing to do with it, I swear) and an Oktoberfest cookie (Lebkuchenherz) wrapped around my neck. What now? I walked past the food vendors and immediately glued my face to one of the windows. What’s that?!!! I pointed and screamed. The cook graciously smiled at the maniacal American with the agape mouth (aka me) and said “potato pancakes.” I squealed with glee “I read about them! I want to try one!” A Bavarian man standing nearby chimed in “They’re good! One for me and my new friend here.” Michael, my new friend, got one with applesauce, his pal Andy got a chili con carne variation and his girlfriend Anya suggested we have one last drink at a nearby beer garden.
7. Be yourself. On steroids.
Schnell! Schnell! I bellowed out to the elderly crossing the street a little slowly for my taste whilst ringing my bike bell on the bike tour around Munich. The Swiss guy who was on the tour laughed and asked “where’d you learn to speak German so well? I guffawed and snorted at my limited German and I told him about 11 years ago in eighth grade. The rest of the Swiss tour people laughed hysterically, they wanted me to make Switzerland the next stop on my euro trip. They had a bus they came in on and had space. Unfortunately, it was the end of my trip and the end of my bank account.
8. Try something new already!
I don’t drink beer. So why was I at the world’s largest beer fest you ask? For the fest of course. And NOW I’m definitely a beer drinker. Beer snob actually. And I can drink with the best of them. Thanks Munich! The point is to push your comfort zone, don’t go abroad and eat McDonald’s. Become part of the city.
9. Let time stand still
It’s easy to get wrapped up in planning the next landmark or museum you want to see, but it is more about being there and enjoying the sights at that moment. Don’t preclude being present for planning. There’s no meetings, no work to be done, no appointments to keep, no reason to rush. Just BE there.
10. Plan the big stuff, not the small stuff
It’s wise to plan your transportation to and from your destination cities, but the stuff I did once I touched down was planned entirely by the seat of my pants. And those pants will live in euro infamy. Believe me.