Travel can undoubtedly provide you with iconic and life-changing experiences when it comes to life’s greatest pleasures. For me, having the opportunity to experience new places, with new people, traditions, and cultures, is one of the most challenging and exciting things that can happen in someone’s life. In 2019, I had the opportunity to take one of my first solo trips across Europe. For 16 days, I traveled by train through Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin before going to Spain to start as an aupair (a story for another hour!). It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified at first, but a number of tips have helped me through these weeks of European travel. That’s how I got around Berlin, Hamburg, and Amsterdam!
1) My European Travel Itinerary Made Everything So Much Easier!
Weeks before leaving for Europe, I spent many hours researching all my options in the cities I was going to visit. As an extremely anxious person, I planned out each of my 16 days, leaving a few hours and days off in case something didn’t work out. I researched which places were close to each other and bought tickets to many museums and attractions in advance.
As you can imagine, the itinerary at the end didn’t go quite as planned. You need to know that when you travel alone, things happen at your own speed and pace – there is no planning for that. But the fact that I organized everything myself and researched all the places I was going to visit made the trip so much easier! Having a planned and organized itinerary helped me a lot, as I already knew how to transport myself from one place to another, the schedules of the attractions, and also what my priorities were on the trip. When I had free time and still didn’t want to go home, I would just look at my itinerary and see if there was anywhere nearby for me to visit.
2) Having My Own Portable Charger Saved Me Many Times
On a trip, having your own cell phone is now almost mandatory. In it, you get easy and quick information about tourist spots, restaurants, bars, and public transport, and you can easily use the GPS to locate yourself. One thing I learned during my weeks traveling alone in Europe is that using these tools will consume a lot of your mobile’s battery.
Having my own portable charger saved me many times and also made my experience much easier. Mostly because I didn’t have to bother about coming back to my hostel to charge my phone. I could stay out in the city visiting all day long, knowing that I could use my phone if I needed any help. And remember to buy it before your trip, as it can be really expensive in other places.
3) Making Friends While Traveling Can Change Your Experience!
When I was getting ready to travel alone, one of the biggest problems that literally took my nights’ sleep was thinking about how I was going to make friends and meet people so I could share moments and experiences. Obviously, you don’t need to be accompanied to do exactly everything. For some people, company, in general, is not essential. They can travel and have all the travel experiences alone at all times. But for me, meeting people and making new friendships is part of the travel experience! And it literally completely changed and expanded the directions of my journey.
For example, when I arrived in Amsterdam, without knowing ANYONE, I spent almost all my days there visiting, seeing the places, and having experiences alone. On my third day, I missed not having company and people to share this incredible experience with. In my last two days in Amsterdam, I met two Brazilians who lived there. I spent my last days with them, and then I could see the difference. Despite that, I still had amazing days in Amsterdam that I will never forget! But one thing I promised myself was that I would make an effort to meet people and make friends from then on.
4) Mobile Apps for Travelers Helped Me to Meet People and Made the Whole Experience Better
Once I got to Hamburg (a place I was only visiting because I wanted to see a Mariah Carey concert!) I met one guy from Germany and a girl from Nigeria in my hostel, and on the same day that I arrived, we spent all night together! That day, I told them I was traveling alone and wanted to make friends to share moments within every city I’d visit.
From that moment, my whole trip changed! They introduced me to some mobile apps aimed at travelers who wanted to meet new people (fellow travelers, students, residents, etc.). Some of these apps are SoloTraveller and the “Hangouts” option in Couchsurfing. By using them, I made dozens of friends across all the countries and cities I visited! I also discovered a number of Facebook groups for people traveling alone. All these tools literally changed the course and experiences of my trip. In addition to being easy and quick to use, they are very efficient!
Of course, you need to be careful, especially if you’re a woman! Only meet people who have their profiles with a lot of information (feedback from other users as well), and always try to meet with three or more people. Ask for their social media too! Unfortunately, we can’t fully know all the people who are using these tools. We need to take every possible precaution so that our dreams don’t turn into a nightmare.
5) Norms and Rules Vary from City to City
When we plan a trip, decide our priorities, what to visit, where to stay and how to get around, it is natural to feel very anxious. For example, it is common for each city to have its own norms and rules for public transport operation, opening hours of bars and restaurants, and what you can and cannot do on the street. The rules can differ VERY even from one city to another within the same country.
This may sound normal for some people, but it was very different for me! In Brazil, it is not so common for each district and city to have rules and laws that are so different from each other, even though it is a huge country. For a traveler, all these details that can greatly affect our experience sometimes can escape the mind, especially when taking a big trip with different cities, states, and countries.
6) Connecting with People Who Lived in Cities Helped Me with Planning My Trip
What helped me pay attention to the details and differences of each city I visited was connecting with people who already lived in these places, before and during my stay! So they could help me prepare for my trip and also assist me as my trip progressed. The mobile apps that I mentioned above helped me a lot in this, and it was a big difference in my trip. An example happened in Berlin: in this large European city, as in many others, it is forbidden to drink alcohol on the streets, in unauthorized places, and the person who does that can get a fine (which will certainly not be welcome on your trip). As in Brazil and other cities I had visited before, this rule did not exist. I would never have imagined it, and I could probably get into trouble.
At the same time, these connections with local residents also helped me a lot in what would be the best options for using public transport. For example, many European cities have their own daily and weekly bus and metro cards that can be much cheaper than a single ticket. Although almost all this information is available on the Internet, the help of people who live in the city you are going to visit can be much more efficient!
7) Buying All My Train, Museum, and Concert Tickets in Advance Was a Great Idea!
Only those who have traveled know how sudden and unpredictable events can be our worst enemies. Suppose you like to sleep, like me, and you always want to enjoy every second of your travel experience. In that case, it’s important to do your best so that unforeseen circumstances don’t get in the way of your journey. Before traveling, I set aside a day to try to buy all the train tickets, and entries to all the museums and attractions I wanted to visit. As my trip took place, I realized what a great idea this was!
On many traveler blogs I read before traveling, writers said that buying short-distance train tickets in advance was not really necessary. When I arrived at my station traveling from Amsterdam to Berlin, I could see several travelers who were extremely sad and annoyed at not having more tickets available for that day. I also realized the difference in price. When I bought it, weeks before, the price was almost 10 euros cheaper! That’s a huge difference.
Also, tickets to museums and attractions can be extremely difficult to get on the same day. For example, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Tickets sometimes sell out weeks and even MONTHS in advance! In fact, that was one of the reasons why I couldn’t visit it, unfortunately. Don’t leave it to the last minute, book all your tickets and buy your entries as soon as possible. Doing this can even leave you with more time available to get to know the city more!
Traveling alone can be very difficult and terrifying, but I promise you that the experience, in the end, is extremely positive! The most important thing to do is research A LOT about the places you want to visit before you go, and pay close attention to the details. Look for the best place to stay, for the available public transport and the access to attractions and cool places to visit. Organize your schedule and itinerary and never leave anything to the last minute. All the effort will have been worth it, and you will be another person passionate about traveling!