Go forth and explore

The following piece is my latest thought piece published at HerCanberra.

When was the last time you found yourself shelving away a trip to a place because you were not able to find anyone to come along with you? I almost did. But, I decided to go ahead with the trip.

So, this summer saw me on a solo backpacking trip in Italy for three weeks, armed with nothing but a 50L backpack that towered over me.

Let’s be honest here. Solo backpacking is often a decision borne out of convenience, not something most people would deliberately choose to do. I am not a huge believer of the often talked about cliché of travelling alone for the purpose of ‘finding yourself’.

So, I was a little skeptical before starting on my trip. I had previously travelled alone but never this far, for this long, and what more in a country that doesn’t speak my language.

But, if you decide to take that risk, and go ahead with the trip, there is much to be learnt.

1. You are the boss! Do whatever you want!

Don’t feel like visiting a highly recommended place? Don’t do it! There is no need to worry about hurting others’ feelings when you are travelling alone. There’s almost a definite travel circuit that most backpackers follow. You don’t have to follow that, particularly if you know what personally interests you.

2. You will meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have met.

Be open when it comes to talking to strangers. You will definitely meet people – the other solo/group backpackers in the hostels or at locations, the very friendly Italians who help you out despite the language barrier, and even the people you talk to on train rides. But, what you need to accept is that most of these encounters with other travelers will be fleeting and short term. Just like you, everyone else has got their own plans.

3. The occasional loneliness

It is inevitable to feel the occasional loneliness while travelling. You will almost certainly feel a little alone if you are arriving in rainy and cold Florence on Christmas Eve! That feeling however is temporary and will fade.

4. CouchSurfing

The truth is it might not be that great an idea to be couch surfing when you are a solo female backpacker. However, if you love meeting other fellow travellers or locals along the way, the CouchSurfing initiative is still an excellent way to start.

I’ve had a local take me around in Florence for the best gelato ever, and ushered into 2012 with fellow couch surfers from all around the world in Venice. Admittedly, one of the most enjoyable serendipitous experiences while travelling was when I met a random solo traveller at the Cupola of St Peter’s Basilica where we explored Rome together for the rest of the day.

5. Do get yourself lost. But, the iPhone GPS always helps.

Maps don’t always work. Getting yourself lost is often a good way to travel. In fact, getting lost is highly recommended when exploring Venice, and in Naples, particularly for the former when maps really are useless. When all else fails, what I have realised is the iPhone GPS is an excellent tool.

If all this isn’t tempting enough to make you want to plan your next trip, the following should be. The most enjoyable moment in travelling isn’t in the above. Rather, it is the ‘what you see is what you get’ nature of travelling. People don’t have your history to hold against you. There are no yesterdays on the road. That can really be a breath of fresh air.

So, what are you waiting for? Go forth, the world is waiting.

Have you ever travelled solo? What were the best and worst parts of your experience?