Travel solo. Just do it. It’s the best.
Eeeeeeek!!! Equal parts fear and excitement, that’s pretty much all that went through my head when I finally, FINALLY, after years of talking about how I want to travel for an extended period of time and so deeply admired and envied all of my friends and the people I’ve met who’ve traveled by themselves, booked a one way ticket from NYC to Italy.
I departed on July 10th for reasons I wish I didn’t have to travel for, to have a second funeral for my father with our family in Italy who weren’t able to come to the States a couple of months prior. We brought a lock of dad’s hair to bury in the mausoleum with his parents in Calabria so that there’s a piece of him there with them and at home with us. The funeral was just as surreal as the first time, just as emotional, and just as powerful. I’m not sure I’ve known anyone who loved life and travel and food as much as my father did, someone who couldn’t sit still and needed to explore and socialize, someone to make connections and learn on a daily basis, someone who was continuously inspired, and someone who many others can say has been the source of their inspiration — myself especially.
“Strong.” “Courageous.” Those are two incredible qualities my father labeled me with and explained to me in one of our final conversations. Those are two eye opening words that I needed to hear from him, two powerful words that are all I need to remind myself of when I start to doubt, when I start to get lonely or homesick, when I think that I can’t do something. Two words that allowed me to book a one way ticket to Italy and an Interrail ticket with zero plans outside of our family obligations in Italy to honor Dad. And halfway through this trip, I can say this is for sure one of the best things I’ve ever done and something I think every human should experience.
And now, my adventures (still a work in progress, one month to go!)
First stop: Switzerland with my mother, to Interlaken & Jungfrau specifically. This place is one of the most breathtaking, magical, absolutely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Expensive as all hell, but oh so worth it. I love it, but I was itching so hard to start that solo travel life. And after two days which included delicious fondue, pristine lakes, and a visit to Jungfrau -“the top of Europe”- I did.
I hopped on a train to Vienna and a few hours later, there I was, in the city center of another country wide-eyed and ready for whatever was coming my way. Travel in Europe is AMAZINGLY EASY. Why do I live in America? Oh, right, because I freaking love living in New York City. I’ll be completely honest, I had a tough time meeting people in Vienna and it made me very nervous for the rest of the trip, but I was just getting my bearings on this solo travel thing. Vienna is really beautiful and so full of music, the buskers at night playing classical music in front of palaces is one of the loveliest things to experience on a walk home after a long day of exploring. And Schönbrunn Palace is definitely one of my favorite places, even though it took me 3 tries and an ice cream cone I bought myself for emotional support to make it through the hedge maze. Skip the Sacher cake, do not skip the schnitzel. Drink lots of wine and beer because it’s cheap as f. 5 days later, I hopped back on that good ol’ train and made my way over to Budapest.
Budapest ❤. Fell in love with Budapest during the day and all over again at night. I can’t even put my finger on what it is about this place but I went in knowing nothing about it and left with the biggest crush. Did you know that Buda & Pest are two different places separated by a river? I didn’t even know that much. I met some new friends on a walking tour and ventured over to the ruin bars that night, a really neat use of abandoned spaces and courtyards by some savvy business peeps who turned these ruins into eclectic party time spots. Then I went to the Turkish Baths, the one I went to had a wave pool that I hopped into apparently right after it finished running and had to (unknowingly) wait in that water for an hour before it turned on again because I wasn’t going to miss a wave pool. I hiked up to a church in a cave and explored the stunning Buda Castle at night, I shared a lovely evening and too many beverages with a guy I met who ironically lives down the street from me in NYC, and I drank a lot of amazing Hungarian wine for less than 2 Euro a glass! I wasn’t ready to leave, but I had to see what Prague had in store for me.
Turns out, I liked Budapest better. Prague, like Vienna and Budapest, is so affordable! So beautiful, so full of history, but I wasn’t loving it like I thought I would. But I did meet a new friend in Prague on my new favorite thing, a free walking tour, and we hung out the rest of my time there. Drinking cans of beer at night in the plaza in front of what looked like Hogwarts lit up at night, hiking up hills to secret ruins and rose gardens with a local we met off of “hangouts” on the couchsurfing app (tip: stay away from the guys, they are mostly creepy as all hell), hitting up beer gardens and hunting down local cuisine which turned out to be blah, though trdelnik’s were delicious. Next stop: Berlin.
Berlin rules. It has so many different personalities, it’s tough to get to know them all in just a few days but I did my best. It’s a city with an extremely complicated history which it doesn’t ignore, a beautiful city full of culture and creatives, great bars & restaurants and hidden canteens in community gardens. A city where you need to turn down that alleyway you’re curious about because it’ll be worth it. It was my first hostel experience on this trip, I figured hotels really weren’t economical for 2.5 months of travel. Luckily, I had some pretty cool roommates (except for that one drunken night of them hooking up in the room) who were fun to hang out with, even if Berlin nightlife on a Monday night wasn’t quite what we envisioned it to be. Berlin is where I met a couple of other solo travelers who inspired me so hard, one of them spoke so highly of Lyon that I made that it part of my trip, after Amsterdam, which was not what I expected.
I had very stereotyped images of Amsterdam in my head, and it is so much more than I thought it’d be. It’s a beautiful city with tons of canals and the most beautiful gardens that you have to take a stroll or bike ride through, and amazing Gouda! Seriously, a slice of bread with two slices of Gouda in Amsterdam is so incredibly delicious. But not as delicious as this little restaurant I stumbled into that doesn’t even have menus or prices printed, the menu changes daily based on that day’s food and the waiter tells you all about them as you nestle into your seat. I expected my bill to be so expensive, but each of my apps were only 6.50 euro and so, so good. The next day I strolled through the parks with another new walking tour friend I made earlier that day, a Googler from Argentina who was really cool and even did a touristy boat ride with me. I didn’t get to eat pancakes and I completely forgot that one of my favorite design companies (Droog) is based out of there and has a hotel and showroom there I could have gone to, but that’s ok, next time!
I’m so glad I made Lyon my next stop. It was quiet as a lot of the locals were out of town for the summer, but it was so lovely and full of the nicest people I’ve met so far. And baguettes. At one point, I had 3 baguettes in my bag because the smell of bread is absolutely my kryptonite. In Lyon I met a new friend named Silvia who I shared some bread and cheese and apricots we just picked up at the farmer’s market with, a fast new friend who so kindly invited me over to her boyfriend’s house for a homemade lunch. 1.5 hours later, there we were with the meal Benoit cooked us in their adorable apartment with a beautiful view of the river. I also got to spend an afternoon and night with a new local named Sophie who showed me some sights and invited me out to dinner with her friends followed by beers on the steps by the river. And I met 2 inspiring Brazilian women who were traveling France solo, doing their thing, loving life. Hell yeah. Then I saw a picture of this magical looking structure in the middle of a canal and made my way there next, an easy two hour bus ride from Lyon.
While I’d never heard of Annecy before, apparently everyone else in the world had. It was so crowded with tourists! But it didn’t take away from the magic. It’s such a cute town with roots dating back to the 12th century, and it’s in the French Alps just 26 miles from Geneva so it’s almost as beautiful as Switzerland. Lac d’Annecy has some of the cleanest water in the world, flowing in directly from the alps, and it’s stunning. I only spent one night there, and I’m so glad I went. I was going to explore more of France…Marseilles and the south of France followed by Spain, but then I read about a shooting in Marseilles and a heatwave in Spain and spontaneously booked a tour of Ireland leaving from Paris, so on I went to Paris.
I’d been to Paris before in the winter with friends, it’s a very different experience as a solo traveler. I much prefer Paris with friends. To be fair, I didn’t have the same curiosity about this city as I did with the others since I’d been before, but I still had a great time and met some cool people, and finally got to explore Versailles. By explore, I mean get completely lost and exhausted by the insane gardens that took me 6 or so hours, literally, to walk around, not including the palace tour. I love a good garden, but that was too much and too exhausting!!! And they don’t turn the fountains on unless it’s Tuesday or the weekend, just FYI. But back to Paris. Back to baguettes and wine and the river Seine. To taking my first puff of a cigarette (so gross) and having drinks with new friends at a bar on a boat and back to at their apartment, to exploring Montmartre with a cute British boy and feeding into all his words, even against my better judgement, because it’s Paris. And having to leave it all behind to find out what Ireland is all about.
Ireland is beautiful, especially on a sunny day. Who knew how blue the water is?? It’s stunning. So many cliffs and too much wind, cool rocks and a nice, brief hike at Giant’s Causeway and getting insanely lost on an island called Inis Mor where you can’t even really get lost unless you’re me because the main road is a big circle unless you go down the one road that just leads to the ocean and you have to bike uphill all the way back and plan out what you’re going to do if you miss the last ferry out, especially because you’re on a guided tour and the group is leaving to the next spot early the next morning. But that didn’t happen, I made it out alive and everything is ok! I opted for a guided tour because it made the most sense for Ireland, and I met some really fun people. The tour was good because we weren’t on guided tours the whole time, just dropped off places and left to our own devices so I didn’t have to get too sick of them all. Kidding. Except not really. I ended up hanging out with the same few people who I enjoyed. One of them especially, he was so sweet and just watched out for everyone else, loved that.
The tour is over and I’m in Dublin drowning in Guinness for another 2 days before leaving to meet my good friend Erica in Greece for a week and I. Can’t. Wait. Dublin isn’t my favorite, especially since we got a glass bottle thrown our way the first night we ventured out to find a bar. And I’m sitting here with a cold from all the cold then hot, rain then sun, and all the stupid wind. The purpose of sitting here was to plan my moves after Greece, but I’m writing this instead.
Do I go to Thailand for 3 weeks? It’s so scary to me because it’s so unfamiliar, but something I’m so curious to explore. Or do I go to Spain and Portugal for my last 3 weeks of travel, a place that people who’ve been reflect on with such passion that it’s become a must on my ever growing list of places to see.
Fortunately with this adventure, there are no wrong decisions. If I don’t hit Spain this time, it’s easy to get to from NYC. If I don’t venture over to Thailand alone, I’ll go with some buds sometime soon, or even alone next time I can carve out some time for myself.
Solo travel is amazing and everyone should do it. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and go wherever you want. It’s the most empowering and exciting thing I think you can do. You meet people and have experiences you would never ever have if you weren’t on your own. It can be scary, it can be lonely, but you’re strong and you have courage, go for it.