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People often tell me that they think it is brave to travel solo. I do not see it that way. I see it as a journey to discover myself. Each step taken, every unfamiliar street explored, and every encounter with a new culture adds a layer to the story of my life.
For me, solo travel is not just about seeing new places. It is about embracing the unknown, facing fears, and finding strength in vulnerability. Here is my story, a collection of moments that have shaped me and unfolded as I traveled alone.
My first solo trip was a business trip in 2017. I worked for a Dutch company with an office in the Netherlands and an office in Barcelona. I worked in the Netherlands, but I temporarily had to take over a project from a colleague in Barcelona. The project manager asked me to go to Barcelona for five days of face-to-face knowledge sharing.
It was my first time traveling to a foreign country by myself. It was a big challenge for me. Suddenly, there was so much I had to figure out all by myself.
Flying to Barcelona was easy. Everything was taken care of by my employer. I just had to check in at the hotel and enjoy the complimentary wine and everything the company would pay for.
The hotel was right around the corner of the office in the Eixample district. It was easy to find and within walking distance from Plaça de Catalunya, the final stop of the Aerobus – the airport shuttle bus.
Breakfast was at the hotel. Lunch was not a big deal. Going out for lunch is normal in Barcelona, so I had lunch with my colleagues daily. But dinner was the only thing I did not like. I did not enjoy walking into a restaurant alone.
Instead of flying home on Friday, I decided to stay for the weekend at my own expense. During the week, I stayed at a hotel, but the price skyrocketed over the weekend.
So I booked an Airbnb. It was a room in someone's apartment with a shared bathroom. It was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done. But it was the start of something bigger.
For the weekend, I had tickets for Park Güell and Palau Güell. I started the day with breakfast at Starbucks, visited these two places, and explored Barcelona.
As I said earlier, this was my first time alone in a foreign country. I had to figure out everything myself, from public transport to getting food. There were moments when I felt alone, uncomfortable, uncertain, and wanted to go home.
After Barcelona, I didn't feel like doing another solo adventure like this again.
But I had a good friend at work. We always went for a walk during our lunch breaks and talked about traveling and camera stuff.
He wanted to visit Thailand, and I wanted to go to the United States, but both had nobody to go with. We talked each other into booking a solo group tour. He went to Thailand, and I went to the United States. It was a 9-day trip to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Niagara Falls, and Toronto.
The group consisted of 23 people who were all traveling alone. We had a professional tour guide and a bus driver who stayed with us the entire trip. It was a great experience. I cannot say I made new friends, but we had an amazing nine days together. We even had a reunion a few months later.
It was such a good experience that I booked another trip to the United States in 2019. This time, a 20-day trip to the West Coast from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and San Francisco. With stops at a handful of National Parks, like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, and Yosemite.
This time, the group was slightly bigger, at 31 people. The age differences were significant, and I was somewhere in the middle. I quickly realized that I would spend my time with the older ones. These people were more fun to hang out with, especially when it came to having a great time.
During this second trip, I noticed how important it is to do your own thing. To leave the group and stick to your plan and that sometimes, you cannot rely on others. I spent some time alone in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And I enjoyed it.
A couple of months later – early 2020 – the pandemic started. Traveling abroad was out of the question. For the next two years, I stayed in my home country. I missed traveling and experiencing different cultures.
In 2022, I started to get interested in camping and spending more time in the great outdoors. I bought some camping equipment and embarked on a solo camp trip through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
But it was late September, it was getting cold, and it was raining in Belgium and Luxembourg. The campsite in Belgium had a small tavern I visited every afternoon after returning from my hikes. It was warm there, and they had delicious Belgian beers. I made it my quest to find my favorite beer.
The tavern buzzed with people on Saturday. There were a lot of Belgians and Dutch. It was a great evening. We chatted about the differences between the Belgians and the Dutch, and it was great fun.
The campsite in Luxembourg was supposed to have a restaurant and bar, but these were closed due to the low number of guests. That was a big disappointment.
Due to the rain, the campsites slowly turned into mud, and I decided to go home earlier than planned.
Back at home, I had some more days before I had to go back to work. Being done with the rain, I decided to book a warm hotel in Dortmund, Germany.
Looking back at the camp trip, I mostly enjoyed meeting people in the Belgian tavern. So, when I was looking for a hotel in Dortmund, I opted for one with a bar.
I stayed at the NH Dortmund Hotel, which was a great hotel. I met great people here, including the bartender, other hotel guests, and even some hotel staff enjoying a drink after their shifts. All of them were fun to talk to. We even played some games together.
During the day, I had fun exploring Dortmund and enjoying German food. Yet, I always looked forward to having a drink at the hotel bar and meeting new people. I wish I had more time to spend in Dortmund.
I enjoyed these few days in Dortmund so much that I decided I wanted to do city trips more often.
A couple of months later – early 2023 – I started planning my next trip. I got interested in the Baltics and wanted to go here. Unsure about the safety in those countries, I decided to look for a group tour.
Unfortunately, I discovered these countries are not super popular, and I could not find a group tour with this destination. Still eager to travel, I decided to book a 5-day city trip to Copenhagen in April. Again, I opted for a hotel with a bar.
It was a new country, a new language, and a new culture for me. It was a big challenge, but I was ready for it.
Copenhagen is a well-organized city. It was easy to get to my hotel by metro. I arrived at my hotel in the morning. Despite check-in-time being at 3 PM, the friendly receptionist let me check in at 10 AM. It gave me the rest of the day to explore the city. I rushed back to the metro to see Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen, I spent long days exploring and seeing as much as possible. I bought the Copenhagen Card for free access to over 80 museums and public transport in the Copenhagen Capital Region. It also allowed me to take the train to Roskilde, once the capital of Denmark, and visit some museums in Roskilde.
I had the time of my life and never felt alone. There were some awkward moments in restaurants, though. My experience in restaurants in Copenhagen is not great. When alone, they tend to place you in a corner, and the service you receive becomes average.
This experience was different from the restaurant inside my hotel. The service there was superb, which makes me believe that hotels are the best places to have dinner as a solo traveler. I mean, the hotel restaurant was full of people dining alone. Hotels are familiar with providing service to solo travelers.
The hotel bar was a great place to wind down after a long day of exploring. I did not meet any hotel guests, but the staff was super friendly. It was great chatting with Lisa and Uriel. On my last night in Copenhagen, I actually said goodbye to them.
I felt sad leaving Copenhagen, but I knew more amazing adventures awaited me.
When I had booked Copenhagen, I continued searching for a group tour to the Baltics. I eventually found one with Djoser, a Dutch travel agency. The first possibility was in May. It was a 12-day trip through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
It was a group of twelve people and a professional travel guide. This group tour was not a solo group tour, which meant there were some couples. Most of these couples usually did everything by themselves. From the few solo travelers, most of them liked to be alone. I spent a lot of time with one guy. However, there were occasions when we would go our separate ways to pursue other interests.
Like in the United States, I noticed I had to stick to my plans. If I had not, I would have missed the Riga Central Market. This market was the piece of Latvian culture that I wanted to see, no matter what. By sticking to my plan, I experienced this cultural masterpiece.
During this trip, I fell in love with Riga. The beauty of Riga, the Latvian culture, and the wonderful locals made this my favorite place worldwide. It deepened my appreciation for culture and gave me the motivation and courage to travel solo even more.
When we left Riga, I knew I wanted to come back. I waited for the high season to end and decided to return to Riga on September 1. I booked flights and a hotel and called Riga my home for a week. Of course, the hotel had a restaurant and a bar.
I planned on making this trip a cultural exploration of Riga and booked a guided food tour in the Central Market. It was fascinating to learn more about the Latvian culture.
A few days later, I booked a walking tour with the same guide from the food tour. I began to appreciate these guided tours, as the guides are usually locals who can share a wealth of cultural insights. And it allows me to talk to the locals.
Returning to Riga was a great decision. In no other place did I feel as alive as in Riga. Even walking into a restaurant felt good. Regardless of which restaurant I visited, I felt welcomed and received the same treatment as everyone else. I felt appreciated.
Solo travel has changed me significantly as a person.
First of all, it grew my confidence. If I look back at my first solo trip – the one in Barcelone – I now approach strangers way easier. I am now more comfortable walking into a restaurant, asking for a table, or joining a guided walking tour and interacting with the group and guide.
Solo travel also sparked a deep appreciation for culture. I used to see travel as an escape from the stressful everyday life. But now I travel to experience different cultures, meet people, learn more about life and myself, and become a better person.
It taught me to find joy in the small things in life, and I adopted a more minimalistic lifestyle. Travel teaches you to live from a suitcase, and you cannot bring too much stuff due to weight restrictions.
Travel can be expensive, but I feel richer after every trip.
As they say, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer."
I am eager to revisit Riga, which would be my third time. There is so much more that I want to see and experience in this fantastic city. But I am unsure when. Maybe in spring when Riga is not too crowded yet. Or in winter, to see Riga covered in snow and to visit the Christmas Market.
In addition to Riga, I would like to visit Poland. I have heard great things about it. It will be a group tour since it will be a new country for me. It is always important to stay safe, and having a group with a professional tour guide with you gives an extra layer of safety.
Last on my current list is the Balkans. My plan for 2024 is to explore more of Europe, particularly the parts I have never been to. The Balkans are part of that. Based on what I've heard during my Baltic group tour, these countries are fascinating and worth a visit.
Solo travel has changed me as a person. It has never been about feeling brave. It is all about learning more about myself and becoming a better person. It made me more confident and gave me the courage to throw myself in the deep, explore more countries, meet people, and dive into different cultures.
I highly recommend solo travel to anyone thinking about doing it. The first steps might be scary. But trust me, you will make it through. And one day, you'll look back and thank your younger self for having the courage to take those first steps.
Solo travel is more than just a simple trip. It is a journey to self-discovery. You'll encounter challenges that push you beyond your limits and force you to step out of your comfort zone, but it will all be worth it! In these moments of awkwardness or uncertainty, you will discover parts of yourself you never knew were there.
So, to those considering solo travel, embrace the uncertainty, push your boundaries, and embark on a journey that will undoubtedly be worth every moment!
Stay safe, and enjoy the journey!