I’ve travelled by myself around Europe, moved from Australia to London to Berlin, met amazing people travelling, and gained loads of confidence in the last few years that I’ve been living in Europe. But I haven’t always been the kind of person that can walk into a bar, introduce myself, and start chatting straight away. Solo travel has given me loads of confidence, so for those just starting out, here’s how I gained confidence and started my solo travel adventure.
When I was young I was really shy. No surprises, really. I’m an introvert, I’m a massive bookworm, and I have a dollop of anxiety for bonus points. Social situations paralysed me. I never spoke up in groups, I didn’t make friends easily, and I’d lie in bed mortified at minor perceived social embarrassments from that day.
As I grew older I definitely broke out of my shell a fair bit, but it wasn’t until I started travelling by myself that I really gained a massive amount of confidence. Honestly, inside, I’m still quite a shy and introverted person, and of course I still get embarrassed about things! But I’ve come a long way in working up the courage to put myself out there (and I’d say it’s paid off).
A few years ago, the idea of moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language and literally didn’t know a single person would be impossible, and unthinkable. I never would have even imagined I could do it! But earlier this year I moved to Berlin, without speaking a word of German, and without a single friend. I didn’t even have a visa!
I’m not saying it was easy! But because of the massive amounts of confidence I’ve gained over the years from solo travelling, I was able to make friends instantly, and within months of throwing myself into this city I’ve managed to have an amazing summer in Berlin.
And I’d say it’s all thanks to solo travel.
Moving to London
Moving to London was a huge hurdle on my way to confidence, but I moved to London with the help of an agency, The Intern Group, that set me up with an internship, a place to live, and social events so I could make friends. They even picked me up from the airport, gave me an Oyster card, and helped me find a phone plan. Basically, they held my hand through the whole thing.
If you’ve never travelled by yourself but want to make a leap and do something courageous (but still get bucketloads of support), then I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Intern Group as a helpful (but obviously, super pricey) stepping stone to independence overseas.
Living in London gave me the opportunity to travel loads. Everything in Europe was suddenly on my doorstep (a massive change from Australia, where the nearest country is hours away by plane), and I wanted to explore everywhere! I started with a solo trip to Iceland, because I realised it was a safe place for solo travellers to go, plus it’s so damn beautiful! Iceland is still one of my favourite places I’ve visited (and I kind of like to think I went there before it got cool).
My solo travel beginnings
I then embarked on solo trips around Europe, where I slept on buses overnight, bunked in hostels, met amazing people, partied in foreign places, and learnt a lot about myself. I became an absolute pro at airports, buses, foreign public transport, hostels, and finding my way around a brand new city. And I got a pro at meeting people, too.
Choosing the best hostels in Europe
I always use Hostelworld to book hostels, and while I obviously want a nice place to crash, I’m more about the atmosphere than the thread count of the bed sheets. I like how on the Hostelworld site you can see the breakdown of how hostels are rated, including the rating for atmosphere. I look for cheap hostels with a bar and a good rating for atmosphere, and you’re pretty guaranteed to make friends there!
A lot of Brits and Americans I’ve met are somewhat horrified by the idea of a hostel. I know Americans who have literally said “isn’t a hostel where homeless people go?” Some Americans are so sheltered (lol)! And a lot of Brits have never embarked on an adventure other than a group trip to an Airbnb in Ibiza. Seriously, guys, give a hostel a go! You won’t regret it. Aussies love a good hostel (and you can tell, because usually they make up about 50% of the people staying in one!)
Making friends in hostel
Once you’ve got to your hostel, your next step is to make friends. While the thought of walking into a bar, grabbing a drink and then settling myself into a conversation with a bunch of strangers used to seem daunting, I’ve realised that when you’re staying at a party hostel in Europe, nothing is more normal or acceptable than doing just that. I’ve found people in hostels are often by themselves, they’re usually friendly, and they’re open to chatting to new people.
My tip for introducing yourself: ask for the country of origin of your bunkmate or the people in the bar. You’re bound to find some common thread or difference to chat about, and you’ll probably launch into a conversation about your travels, where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, before realising you haven’t even found out their name.
A lot of hostels I’ve been to also organise drinking games, pub crawls, or just encourage socialising in some way or the other, so if you’re like I used to be, and hate the idea of introducing yourself to strangers, you’ll usually have your hand held through the process. And let’s be honest – alcohol always helps!
What countries to start travelling solo
If you’re new to solo travel, or travel in general, I’d advise you do your research a bit on the country you want to start with. If you’re travelling around Europe, and you’re not from the UK, the obvious place to start is there! Get lost in bustling London, explore the English countryside, get yourself to Edinburgh (it’s amazing) and check out Scotland and Ireland, too!
In Europe, a few good countries to dip your toes into the world of solo travel would be Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, because they’re super safe, clean, unbelievably beautiful, and all the residents speak flawless English. I started with Iceland because I found cheap flights, and completely fell in love with the country.
Those countries do happen to be pretty expensive though, so if you’re looking for budget places to start your adventure, you might want to start by exploring France, Germany, and the Netherlands. These countries are popular and packed with tourists, so there’s heaps of info for travellers on where to go, and how to get around. Plus there’ll always be great party hostels to jump into and make friends instantly.
And then when you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, dive into southern and eastern Europe, where you can get lost with confidence, meet other like-minded travellers, and explore more of the world.