This was the very first piece I published on the internet last year. I was so anxious to share it with the world, but it’s opened so many doors and is a testament to the face that good things happen when you put yourself out there.
In a bid to prove I could be independent, I committed to spending a whole month travelling around Eastern Europe by myself. This was something I decided not to tell my mum about until I was already on the plane as she would have ‘Asian-mum’ scolded me and forced me to watch the movie ‘Taken’ over and over until I changed my mind.
Riding solo as a single female can be one of the most liberating, scariest and bravest thing you ever do. You are free to do whatever you want without having to compromise with another person’s agenda. But you also don’t have the security of companionship when you arrive at a new place, or a decent photographer to take candids of you.
Before embarking on my travels, I was super anxious about initiating conversations with strangers. “What do I even say to people? I’m so awkward,” I wailed to my friend Jessie, who had just completed her own solo journey.
“You’ll be fine,” she said, “Just smile and laugh heaps!”
And so, with that one piece of advice under my belt, I left the security of my friends in Belgium and headed to Budapest to start the solo leg of my trip. Thankfully, I didn’t need Liam Neeson to save me from any sex-trafficking rings. I did, however, get myself into a ton of cringe-worthy, hilarious and messy moments in my attempts to get along with other travellers.
Here are some of the things I picked up about making friends in other countries.
Make the first move
Every time I arrived in a new country, my anxiety levels would shoot through the roof as I had to put myself out there and make friends from scratch. Not everyone is going to approach you first, it’s up to you to initiate conversation.
For all the introverts, you have to fake it till you make it. I had to squash down all the anxiety and give myself pep talks before approaching groups of people who were already friends and just say “Hey, how’s it going? Mind if I join you?” There will be the initial awkwardness as you all try to get to know each other, but if you push through that, you can end up with really great friends.
Anytime a new person checks into your hostel room, strike up a conversation by asking them basic questions like what country they’ve just travelled from or what destinations they’re heading to next. If you get along well, and they’re heading to the same places you are, offer to exchange numbers and meet up. Then at least you’ll know one person at the next destination.
If my roommates weren’t so friendly, I had to try my luck in the hostel common room, meeting tourists on walking tours or just talking to random people on the street. Remember that everyone is in the same boat and are just as keen to meet people as you are, so you don’t have to worry about looking awkward or sounding like an idiot. I had one person attempt to make conversation with me during a walking tour by saying “You must be a dancer because you have really long legs.” I declined his invitation to hang out afterward.
The beauty of flying solo is you are more approachable as a party of one. And if you do make a wrong move on someone or have a really awkward conversation, you’ll never have to see them again!
Say yes to most things…
Commit to being a ‘Yes’ person who isn’t afraid to accept invitations to anything and everything. If your roommates invite you to explore a tourist attraction with them, say yes. If someone asks if you’d be keen to check out an underground jazz bar with them, say yes. By always being open to invitations, you’ll get to experience things you normally wouldn’t have if you’d let fear hold you back.
Whilst in Budapest, I got along famously with a trio of Germans who were staying at my hostel over the New Year’s Eve period. When I told them Vienna was my next stop, they offered to give me a lift there on their way back home to Germany! There was no way I was saying no to that, so I cashed in my bus ticket and off I went on a European road trip!
In saying that, I had spent the last five days getting to know them, so I knew they were legit and weren’t going to kidnap me. Ladies, trust your female intuition. If someone creeps you out, don’t hang out with them and update your family with your travel plans at all times.
…but not to everything
Don’t agree to things if you already know you’re not going to enjoy it.
In Vienna, I was pressured into accompanying one of the hostel volunteers to the famous Albertina art museum. I figured it would only be a two-hour excursion at the most so I naively said yes. We were there for seven hours. The guy was a massive art geek so we literally stopped in front of every painting so he could show off his knowledge on the different paint strokes, colour variations and textures. I was dead exhausted from having to feign interest while looking at what was essentially the same painting of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus over and over again. It was the most tedious day of my life!
Remember, the whole point of the solo thing is that you get to do the things you enjoy.
Accept that you’ll feel lonely
I made the best of friends in some countries and barely said two words to other people in others. It’s ok if you don’t feel like you’re clicking with anyone. You can’t force a connection if there isn’t one. Sometimes I desperately needed my own space so I would deliberately wake up earlier (or sleep in later) than anyone else in my room so no one would join me while I did my own thing.
One of the best things about being alone is not having to make tedious conversations and the opportunity to self-reflect. You can also sleep whenever you want! Out of the two days I scheduled in Romania, I spent a whole day sleeping off the horrendous 18-hour bus journey I took to get there. You can’t do that if you have people counting on you to explore with them.
Travelling alone can be super hard so it’s normal if you don’t feel like you’re living your best life 100% of the time. There will be nights where you’ll wonder why you thought this was a good idea. You’ll miss having your friends who understand all your inside jokes. By the end of my trip, I was so fed up with not having people to do stuff with that I latched onto two design students in my hostel room and practically begged “Can I please hang out with you guys tomorrow? I’m so lonely!” They were the funniest pair of friends ever and I had the best time hanging out with them.
If you’re about to embark on your own solo adventure, I’m so jealous and happy for you. Remember that just deciding to go off on your own is a pretty badass decision and you deserve a medal for not having to depend on other people.