Erratic engineeress

A personal blog fuelled by caffeine and curiosity.

“Aren’t you scared of travelling alone?” – real talk about solo travel pt. 2

This is a series of honest posts about what solo travel is really like, so please start with part 1 if you haven’t already.

First solo trip

The first time I went anywhere on my own, was a 5 week trip to Australia in 2017, just after I’d finished my Bachelor’s degree and really became an engineer. You can read a bit about why and how I decided to go there here, but the important bit here is, that I’d never been anywhere by myself before that, and chose to try it out 14.000 kilometres away from home. Yes, I’m insane.

Naturally, my family and friends were freaked out and worried for my safety, particularly as a woman travelling alone, but I was determined. The only extenuating circumstance was, that I had an Australian friend I planned to visit for a couple of days at the start of my trip, and that I had travelled independently with friends before. I also chose to do couchsurfing, staying with locals for free, which meant I was never really alone during my trip and saved money. In the eyes of everyone I knew that was both good and bad, as staying in properly registered accommodation entails a measure of safety that couchsurfing doesn’t, but some of them also understood that people willing to host a stranger for the night were more likely to be good people (and they were!). Either way, it was a bit reckless, but my Australian friend was a big proponent of couchsurfing and as it turns out, it is pretty popular and quite normal in Australia.

I was overly excited and didn’t really mentally process what I was doing until the night before my flight. In my mind I was visiting a friend and exploring a bit afterwards, and it was just another country, not one halfway around the world, and they all speak English, right? I had a near panic attack and got super scared of travelling alone the night before when it hit me. My boyfriend and I were in bed and I remember crying and freaking out about roadside murders, rape and travel horror stories while he held me, telling me I’ll have a grand time. He was right of course, but the experience changed me forever.

Getting on that plane was one of the scariest and most surprising things I ever did and I had a 30 hour flight to obsess and worry about what could happen – the strange thing is, I didn’t. A soon as the plane took off, I was giddy with excitement and felt an immense sense of freedom. I’d conquered my fears, worked my ass off to save enough money for the trip and I was on the way to Australia, an exotic promised land outside of Europe. I remember feeling on top of the world when we landed and the customs officer was asking me if I had anything to declare. I proudly stated I had nothing except a bucket of excitement. He laughed with me and it was smooth sailing from then on.

Dealing with my fears

But was it really? The first time I walked down the streets of Canberra by myself while my friend was at work, I was obsessively checking the map to make sure I didn’t get lost. I was annoyingly aware that any phone calls from my European SIM card would cost a fortune and that I couldn’t just Google anything, so I was on my own (I later bought an Australian SIM card). Every car that zoomed past me was a potential car crash with expensive hospital care in a foreign country, every person walking down the street was a potential threat – while my brain was spinning in circles, my mouth was stretched in a wide smile and I felt like singing as I walked down the street. It was an incredible, hysterical duality of an exhilarating sense of adventure and ingrained social unease in new situations.

As I entered the first museum of my trip and bought a ticket for one and walked through the doors by myself, I initially felt embarrassed. I felt like every single person around me was looking at me and wondering why I was alone, or if I was waiting for someone. It felt like I had something to prove, like I had a big “weirdo” sticker on my forehead that I needed to somehow justify, but in reality, nobody cared. The first time I wanted a coffee, I bought a takeaway cup and sat on a park bench with my phone, because I was too uncomfortable sitting in a cafe. The first time I was hungry by myself, I went to a fast food place, where it was socially acceptable to eat fast and mind your own business.

Since I was in a different time zone than my friends and family, I couldn’t just chat with them online or on the phone as I later learned to do whenever I feel out of sorts during my solo travels. At first I didn’t even have mobile data, so I had to rely on wi-fi, but eventually I relaxed into it – my coffee stops moved indoors, my lunches became longer. The feeling of questioning looks on my back abated, the hairs on the back of my neck were no longer raised by every passing stranger who looked my way and my step became less hurried and more sure, although I’ve never mastered the nervousness of walking alone in a foreign city after dark.

Obviously solo travel is somewhat less safe than travelling with a friend or a group, but it can be done safely. I’ve covered the basics of smart and safe travelling here, and that’s a starting point. If you trust your gut, you’ll be able to navigate most situations safely, but at the end of the day, if it’s meant to be, it will be.

Unfortunately, there’s a very real chance that a brick will fall out of the sky and kill you (yes, here‘s a news article), even if you’re not doing anything particularly unusual, so just go where your heart takes you and use your head.

Next up: part 3 – “Doesn’t it get lonely all by yourself?”


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14 responses to ““Aren’t you scared of travelling alone?” – real talk about solo travel pt. 2”

  1. Great story and good on you for following your heart and following through with your trip. I suspect you were and are a better person today because you accepted and overcame that challenge. It makes the mental aspect of the next challenge that much easier because you’ve already proven you can do whatever you set your mind to. Your blog is awesome, thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading and for such a nice comment, your support means a lot! And yes, it changed me for sure and it’s actually my preferred way of traveling now haha. Stay tuned for part 3!

  2. I think I would probably feel the same way if I were to try something of the sort. There have been times when I’ve traveled for business which may be a little bit similar, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I think it might be for some people, but just not for me. This is interesting, though, getting to vicariously experience some of these things and see how you arrived at different states.

    1. That’s kind of the point of these posts, because people tend to gush about the awesomeness of solo travel, but they leave out the bad parts. And part 5 is actually all about how we’re different and why it’s not for everyone, my boyfriend didn’t like it either for example. I’ll post all parts in the next few days!

      1. It’s a very cool series.

  3. I with my 3rd grade daughter traveled to Australia to stay with my cousin for a month.
    I found the people there to be extremely nice, even though they constantly told me I sounded yank, since I do live in the USA. Hahaha
    When I was in the car with them, I leaned the wrong way when they made a turn.
    Everything felt odd since they drive on the wrong side of the road.

    I was lucky enough to travel in a couple of states and had a great time.
    I could not image how to travel there by myself without anyone else.

    A great experience.. I hope all of your readers get a chance to visit Australia. It’s a really great place to visit and the people are friendly and helpful.

    1. I agree, Australia is awesome!

  4. Ivana Barber

    Thanks for giving me a little more courage to travel alone.

    1. You’re welcome! Glad you liked it.

  5. Great story! I’m glad you didn’t let fear hold you back. As a woman who lives alone and during the pandemic spends a great deal of time alone, I find it strange that people question women who travel alone. Keep on keeping on!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I also find it strange, but that’s where we are.

  6. The answer to your question is No. It is the best way to travel. All the decisions, good or bad are yours to make. Pace is all up to you and it is a learning experience unlike any other. Obviously, safety is a concern, but as long as you take the necessary precautions and be observant you will be OK.

    I am a solo traveler who have on occasion travelled with others and more often than nought knew right away the reasons why I usually opt to travelling alone. Love your post. Spot on.

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it! I agree, travelling with others is a different kind of mental struggle haha. It’s hard to go back to that after you’ve traveled alone.

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