I fell in love with travel very quickly once I started.
I went on a few family holidays and a trip with friends and that rapidly drew me in. I knew the next step for me was solo travel.
I had big plans when I started thinking about where I wanted to go. I wanted to take a gap year, study Spanish in Cuba for 3 months and then go on to explore South America.
Unfortunately, life got in the way.
I missed my grades for university and yet somehow managed to scrape my way onto the course I wanted and so decided it was best not to wait and apply at a later date. Goodbye gap year.
Despite this, I had already hyped myself up for my first solo backpacking trip. I had done all of the research I could do into backpacks, packing lists, hostel etiquette and places to see. Whilst I still want to do all of those things, now doesn’t seem to be the time.
I knew I couldn’t just give up on that dream – so I booked myself a return ticket to Warsaw in Poland that was leaving 3 days later. I was ready for my first solo backpacking trip.
I don’t know what drew me towards Poland but the return flights cost me a mere £46 which was alright in my book. At least if I hated solo travel it wasn’t going to break the bank.
I have always been quite an introverted person. I’m not especially chatty and I like my own company more than the company of a large group of people. I think this made my experience with starting to solo travel both more challenging and more enriching.
Here are 5 of the lessons I learnt on my first solo backpacking trip:
Do NOT be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
My first obstacle hit before I even made it to Poland.
Having never been to an airport by myself before I had no idea how stressful it would be. Gone were the days of my parents manning the passports and keeping track of the departure gate. I found the whole experience incredibly nerve-wracking which culminated in having to get out of the line to board just to double-check I was in the right place.
In hindsight, it was nothing to worry about, and I am a whole lot more comfortable in airports now than I was then, but in the moment it was terrifying.
I arrived in Warsaw early at the budget airport in the city. I am a big fan of cheap flights (who isn’t) but they come with their downsides. The first thing I had to do when I arrived was make my way to my hostel in the old town using public transport. This was NOT an easy task.
My introvertedness didn’t help as I struggled to find the ticket machine for my first bus. Eventually I worked up the courage to ask someone and, naturally, they were incredibly helpful, going as far as to select the correct ticket on the machine for me so all I had to do was put my card in.
The journey into town was easily worth taking the bus over an Uber. I think a great way to get to know a city and to become comfortable within it is to take the public transport when you are on a longer journey. That, and its a lot cheaper than calling a taxi.
Warsaw was beautiful and seeing gorgeous churches and the stunning Polish architecture along the way was a great welcome to the country.
NEVER be afraid to put yourself out there.
I don’t know how many times I have already mentioned being introverted- but in a hostel in a country you’ve never been to before the shyness really comes out.
I have a vivid memory of sitting in the hostel kitchen, scrolling through my phone, and trying my very best to build up the confidence to jump into the conversation that was happening between some Australian girls who had only just met.
“Oh yeah I haven’t eaten meat since I started travelling.”
That was my in. I have been a vegetarian for years and, whilst it isn’t really the kind of thing I typically introduce myself with it definitely helped to have something in common with the person I was trying to talk to.
I became fast friends with the girl who had been talking and we spent the majority of the 5 days exploring the city together and chatting about everything under the sun.
One of the things that I love about hostels is the ease in which people can talk to each other. Going up to someone and asking how their day is going or what they are doing for dinner and if they want to eat with you isn’t considered strange. No one will judge you for putting yourself out there.
Skip public transport and go on a walk.
Since my new friend was doing a much longer backpacking trip than I was for my first solo backpacking trip, money was a bit more of a concern.
We decided that, wherever possible, we were going to walk to the locations we wanted to explore.
This, for me, was the highlight of the trip. Through walking we saw so much of the city that we may have missed had we been on a bus or tram.
It is important to note that walking around a city isn’t for everyone and isn’t always possible. If you are more of an itinerary based backpacker and like to know exactly where you will be and at what time or someone who isn’t comfortable walking long distances then it may not be for you.
One way around this may be a walking tour, like the one that I went on in Amsterdam. They are typically a lot more streamlined than just wandering around on your own but can still give you a feel for the city and help you to see more than you would usually.
Wandering the streets of Warsaw led me to many great sites such as this stunning church and the giant bear that guards the gate to Warsaw Zoo.
Blogs are your best friend.
Since my trip was so last minute I had no idea what I wanted to do and see whilst in Warsaw, so I did what so many before me have done and turned to some blogs.
Depending on your travel style this may not be for you, and given more time I am a huge fan of just turning up in a country and wandering around, but when on a limit of 5 days knowing what you want to see can be important.
Through looking at blogs I was able to find some incredible spots such as a museum covered wall-to-wall in neon advertising signs to fotoplastikon: a room (believed to have been set up in 1905) filled with goggles that allow you to look into the past.
Both of these attractions are things that I likely never would have stumbled upon on my own. They are out of the way and quite challenging to get to (I even had to take a tram to one of them it was so out of reach) but they were so worth it.
Not only were they exciting new experiences that I had never had before, but I was the only person in both of them. They were the definition of off the beaten track.
There is definitely a benefit to exploring on your own, but if it is your first solo backpacking trip then it is helpful to get to grips with things before hand. Blogs have been the best way I have found for genuine and helpful advice.
You are a lot more capable than you may think!
The biggest thing that my first solo backpacking trip taught me was that I am a lot more competent than I thought I was.
From navigating a new city whilst not speaking the language, to learning a new transport system, making friends and being alone with my thoughts a lot more than I am used to.
There were plenty of challenges along the way, but it was honestly one of the best experiences of my life and I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of if you think you can do it or not.
I would definitely say that my first solo backpacking trip will stay with me forever and that Warsaw will always be one of my favourite cities in the world because of it.