Before I set off on my backpacking adventure through Europe I read a lot of articles and blog posts on what fellow backpackers and solo female travelers wish they did differently. They wished they packed X, or they will never do Y again.
And while all of this advice was useful and helpful, I had a hard time finding posts about what these travelers did right. What did they pack that made their life easier? What did they do that made their trip more enjoyable? I knew what NOT to do. But what was I supposed to do?
So, here are the top 10 things I did on my trip that I did right and will do again on my next trip
The Physical Items
1. PACKING CUBES - Shout out to The Travel Fashion Girl for this suggestion. I ended up getting a mainly top loading pack for my trip which was not what I had originally intended (even though I ended up LOVING my pack). So, to try and keep things organized I bought these compartment bags to keep things organized. Not only did it keep me organized, but made continuously packing and unpacking so much easier. And now I continue to use them for my weekly work travels!
2. DRYER SHEETS - I actually got this tip from someone else on the interwebs but man did it pay off! Throwing a few dryer sheets in my pack not only helped keep things smelling fresh, but also absorbed the gross smelling stuff I did end up throwing in there in a rush. I put one in my bag every time I travel now no matter how long I'm going away for.
3.HANGING TOILETRY BAG - This thing was a godsend!! A lot of female travel bloggers have recommended some variation of this, and I found this one on more than one Pinterest post. This thing made life so much easier. From organizing all my shit, to transporting all my toiletries between dorm and bathrooms. This thing is an absolute must.
4. SELFIE STICK - I know, I know. I partially hated myself for buying one, BUT, it was actually kind of nice. Yes, I felt like a massive tourist and one of THOSE people, but, when you're traveling on your own, it's difficult to get pictures of yourself. I still feel a bit weird asking random strangers to take my picture. I also totally don't trust other people to take a good picture. While I felt like such a tourist and millennial (ugh) at times, I'm really happy I have pictures of me in almost every location I visited thanks to this little thing.
5. GAVE MYSELF A REPRIEVE FROM CITIES - If your trip is mostly cities, I would highly recommend that you make one of your stops a place where you can simply relax and maybe get some sun. After 3 plus weeks of architecture and history, I was a bit burnt out. Not that all the old amazing architecture wasn't you know, amazing. But after a while, a church is a church is a church. Luckily, my designated time in Croatia for sun and relaxation conveniently came just as I hit this burnout point in my trip. While I didn't "see" a lot in Split or Zadar, it was so nice to have a break from walking city tours and an urban environment. Sometimes natural beauty is just as wonderful as ancient architectural wonders.
6. DIDN'T PLAN ANYTHING IN ADVANCE - I am a planner by nature, and normally I would have had everything set in stone before I even left home. This trip though, I planned as I went. I booked hostels only a few days in advance. I booked train tickets at the station on the day I was leaving. I had a general idea of what I wanted to see in each country, but didn't book tours or tickets until the day I wanted. It made the trip less stressful and allowed for spontaneity and change which ultimately was so much more fun and left the door open for so many unexpected adventures.
7. TOOK ADVANTAGE OF TRAVEL DAYS - When I knew I had a travel day and would be spending hours on a train, I took the time to write and reflect. It's easy to get caught up in all the sightseeing, cramming too much into a tight time frame, and the constant go go go mentality. Traveling by train allowed for a breather, a time to take a breathe, settle my mind, relive my most recent experience and really soak up everything. Granted, sometimes train travel just isn't doable, and you may need to improvise, but I'm glad I did my entire trip by train. It ended up being the perfect combination of self-reflection and adventure I was looking for.
8. DIDN'T PUSH IT- Since I was little I have been "burning the candle at both ends." I frequently take on way too much, and end up stressing myself out to the point of making myself physically ill. But instead of constantly pushing myself to keep going, to keep seeing, doing, going, experiencing etc., I gave myself permission to take it easy and be lazy when needed. Instead of pushing through a head cold in Vienna, I went to bed early and slept in. Instead of going out and partying every night in Budapest, I took a night off to catch up on some sleep. By not forcing my body to keep going, and giving it the rest it needed, even if it came at the expense of not seeing something, I kept myself healthy and well enough to feel good my entire trip.
9. TRUSTED MY GUT - I know this has been said a million times but I can't stress how important this is. Especially as a female. I have been fortunate enough throughout all of my travels ::knock on wood:: to meet really great people. But, that doesn't mean I didn't encounter a creepy guy, or someone who freaked me out along the way. And instead of ignoring it, or pretending like I was overreacting, I listened and left whatever situation was making me feel uncomfortable. Could I have been overreacting? Maybe. But I don't, and have never, regretted following my gut. Not following my gut? Yeah, there are some things I would probably do differently. But listening to myself? I've never been wrong. That's a lesson worth remembering.
10. WENT SOLO - Traveling alone isn't for everyone, even though I 120% advocate for people, especially women, to do this type of travel. And going on a solo backpacking trip had always been a dream and bucket list item of mine, so maybe I'm a bit biased. But traveling alone is a completely different experience than traveling with a friend or significant other or in a group. There are no rules. You answer to no one. You are completely and utterly 100% on your own. And it is equal parts terrifying and liberating. Getting off the plane in Brussels, I'll admit I had a few moments of "WTF am I doing?" And even a week or so after that I may or may not have shed a tear or two or three out of loneliness. But ultimately, traveling alone was more powerful than destructive. It built me up more than it could have ever broken me down. Traveling alone is the ultimate in really facing yourself and what your capable of, and every time I do it, I am always pleasantly surprised.
What have you done right in your travels? What tips have you learned?
With love from Philly,