The first overseas adventure you have by yourself is an intense time of self-discovery and finding your passions. It’s unlike anything you will ever experience and it is so worth it. I am still talking about my big year abroad in Europe in 2015.
The real beauty of exploring the world alone is that you have the freedom to do whatever you want to do, guilt-free. That’s damn exciting… and fairly nerve-wracking. But never fear! I’ve made the mistakes so that you don’t have to, and come to some very interesting realisations in the process.
Here’s what you need to know:
#1: Be true to yourself when planning your adventure.
So I am a complete nerd when it comes to ancient Roman history. I love the architecture, the religions, and comparing ancient societies to today's world. Also: I love pasta.
Making Rome and Pompeii my first destinations for the year was the best decision I made. It taught me that it's incredibly important to consider your own personality and interests when planning your itinerary. If you want a truly fulfilling experience, think beyond the most #travelgram-worthy destinations. I guarantee you’ll still get some pretty amazing shots along the way.
The Roman Forum, Rome. Check out Lily's blog about Rome here for more on this!
Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii.
MY TOP TIP: Ask yourself what you would absolutely love to experience and go immerse yourself in it! If you’re an introvert, choose places off the beaten track and single room accommodation. If you’re an extrovert, a hostel in a town with great nightlife might be better for you. And if you're both, throw in a mixture of both experiences to avoid loneliness or overexposure. You can find a great overview of a few different travelling styles here for inspiration!
#2: The time of year can make all the difference.
There are definite benefits to taking a risk and travelling where the wind takes you. I personally wouldn’t have ended up walking through some pretty magical woods in Zürich if I didn't see a random poster on a train.
BUT. One thing you absolutely should not improvise is being prepared to deal with the weather. Snow and rain don’t necessarily mean your day is ruined, as long as you have a dependable jacket and the willingness to jump out of bed on a miserable day. Check out Dominique's amazing pics of a Croatian Winter for proof of just that.
Zürich Wilderness Park.
TIP: Give your Weather app a good workout, and pack accordingly before you get on a plane. If you have a backup plan for bad weather, I can assure you that you will be able to make the most out of every opportunity.
BONUS TIP ABOUT SPECIAL EVENTS: Particular events or activities only happen at certain times of the year, so do your research! When planning my first trip to Spain, I knew that my priorities were churros, chorizo, and the Seville Fair (which is only held in April). That event ended up being my favourite travel experience to date.
Plaza de España, Seville. You can sail on these rowboats while learning Spanish like Susie!
#3: Give yourself time to get used to independence.
Your level of independence is going to skyrocket because the main person you’ve got to rely on is yourself. You’ll become a logistical god. The reason for this is that you’ll find out pretty quickly that things like missing trains and being nervous at the airport are not fund when you're alone. The reassuring news is that there are ways to minimise the impact of changed plans and avoid a mental breakdown.
YOU’VE GOT THIS.
TIP: Be patient with yourself, plan ahead, and give yourself time. You will make mistakes. But giving yourself enough time to travel from place to place and figure out your next steps will reduce your stress levels a lot. Ask yourself a few important questions before you fly: How do I get from the airport to my accommodation? Can I book anything in advance? Do I have medicine packed? How is the public transport system in this place? If all else fails, talk to the locals! They’ll have insider information, and might lead you to amazing places like this:
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia. You can learn about AI AND visit these lakes with AIM Overseas!
#4: Your phone will be your new best friend.
In most hostels you visit you’ll be able to print out tickets, maps and phone numbers. I recommend that you do print these out (or screenshot them) in the case of an emergency. Occasionally you’ll get stuck without crucial information though, and your phone will need to save the day. It will become your map, camera, translator, and your connection to friends and family. So make sure you invest in a reliable portable charger to help you remember your trip!
St Gilgen Zwölferhorn, Salzburg. My friends wouldn't have believed I did this gorgeous hike without the proof on my phone.
Lake Wolfgang, Salzburg.
TIP: There are a few things you should invest in before you travel, and most of them are FREE. For example, the offline function of Google Maps allows you to navigate through a city without internet. Also, Whatsapp allows you to message and call people for free if you have internet access. The greatest thing about this app is that you can easily share your location with other people if you need to meet someone.
BONUS TIP IF YOU DON'T HAVE DATA: I’d like to introduce you to ‘Eduroam’. If you’re a university student wandering past another university while overseas, there’s a chance that you can access their wifi. What a relief! Also, most McDonald's restaurants and train stations in Europe offer free wifi in exchange for an email address.
#5: You’ll get lonely, even if you think you won’t.
Lastly, you can expect to be thrown face-first out of your comfort zone, into places that are often incomparable to what you are used to at home (more on that here). Constant discovery can be both eye-opening and emotionally exhausting at times. That’s the reality of a solo trip.
TIP: Do things that feel like home and update your friends and family about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. They might even give you inspiration for the next leg of your expedition! Commit the time difference between yourself and your loved ones to memory. Thay way, you'll know when you can get instant support when you need it most.
Above all, remember that making friendships during your solo trip is much easier than you would think it is. Forcing yourself to talk to strangers can lead to lifelong friendships and incredible travel memories. It's also a great excuse to meet your new international friends overseas in a years’ time!
Hello! I'm Taylor, a Marketing Coordinator here at AIM Overseas. What I also am is a mediocre salsa dancing amateur, a lover of modern art, and someone who falls over a lot. Studying overseas in Germany for a year in 2015 changed my life for the better.... so much so that I did it again for three months in Spain after I graduated two years later. I'm passionate about helping students get overseas during their degree, as well as encouraging anyone to dive out of their comfort zone to travel!