When people start travelling alone, I’m sure most of them start off the same way I did: plan, plan, plan. I researched everything from ferry times to train seats, activities I could take part in each day, nearby supermarkets and cute cafes. In a way, doing this took away some of the magic I felt when I first arrived in a place. I already know everything around me; hidden alleys, shortcuts, and which pubs have perfect views from their terraces. Embracing spontaneity can provide flexibility and freedom for solo travellers (and make your trip even more magical).
Not everything goes according to plan
Since I was travelling solo, I knew I needed to schedule things into my day. I knew that without a plan, I would have nothing to do and be overwhelmed by all the things I had to do. Planning everything gave me a sense of control. I know what my accommodations will be, I know what will keep me busy, and I know when I will be staying at a particular destination.
But not everything went according to plan. Some places were closed, some were expensive, and some were not what was expected. Even though every trip is carefully planned to not disappoint me, there are times when I am disappointed. I have high expectations for particular experiences, so when they don’t work out, I feel very disappointed. To make matters worse, I don’t have a back-up plan and I don’t feel confident or comfortable enough in myself to go for a walk.
However, as the trip continued, I became less of a stereotype. I became more comfortable with myself and with travelling alone. I didn’t need to seek out every aesthetically pleasing, well-reviewed cafe or bar at every destination. I know that travelling alone gets easier with experience, but for me, there were two particular experiences that changed my whole outlook on travel.
Being spontaneous opens you up to new experiences
The first time was when I went to Milan. I was only there for two nights before I was scheduled to spend a couple of weeks in Greece. In fact, I wasn’t really expecting much from Milan, I just wanted to see the sights and have a few good cups of coffee. However, the first night far exceeded my expectations. While having dinner at the hostel, I was approached by a few other very cute solo travellers. After the drinks and dinner, the karaoke started and it quickly became one of the best nights I’ve had in a while.
These people I met had stayed a few days longer than me and they decided to meet up in Croatia later in the week. When I received the invitation, my first thought was, “Yes! Definitely go!” Of course I wanted to go to Croatia with these people. For the first time in a long time, I’ve found people I really get along with, and I’d love the opportunity to see Europe with them. But, I couldn’t go – I had other plans. I quickly told them in disappointment, “I can’t, I have a plane to catch. My trip to Greece was already planned and booked, and since I had never cancelled anything in the past, my hostel was non-refundable.
I told myself it was okay, that’s what solo travelling is all about. Meeting cool people and then travelling to the next destination. I told myself that FOMO (fear of missing out) is a natural reaction and that I would make new friends in Greece. I did make new friends in Greece and we all shared incredible experiences, but I still think back to Milan. It’s been almost four years now, but the thought of “what if I had gone to Croatia” still lingers. Not that I’m exaggerating, but that trip may have changed the course of my life. I’ll never know.
No plans = no impromptu cancellations
The second experience was the pandemic.In March 2020, I was in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife. I was accepted for a work exchange at a language school in the city. In exchange for free accommodation, I would be writing some copy for their website and helping with social media. I was in Puerto de la Cruz for a full eight days before Spain went into a strict COVID-19 blockade, which grounded most of the island’s flights to mainland Europe.
As I sat in my flat working remotely, I remained optimistic. In a few weeks, I thought, things would be over and I could get back to travelling. I still had six weeks of travelling planned and I didn’t want to deviate from it. Eventually, I had to admit that I would be stuck in my flat for the foreseeable future.
I had my hands full. I had to cancel everything I had spent months planning. I researched everything extensively and even created spreadsheets listing possible hostels to book in Portugal and Spain. I had already picked out a train seat from Barcelona to Madrid and an idyllic stay in Porto. Cancelling all my trips was both annoying and discouraging. It made me anxious, it took too much time, and I wasn’t sure I’d get my money back. I quickly realised that I never wanted to go through the process of cancelling so many things again.
Once the borders began to open, I continued to travel, but with a new perspective. When planning a trip, I always look for an explanation for over-scheduling everything.” What if I don’t meet anyone? What if I don’t like the city? What if the hostel isn’t as nice as I thought it would be?” If my expectations aren’t me, I at least have the feeling of knowing that my time is set and I can leave soon.
How I’ve grown into a more spontaneous traveller
Now, I ask myself the same question, but with a completely different attitude. If I’m not meeting anyone, I’ll find a way to do so. If I don’t like the city, I’ll leave early or take a day trip somewhere else. If the hostel isn’t what I expected, I’ll cancel my stay and book another one. If I like a place, I stay; if I don’t, I leave.
Embracing spontaneity and letting go – just a little – has helped me create unforgettable memories and experiences. It gave me the freedom to go wherever I wanted. Instead of going to destinations based on scheduled flights, I go with my mood and the people I meet. I no longer feel like I’m missing out on incredible opportunities or feel limited by my stereotypical plans.
While I still do the necessary research, such as getting a visa, I am more laissez-faire and adventurous in my travels. I didn’t come back disappointed or experience any serious FOMO. i feel more free, confident and at ease. I no longer feel left out when people I meet invite me to travel at the last minute. I no longer have to say no.
I’ve learnt that there will always be beds in hostels, there will always be flights or buses. Certain cities will be around for years, but certain experiences will not. I’ve learnt to be happy to say, one of the few times in my life, “Don’t think, just do”.