Why Solo Travel Is Super Empowering, as Told by #ElinatheExplorer Hannah Winsten January 20, 2016 Adventure Travel, Arts & Culture, Europe, Food & Drink, Photography Folks, our favorite solo traveler is at it again! You might remember #ElinatheExplorer from her European adventure last fall. She backpacked around Italy and Prague all alone—for the first time—and told us all about it. How’d it go? She was super nervous to head out by herself, but ended up having an amazing time. She just came back from her second trip alone, and guess what? It turned out pretty awesome. She had a whole new set of challenges and crazy stories this time—from being the only person in a triple bunk hostel room, to being stranded on a cruise ship with a bunch of couples—and we got the scoop. Behold—how to deal with the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies solo travel, while still being a total boss. #ElinatheExplorer knows what she’s doing. Where did you travel to on this trip? I traveled to Vienna, Krakow, and Budapest. What inspired you to choose those places? After my first Europe trip, I loved my experience so much that I just wanted to go back! I wanted to spend the Christmas season in another country, so I did some research on the prettiest European cities to visit in December. I came up with Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, but since I’d already been to Prague, a coworker recommended I see Krakow. She’s actually from there, so she was really helpful in planning that part of the trip. I LOVED Krakow, no regrets for taking her recommendation! How did your second solo trip compare to your first? Compared to my first solo trip, my second trip felt a bit more solitary at times. I didn’t meet as many backpackers this time around, and had more days where I was really traveling solo. I think that was because I was traveling during the low season and the cold weather, there just weren’t as many travelers out and about to meet. For example, during the last few days of my trip, I stayed in a 4-6 person hostel room, but no one else checked in! I had this whole big room with empty bunk beds all to myself. It was kind of awesome, but also a little lonely. I really had to push myself more out of my comfort zone to make friends when I was out, since I didn’t have that built in social network at the hostel. The travelers that I did meet, though, were often ones who had been long term traveling for months. I was truly inspired by their boldness to do that, and I had some really unforgettable conversations with them. Which city was your favorite, and why? My favorite city was Budapest! I had the lowest expectations for this place, but I was completely amazed by the grand architecture of the Chain Bridge and the Parliament. Plus, the night life was much more exciting for people my age than in the other cities. Most importantly, though, Budapest was the place where I met another woman solo traveler around the same age as me. We really formed a special bond, having deep conversations about travel and our outlook on life. I couldn’t be happier to meet someone who shared the exact same thoughts about travel, life, and so on as I do. We talked about things that only travel lovers can really understand. Meeting her was such a great experience! If you could re-do this trip, would you do anything differently? I would definitely spend more time in one city and fully experience it and everything it has to offer. On this trip, I had to constantly move on a tight schedule since I was exploring three different countries in just a week! I do not recommend this, and I learned my lesson! I think it’s common for travelers to want to move fast so we can see as much as possible, but it detracts from the overall experience to be so rushed. There’s really a lot of value in traveling more slowly. What is the biggest change/difference you felt on your second trip compared to your first one? I was definitely more fearless, self-confident, and self-reliant on my second solo trip. Since I’d already gone on one trip by myself before, I knew I could do it again, and I really embraced the new challenges I came up against. This time, it was really proof to myself that I don’t always need a “somebody” to do what I love, and that new confidence is freaking empowering! Do you ever feel awkward doing things alone? Unless it’s an extreme case where I’m around just couples—nope! Not anymore. At first, eating alone at a restaurant was hard. I felt like people were watching and judging me. But after you’ve done it a few times, you learn not to care about what people think. When you do things alone, it gives you room to really enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing—whether it’s eating, walking, or sightseeing—without having to worry about anyone else. FREEDOM! And most importantly, I know that I’m not forever alone. Any awkwardness that I do experience is just temporary. Practice makes everything perfect, and that includes learning to enjoy your own company! Can you share one of the most unforgettable stories from your trip? My last day in Budapest, I wanted to make it memorable so I booked a wine tasting cruise along the Danube River. I thought to myself, what a nice way to end my day in my favorite city, huh? Have some wine and get a spectacular view of the city from the water. Perfect! So I’m super excited, and I get inside the cruise ship, and what do I find? This activity was actually geared towards couples, and I’m the only person here all by myself. I ended up being seated at a long table with three other couples. Being the 7th wheel with a bunch of strangers was one of the most awkward experiences I’ve ever had. To make things even MORE awkward, a camera man came to our table to take romantic pictures of each of the couples. When he got to me, he actually asked me if I was waiting for my partner. It took all of my courage to say no, I was there by myself. Everyone on this cruise had someone to talk to except for me, so I felt a bit out of place. I decided to just drink my wine and journal about the experience in the moment—I couldn’t stop laughing about this unexpected situation! After about a half hour, I decided to go to the boat’s upper level where it was open to take photos of the Parliament building and the Chain Bridge. It was freezing cold, but the view was magnificent! Finally, when I came back to my seat, a bunch of wine had been set out for me, but I wasn’t sure what kinds of wines they were. I asked a guy sitting next to me about it, and that completely turned the experience around. I ended up talking to him and his fiancée—a young engaged couple from France—for the rest of the cruise! They loved New York and of course, traveling, and we ended up having a really interesting conversation. What started out as a lonely, awkward activity ended up with me making some great new friends! Seriously amazing. And everything aside, now I have a crazy story to tell, haha! Are you planning another solo trip yet? I’m always thinking about where I should go next! In 2016, places I have in mind are Iceland, Switzerland, and Japan. Let’s see if I can make it happen! I might be broke by the end of this year (we’ll see!), but it’ll be totally worth it. #ElinatheExplorer is the best source of solo travel wisdom, am I right? Are you planning any solo trips? Ask #ElinatheExplorer for tips in the comments below! Want to be featured in our next #ElinatheExplorer post? She collects postcards! Add to her collection and send a postcard to Elina Song at 135 W. 50th St. Suite 500, New York, NY 10020, and we’ll feature your card in our next #ElinatheExplorer installment. We can’t wait to hear from you!