It’s 10:25pm in Paris right now. I have an entire continent’s worth of stuff I have yet to blog about since Semester’s ended but that’s just going to take way more reflection and introspection and recollection than I’m ready for, so here is a sort of filler post: mistakes and lessons I learnt along the way as a first-time solo traveller.
First, some background. I am the kind of person who likes very much to stick to their friends. Friends who are much more …everything-savvy than she is. Aside from finding somewhere to eat, I’m pretty useless if there is someone a little bit better at maths or direction or organising things than I am (which is most of the time). I kind of take the back seat and let my friends do the work, if they’re willing to do it. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that usually someone’s already got a hold of the steering wheel and I’m fairly content to let them keep at it.
Such was the basis of my travelling alone this summer break. I should learn to do it, I decided. I was, more than anything, proving a point to myself – I could do it. And survive. I could do adult-y things, go to new cities with foreign languages and alien public transport systems and whatever. I can do that. Sure.
And well, nothing bad’s happened so far. I lost my glasses on the train yesterday, but that’s about it. For now, anyway. I managed to avoid two attacks in Europe just days apart from each other. I haven’t been raped or stabbed or stolen from. Things are going fairly well, although I have this incessant fear that it’s ‘only a matter of time’. I wonder if I’ll ever stop feeling this way, always managing to get by but constantly wondering if it’s because I’m Learning to Do Things or if it’s just a fluke. In any case, I compiled a rather boring grocery quick list of things I learnt, only in hindsight:
- What countries are you going to? Do you or do you not need a visa? Are you sure? When are you going to get that visa done? No, really. When? (Anecdote: up until the end of first semester, I was going round the bend trying to get assignments done, study for exams and spend as much time as I could with my friends before we all went our separate ways. I didn’t spare a single thought to my visas… I kind of assumed I had enough time, or it’d work out, or something. I kind of didn’t think about it …at all, really. What a mistake that was – the day right after the end-of-semester party, I was flying off to Guangzhou for two days, Hong Kong for 3-4 [to get one visa knocked out] and then to Shanghai for 4. So I needed to get 2 visas done: Russian & Mongolian. The Mongolian one I managed to do in Hong Kong, and only then did I realise I couldn’t get the Russian one done at the same time, because of course you need to give them your damn passport. Holy shit. I’m really not very smart. So I tried to do it in Shanghai but that didn’t work either since 2 of 4 of the days I was in Shangers was a weekend and the visa center wasn’t open. Well. What now? My next destination was Korea, then Luxembourg, then a number of European and UK cities until I actually had to be in Russia itself. I couldn’t get my visas done in Korea or Europe – well, I could, but it was going to take two weeks, because I wasn’t actually a resident/citizen of those countries. After figuring out all my options, two calls and two emails to the Russian visa center in London later, I had very frazzled friends [who I’d taken along for this traumatic emotional journey] and very stressed out me, but I also had the answer: because of Australia’s special relationship with the UK that allows us to stay there for up to half a year, I was ‘almost’ a resident, which allowed me to get next-day service in London. London, technically my last stop before St Petersburg, Russia. Boy was I cutting it close.) Lesson learnt: Find out how and when you’re going to do your visa(s), if you need to. And then double check it. And triple check it and consult with friends, just to be safe. Bonus lesson: Skype credit is your friend. I can’t tell you how much last-minute admin stuff I got done, changing plans and flights and booking things and whatnot, all via Skype through a mouthful of toothpaste in my underwear in a hotel bathroom. My life gives me anxiety.
Images lie. While I would like you to believe that I took this photo on a happy, care-free day devoid of any worries in the world other than getting that perfect shot of me and my hair and the Hong Kong skyline, the beginning of this day started with a great-uncle who picked a restaurant that wasn’t even open at the time HE designated, and then a number of Visa-related worries. My memories of Hong Kong are mostly hazy images of me unbuttoning my pants, eating because there was nought else to do, or dashing madly from one consulate-general to another.
- Where are you staying? How close is it to the city center, or public transport? This one is pretty self-explanatory. I picked pretty good places, except for Amsterdam, perhaps, where I was a 10-15 min bike/tram/bus ride out from the city center, which isn’t bad, no, but sometimes it did feel a little isolated since there was not all that much around my immediate vicinity. Lesson learnt: Figure out what’s important to you (i.e. cleanliness, location, price) and keep an eye out for the Hostelworld.com ratings according to that. (I worship Hostelworld.com. Changed me loife. I used to think of hostels as these really really dirty, gross places where everyone came home drunk and threw up everywhere, but I picked pretty much only the top-rated places in each city I was staying at on Hostelworld.com and have yet to be disappointed. They’re not paying me to write this. God, I wish. I’d love to be sponsored to blog. I’d be the maddest sell-out, hey. It’s just as well I’m not popular.)
The gorgeous gorgeous common area in Wombats City Hostel Munich. You should also know they have branches in Budapest, Berlin, London and Vienna as well, and are run by Aussies. Boy I NEED TO GET PAID TO DO THIS.
- Be safe, but don’t be too ‘safe’. I picked girls-only dorms where I could, because I thought I’d be more comfortable with my ‘guard down’ (winding down for the day, having quiet moments to myself, about to go to sleep, etc) around girls. Conversely, the unisex dorm I was in in Munich was way more fun – I got along really well with all of the guys in my dorm room, which was super cool. Also I just happen to get along pretty well with guys in general since I have so many unfeminine traits, so there’s that. I literally kind of forgot about that. I guess before I’d ever stayed in a hostel, I worried about everyone being all up in each other’s spaces and I wasn’t sure about having the other sex thrown into the mix, but it wasn’t like that at all – once you’re in your bed (which is 90% of the time you’re in your room), you’re in your own space. Lesson Learnt: Life consists of the full spectrum of sexuality. Pick the mixed-dorm room.
One of my excellent hostel dorm buddies and friend, Mariano. I badly needed a friend + a proper German meal on my last night in Munich, so Mariano took me to a bier hall and we fucked up some sauerkraut and sausages together. And then this RIDICULOUS dessert which was like, cinnamon donuts, but apple inside. It was pretty lit.
How dependent are you on wifi/data? How much do you really need to be connected? A lot less than you think, I realised. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m almost addicted to my phone – constantly on IG, FB, Twitter, WeChat, WhatsApp, Snapchat, if not checking social media then talking to me mates. Or checking if they’re talking to me. (Anecote: I learnt the hard way that Lebara/Lycamobile, which is the almost-all-over-the-world phone company, didn’t offer international data – just international calls. What this meant was that I loaded forty fucking euros onto my sim card, only to fly off to another country the next day and have the majority of those 40 euros be completely obsolete, because who the fuck makes calls these days?? Although after that I figured out how it worked – buy a sim in each country, load it up with a little bit of money, get a new one in the next city – my heart broke after the loss of those 40 euros, all because the vendor either didn’t understand me or I didn’t understand him or he lied. I think he might have lied. Asshole. In any case, I decided to just live on wifi when I got back to my hotel and free wifi at cafes etc. It’s lasted me, phone addict, this far.) Lesson learnt: fuck the internet. Go enjoy your life, you’re on holiday. Upload your snapchats and reply to people later. It’s fine. They’ll still be there. (Also: you could always opt for pocket wifi which is an option I couldn’t be bothered exploring because it sounds rather troublesome and more work/effort than I’m willing to put in.) Bonus lesson: All you need when you travel is maps. Maps.me is a really good app that works just like Google/Apple maps, only you need to download the map of each city individually, but once you do, it works fine – reads your location, knows the attractions, etc. Can sometimes be known to not read your precise location or be a tad laggy, but it works without data. Godsend. And if I can find my way home, you’re sweet. This really is very useful while travelling. Get on it!
Image not really relevant to the copy but whatever. Canal cruises are awesome.
- What times are your flights and trains? How much of your day are you happy to waste in transit? Is your travel route logical? Do you have enough time after check-out time to get to your flight/train? Is it too much time? For me, I wasn’t prepared to take anything more than about 4 hours on a train. For example, when I realised I’d have to be on a train for 7-something hours from Luxembourg to Munich, I nope’d the fuck outta there and flew. (It’s a one hour flight.) Time is more precious to me than money at this point. I’ve been quite happy so far with all the train/flight times I picked – around or slightly after midday, somewhere between 12 and 1:30pm. Lesson learnt: Go that little bit out of your way to find out what time your check-out time is at the place you’re staying. Match your travel times to your check-out times. You can usually bet they’re around the same time though, 10 or 11am-ish. Do you want to skip breakfast to sleep in and have a few hours after check-out to take your time and grab something to eat before your train/flight? Or do you want to wake up, have breakfast, check out and go straight to the station/airport? Lesson learnt: actually, happily, I did good with this one, even without double-checking check-out times ^__^ What it meant for me was that I would arrive at my destination somewhere between 3-5 or 6pm which allowed me to first go straight to my accommodation (duh) and come back out to explore my immediate vicinity and grab dinner. I enjoyed it because I was still exploring and getting to know my bearings without having the pressure of ‘doing something’ with my day, because I had days ahead of me. (Anecdote: this also has to do with how much time you’re spending in each city. I met up briefly with Amber for a dinner last night here in Paris and she’s barely spending two days in each city before she has to jet off again. I can’t imagine living like that – constantly on edge, constantly on the move, constantly trying to squeeze in something in every minute of the day. Ugh, that pressure. I already hate packing every 4 days and couldn’t imagine packing more than that.)
omw from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Paris Gare du Nord.
- With that: Don’t over-pack. Straight up. I know it sounds so obvious but omfg, dddaaarrgghhhh I DO THIS EVERY TIME. I fucked up with this one and packed basically all my summer clothes in my suitcase, which took up half my suitcase. The other half were necessities (books, cameras, powerboard and charger, flats and thongs, toiletries, bras) but it took up way more space than I realised – a bit of this and a bit of that and my suitcase was full. I have a vivid memory of Joseph sitting on my suitcase to help me close it the day I left Hangzhou. I was travelling for more than two months!, I reasoned. Two months is a long time – me and Joseph had already become best friends in that time; two months was half a semester, the time from the first week of class to mid-sems. It seemed like a really long time in my head. Lesson learnt: Should’ve taken 30% of my wardrobe out. Bitch you’re going to shop, you know you will (and if not for yourself then souvenirs for friends), you wear your gym clothes every time you travel ANYWAY so what’s the damn point, TAKE THEM BOOTS OUT YOU’VE WORN THEM LITERALLY TWICE
- What is your ‘system’ of information? What do you refer to for your details – your calendar, your diary, a GoogleSheet, a GoogleDoc? Streamline your shit. Or don’t. I do this weird thing where I somehow end up obsessively write down the same stuff in different places. So I have a diary where I’ve hand-written down all my details – which city I’ll be in, when and where I’m travelling to on what days, the name/location of my accommodation in each city. I also have a Wunderlist list of my whole summer spanning more than 2 months, broken down into cities, which are further broken down into bits of information including my accom, when/where I’m travelling to next, certain attractions I want to see in that city, things I need to do. And then I have a folder with all my printed out tickets that I need for planes, trains etc, partly so I have a paper copy handy and partly because train tickets need to be printed out anyway, but I ALSO hand-wrote an entire itinerary. With the same. Damn. Info. Just so I would be able to look, at a single glance, what my life was to be like for the next two months. Don’t ask me why I do this. It just happened. It’s pretty absurd. But I’ve found that it’s because they ultimately fulfil different functions – my diary lets me see what my day and the next day looks like; Wunderlist helps me plan the things I’m doing in each city, and then I can tick things off; and fine, I haven’t really found a use for my at-a-glance sheet yet LOL, but I think at the time it just helped me feel better since I had visa things to worry about! (Anecdote: printing things out actually came in handy once – when I was coming into Luxembourg and going through customs/immigration, they needed proof that I was leaving the country. So I pulled out my folder and showed them my ticket to Munich, and that was that.) Lesson learnt: it pays to over-prepare. 😀 If anything, you literally just feel more secure, and I’ve come to realise that a mind at peace makes so much difference while you’re travelling. Travelling is work – you have enough shit to worry about. Holy shit. I could dedicate an entire passage to this alone. Which I might do in my next proper blog post hahaha
- This kind of continued on from the last point: before you go to your next destination, go to Google Maps and find the exact route and screenshot that shit. I’m sure this is pretty useless advice – “make sure you know how to get to where you’re going to”. No shit Sherlock. Alright, moving on…
- What do you like doing with your time? That’s alright. If you don’t really know, you’ll find out when you travel. I guess I understand what every basic bitch on Instagram is banging on about when they say you ‘find yourself’ when you travel – although I don’t really approve of the word choice in that phrase, being a tourist in a city means you’re always unconsciously aware of time, and how to use it best. You’ll make decisions about what to do/see and what you don’t care about, and the ‘finding yourself’ people are talking about is you realising and re-confirming what you like, and discovering new things you like. I worry I’m too chill, sometimes – I’ve found I really like art galleries and parks and reading. I’ve done a lot of reading lately which makes me immensely happy. There’s so much I can say on this topic – I’ve started writing in a notebook (on top of my daily entries in my 365 diary), just thoughts on concepts like cities and travelling and art and time and on other occasions merely notes on reactions/responses to things I’m seeing (e.g. the Anne Frank House) or reading at the time. This itself often spawns a new line of thought or enquiry – most of my notes are questions, which has revealed to me the nature of my thoughts. When you’re alone, you need to fill the time and silence with something else. If not conversation and good company, then it’s going to be external material, which helps you grow as a human being, precisely because you’re churning out thoughts and responses to things that are happening to you both in the world and within your head. Lesson learnt: I can’t teach you this lesson, unfortunately. Your lessons are your own 😉
What I do on holiday: visit art galleries and find all the parks surrounded by cafes so that I can shelter in those instead if it rains. (And in Europe, it usually rains.) Hot chocolate and a book spells a happy Plan B to me.
- Final one: expect things to go wrong. The old saying is true: expect the best and plan for the worst. Your attitude really dictates how your travel is going to go, and if you’re travelling alone for the first time like me, you learn to take everything like a lesson. God damn I sound so cliche right now. Be grateful for the space to make mistakes; remember you’re young and stupid and this is the prime mistake-making time. Think about how to turn it into a really good story later, instead. (However, by all means, if a problem arises, get on it. Especially with visas. Fuck that mess.) Lesson learnt: You’ll be right, more often than not. Unless you’re actually in danger or you fucked up real big, you’ll usually find a way out of your mess. Or: if it’s out of control, stressing about it isn’t going to change anything. Do something about it or forget about it.
Oh my god it’s past midnight. LOL wow it took me almost two hours to write this. Sorry about the word vomit, you’ll see that I tried to break it up with images to make up for my lack of blog posts and images. (Although I’m doing better than Yana or Winnie, but they’re in freakin’ Mexico and Greece respectively, so we’ll forgive them.)
As much as I love seeing the world, travelling alone is troublesome, and tough, and lonely. Everything is A Thing – what will you eat? Where are you going today? How will you get to where you go? How much is it? Where will you go next? How do you say xyz in xyz language? Such-and-such was too much, or too little, or it’s too cold; the weather is bringing you down; fruit is too expensive. Travelling alone made me realise that though I hold to the highest esteem the value of this experience and deem it absolutely necessary to my growth as a person, I actually much, much prefer being with friends. The value in life has always lay in sharing experiences with friends – me travelling on my own is to improve myself for my friends. Everything is done to the end of enriching my life and my relationships.
Moreover, travelling has also curiously anchored me more firmly to home – I never had the travel bug before. Travelling kind of happened to me. (I know I am lucky for that reason.) Now that I’ve seen a little more of the world, I’m growing curious about it, and I do want to see more of it – so many other cities, other places in the world I am incredibly drawn to (for example, I am really interested in the Middle East, and Islam for that matter. Istanbul calls my name and I’m dying to answer. Same with Santorini – but now the Egyptian Pyramids, Niagra Falls, Morocco, Berlin, Venice too… Cities I’d never cared about before or that I’d only dreamed of going, but have come to my attention because of the international friends I’m making at college in Hangzhou [Paris, Luxembourg, London are the cities some of my good friends hail from,which I will visit this summer; Lucerne, Marseilles, Brussels, Austria have come to my attention]. The list is growing). But I also long for comfort, ease, home – streets I know; the same restaurant serving the same food by the same faces; the quick humour that comes with familiar friends, not having to introduce myself all the time; being able to give my love and affection to my friends and have it freely, warmly returned. I didn’t realise how happy I was to see a friend until I saw Amber and bear-hugged her.
I didn’t expect to love Amsterdam this much. Even though it was my first time there, I felt right at home – there is something about water that I’ve always, always always been magnetically attracted to, and there was lots of it in Amsterdam. There’s a simplicity and a humility to Amsterdam’s way of life that I admire so much.
If you’re having good weather, enjoy it – in Sydney, we really take it for granted. Even if it’s freezing but there’s a clear sky, cherish that shit, I don’t see it enough these days, European summers (and their weather forecasts) are as temperamental as the city is beautiful. Until next time! Much love ♡♡♡
tl;dr: get ur shit together lol