Wednesday 3 September 2014

Five Things I've Learned as a Lone Female Traveller

So, as you may have noticed, I just came back from spending a couple of weeks travelling alone. I did meet up with some friends in Slovenia, but the majority of the two weeks was spent in my own company. I'd wanted to travel on my own for a long time, I was even considering getting the working visa for Australia which would mean being alone on the other side of the world for at least a year! Now that I've done it for two weeks, I think I can say that I've got rid of the bug (wimp much?). Now these are just my opinions on the subject, I've read lots of these types of posts where people think the complete opposite, but I'm just sharing what I think. It is my blog after all. 

I've decided to discuss five topics that I think people worry about when travelling alone, as well as some things I just wanted to talk about. This is a very text heavy post ... enjoy!

1. Selfies

While I was away I had to work really hard to perfect the art of the selfie. Most of my early ones are 90% my face, 10% blurry landmark in the background. I was a bit too nervous to ask people to take photos of me, because my camera cost me a lot of money, and I would not forgive myself if I'd got it stolen, and because I'm awful at posing for pictures, and doing it for strangers, just urgh. So I think I managed to get some OK photos of myself, but I have to admit I would have preferred to have a  friend or a family member there to take the photograph for me. 

The picture on the left is one of my first attempts at a selfie at Lake Bled. The background is blurred, even my face is blurred! You can just about make out the church on the island above my sunglasses. Altogether a pretty awful photo. The one on the right, although not much better, is in focus, and you can clearly see a gondola. I still haven't mastered getting my whole face in the frame, but that's something to work on in future. (Fun fact: that necklace on the right is the one I talk about here.)

2. Creeps

I spent a week in Italy, and didn't encounter a single overly flirtatious male. Whether this is because I'm not the type of gal people mean when they tell you that Italians are creepy towards women, I'm over six foot, with blue hair, and I'm not exactly model thin, I didn't really experience any of this in Italy. Paris on the other hand! OMFG. I got off the train at Paris Est and had to walk over to Gare Du Nord, it's about a five minute walk, but as I hadn't been there before I had to find a map. If the back and front backpack hadn't given it away already, I really was identifying myself as a tourist. Not that this gives anyone the right to approach me the way this guy did, or any way for that matter. 

I'd been on the train for 3 hours and was already pretty exhausted and sweaty, so when a guy came up to me talking in French I assumed he was asking for directions or something, not anything untoward. So, I explained that I didn't speak French and walked off. Next thing I know, I'm walking down a side street in Paris and the same little guy popped up next to me (he was only about 5'5, so I wasn't as scared as I could've been. Worst came to worst I could have rammed him with my backpack and run away). He was still rambling in French and I kept saying I didn't understand, and he kept talking. Next thing he starts talking and I hear the word hotel. Now I was freaking out that I had Taken situation on my hands. This guy wanted to follow me to my hotel and kidnap me. So, panicked, I tried to explain I was getting the train.

'Gare Du Nord. Gare Du Nord. Le train'

So then the guy, still talking about hotels starts tapping my arm. I look down and he's making sexual gestures (don't really know how else to put it) and saying hotel. He was pointing up to a hotel we were passing and putting his finger into a ring he'd made with his other hand! I properly freaked out then and started speaking really loudly so other people would hear, we were finally getting close to the station so it was getting busier. I just said 'Oh my god. No thanks. Bye.' I then walked really fast to the station and he tried to grab my arm again by I just kept going and thank god he left.

I hadn't been to Paris before, but that experience has put me off completely! I had about three hours to explore between trains, but I was too stunned/scared after that to do anything more than sit on the platform and read. So that was a pretty bad experience, thankfully it was on my way home so it didn't ruin the rest of my holiday or anything. 

(With regards to the picture, surprisingly I didn't take my camera out and snap a picture of any creeps, so I thought I'd post this picture of a child feeding pigeons because I probably looked like a creep taking it.)

3. Dining Alone

This seems to be an issue for a lot of people, but I have to admit, I have no problem whatsoever eating in a restaurant on my own. OK, it is a tad harder to do it abroad as there is always a slight language barrier, but to be honest, I kind of enjoy it. I love food, and so really there is nothing that's gonna get in the way of me and my dinner. I ate in several restaurants and cafes on my trip, from one on the island in the middle of Lake Bled to a pizzeria overlooking the Grand Canal. 

If eating in a restaurant alone sounds like your worst nightmare though, there are ways to avoid it. My budget was not unlimited, so I didn't have the money to eat in restaurants every day. On the days where I didn't I'd either grab a snack from the supermarket to eat on the go, or pick up some pasta and sauce to eat at my hostel. Eating in your hostel can also be a pretty good way to meet people. Depending on the size of the shared kitchen, and indeed the hostel, you may well be cooking at the same time as some of the other residents. If like me though you hate talking to strangers, you can also plan ahead to avoid cooking at the same time as other people. 

4. Meeting People

If on your solo travels you wish to meet people, there are countless opportunities to do so. I stayed in dorms for my entire trip, meaning I had about 30 potential friends right there. Granted, you will have to be a bit forward with people, as many people are travelling in groups, and may not see the need to approach and talk to other people. But they don't do this to be rude, they just may not realise you are alone and looking for people to hang out with. If dorms aren't for you, most hostels have shared kitchens, if not a bar. These are great places to meet people and get to know them in quite a relaxed, pressure-free environment. Also, if you don't get on with them, they're not sleeping in the same room as you! 

If you're foregoing hostels altogether but still want to meet travellers, there's still a million ways to do so. I went on a few free walking tours, the first stop for backpackers and cheap students, and got talking to some really nice people. These tours are usually carried out in several languages, so you'll definitely meet some people you can communicate with. Bar Crawls are also a good place to start, hostels tend to have leaflets about these, but you can also find out information online. 

Finally, if you're inter-railing, like I was, you are more than likely to get chatting to people on trains. These people will most likely be fellow travellers, possibly heading to and coming from the same places you are. This'll give you automatic conversation topics. Quite a lot of european trains have compartments for six people. These compartments are quite cosy, so if you're spending four or five hours in one with someone, it's likely that you'll have to say a few words to them. I met quite a few people on trains, from a scout coordinator from New Zealand, to a guy travelling to Dubrovnik for a friends' wedding, to a pregnant woman and her partner, who'd lived in Finsbury Park and kept offering me cake! 

Alternatively, if you hate meeting new people, and the whole point of your travelling solo was to get away from everything and have some me-time, then it's pretty easy to do that too. A quick 'hello, how are you?' here and there can be polite, but you're never going to see these people again, so ignoring anyone and everyone is just as good a tactic as any.

 5. Finding Things To Do

I thrive on my own company, in fact, sometimes I crave it. I'm an only child, so growing up I spent a lot of time getting used to being alone. That being said, I thought I'd be fine travelling alone, never for one second did I think I could get bored. But I was wrong. I think in part it was the way I'd organised my holiday, only spending a short amount of time in each city put pressure on having days packed with sightseeing and fun. Because of this I felt guilty doing things I enjoy, like reading, and writing for this blog, because I felt that I was wasting my time in whichever beautiful city I was currently in. When I start to feel like this it does not work in my favour. I didn't then go out and try to squeeze everything in, instead I curled up in my hostel bed and watched The Following on my phone. 

All in all I enjoyed my time away, and am glad I travelled alone, even if it was the first and (possibly) only time.

P.S. I'm actually going on holiday tomorrow, this time with friends, so wont be around for a couple of weeks. Don't worry, I've got posts scheduled, but wont have the best internet access while I'm away. 

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