This trip to Europe was a special trip for me because it was my first extended trip alone – and not just internationally. Before this point I’d traveled with JT and groups various places, and I’d done very short trips alone, but this was a new experience entirely.
I knew before starting the trip that it might be challenging. I figured and had been told that loneliness would likely be my biggest issue. I also expected that handling money, transportation, and language would be challenging at points, since JT usually handles these when we travel internationally.
The trip started rather easily, since I was attending the ANTS conference in Brussels and a conference environment is easy to navigate alone. My largest challenges at the conference were networking, meeting new people, and just dealing with having to be ‘on’ socially for long periods.
But first few days after the conference were really hard. I abandoned most of my plans for my trip when I realized that the areas in which I was planning on hiking were going to be rainy and snowy. This left me to plan where to go and what to do in very little time and with very few resources (since I had left all my guide books at home to save space and weight). I also had some experiences in both Brussels and Karlsruhe that made me really weary of and just generally tired of dealing with men and strangers. In Karlsruhe I remember seriously wondering how I could have ever dreamed of going on a long ‘gap year’ trip after I finished my PhD (even with JT). I was really hating traveling and just wanted to go home.
But then in Salzburg I found a comfortable youth hostel outside the city in a residential area and discovered some beautiful, alpine hiking in Berchtesgaden. As I was hiking out to a glacier and ice cave in Berchtesgaden, exchanging ‘hallo’ and ‘ist gut’ with other hikers really lifted my spirit. My time in Salzburg at the youth hostel really renewed my energy and desire to travel, as well as made me realize that I really am a mountain person. I was reluctant to leave Salzburg, and actually would have stayed longer if the youth hostel had space in the female dorm for another night. But they did not, so I moved onward to Bad Goisern to finally visit Hallstatt (which was one of the last cities to be cut from the Europe trip in 2012 that JT and I took, mainly due to the difficulty to get to it). However, once in Bad Goisern, I completely changed my plans about what to do from that base after talking to the owner of my hostel. And this was a great decision. I actually never visited Hallstatt outside of seeing it from the train – and this was fine with me. My room mate at the hostel probably had it right when she said she thought Hallstatt was ‘overrated’. But Bad Goisern – and all the cities and mountains I saw around it – was great, and I even opted to stay at the hostel an extra night. I really enjoyed just walking around Bad Goisern – the people were friendly and the views were amazing.
The last part of my trip, the part in Salzburg and Bad Goisern, was clearly my favorite. It is unclear why – was it the people? The less urban settings? The hiking? Me settling into traveling on my own?
I learned some things from this trip:
- It is hard to travel alone. Lows feel lower since you have to go through them alone.
- I did get really comfortable with being alone and doing whatever I felt like. It was a great growing and learning experience for me.
- Traveling alone I found that a lot more people tried to speak to me, usually in German and French (compared to when JT and I traveled in Germany).
- Youth hostels are actually a really pleasant place to stay – I should consider getting a Hosteling International card (it would have opened lots of youth hostels to me in Germany).
- I was a lot happier in female dorms than in mixed dorms. Going in, I figured it would not be an issue to stay in mixed dorms. But women are (in general) much nicer, neater, thoughtful, respectful, and clean than men.
- Big lockers in dorms are nice for security, but they also keep the room neat. Lights by each bed are nice, as is a shelf. Outlets by each bed would be amazing, but as long as they are spread out around the room it is fine. If showers and toilet are in each room, they should be separate and the sink should be in both or outside.
- Being able to do laundry in the hostel is worth an extra cost (especially in areas where wash and fold laundromats are not common).
- Common rooms at hostels are important, especially if there is not enough seating in the room, so you have somewhere to sit and relax besides your bed.
- When traveling for a long period, it is probably a good idea to save one day each week (perhaps Sunday) to plan out everything for the next week. Trying to plan each night for the next day is really stressful and probably leads to a sub-optimal trip!