The date was August 2016. I was in a bad place mentally and fed up of the lack of progress in my life. I took off to Lanzarote for a week, and spent hours by the water, watching the waves lap gently against the rocky coastline and reflecting on everything. I needed something more, and I just had to get over my anxieties and self-belief issues and start making positive changes, doing things for me. I mean, there was an architect called Cesar Manrique there who built an actual home into the tough volcanic ground utilising lava bubbles – I know I’m just a normal English girl who accidently spews out embarrassing and sometimes offensive comments, who likes to imagine she’s a pop star even though she can’t sing to save her life, and who has maybe a bit of an unhealthy addiction to her Nintendo 3DS, but if he can figure all that out, I can book a flight.
I’ve always wanted to see the world, but had no one to go with. I’ve already been blessed enough to go to so many great places and I’ve seen so many magnificent things with my family, from the might of the Untersberg mountains in Austria to the roasting labyrinth of Pompeii in Italy, to the Turkish mud baths and the bustling medinas in Tunisia. But sometimes you just need that space, that independence, time to grow and learn on your own, away from the nest. I was officially done with wasting my money on trashy drinking holidays because that’s what my friends wanted to do – Kardamena was certainly not my proudest moment… No, I wanted to do something more interesting, more meaningful, whether they’d join me or not.
I flew alone for the first time in the early summer of 2017, June 4th to be precise. I’d been on planes before with friends or family, but never on my own. Waving off my parents after finding my desk and checking in, I took a deep breath and wandered through to security, no longer having that other person there to have my back. This trip helped me grow so much, forcing me into uncomfortable situations and unfamiliar surroundings. This journey was one of the most challenging in my life, but it was also one of the greatest. Thankfully I’m a good flier and so I passed the time in the airport shopping before boarding the plane and burying myself in a book. It wasn’t until we landed and were ready to disembark that the anxiety really began to kick in. It was a peculiar feeling, one of fear and excitement, all bundled into a single package. I’d actually done it. The furthest I’d been on my own was Bristol, which is a mere few hours’ drive away from my own hometown in England. Now I was in another country. For so long I’ve compared myself to others, and many people younger than I am have already been on all kinds of adventures, but for me this was a huge step, and I had to keep reminding myself that whatever they’d done, my journey was still only just beginning, and that was ok.
I had booked my transfer in advance for ease, not knowing how easy or hard it would be to improvise. As I over think and worry about everything, this worked for me and took the edge off (one less thing to worry about!) but I could have found a way into town there and then if I’d needed to. I used a company called Rideways and I’d definitely recommend them. It just gives that extra sense of security if you’re nervous about what it will be like when you reach the country you’re visiting.
This journey I’m describing, this was my first Contiki trip, a travel agent designed for solo travellers aged 18-35. The main destination was Croatia, but we started in Budapest. Before I could back out and change my mind, I booked a flight the day before I needed to be there to make myself spend some time experiencing the Hungarian capital.
Spending the day alone in Budapest was a real eye opener, and if you’ve read my travel diary you’ll already know of some of the cool stuff I did. I had a lot of difficulty with the metro at first, and yet when it came to seeking assistance, I quickly realised I didn’t know a single word of Hungarian and had no one else to help me explain my issue. It turns out I had gone in an exit that was supposed to be manned but wasn’t, but then they wouldn’t let me out of the station again because I didn’t have a ticket – even though I’d not even travelled anywhere yet. All I wanted to do was buy a ticket purely to be able to walk out again, but it was not easy by any stretch and I felt the panic beginning to set in. Would I ever see the light of day again?! Still, I was in that situation whether I liked it or not, and I’m definitely not still down there. No, things won’t always go exactly to plan, but it’s never as catastrophic as you think, and I came to realise that I had it in me to get myself out of a mess on my own all along. I was proud of that fact – step one towards believing in myself.
Hiccups aside though, it was a pretty awesome few hours. I was fed up when I was stuck underground, but looking back it was just all part of the experience. There are pros and cons to every travel method, and while a con is no support from a friend in challenging situations, the big pro is that you don’t have to cater to anyone. I barely felt a second of loneliness as I was just so busy keeping myself entertained with the sights I wanted to see, eating and drinking what I wanted when I wanted, all the while fumbling around incessantly with my selfie stick to get a good Instagram shot and receiving a few funny stares from curious onlookers.
And then came the moment, the moment I walked into that hotel foyer to be faced with crowds of strangers who I’d be spending the next week with. Oh God! For an introvert and someone with zero self-esteem, this is about the most intimidating situation you can be put in, and I think anyone else who feels this way would agree. My mind was a whirl. What do I say? What if people hate me? Will I annoy them by talking to them or will I just look weird if I don’t? This was my chance to become the person I wanted to be instead of the timid wreck I really was; I simply couldn’t mess it up. Gathering all my strength, I found someone English and wandered over, casually standing there on the outer edge of the circle and trying to slip naturally into group conversation as they noticed they had company and finally prompted me to actually announce myself.
After that point, I never looked back.
Whatever has happened in your life, however people have made you feel in the past, the most valuable thing I learned on this trip wasn’t the many facts about Croatian culture or that their beaches are rocky and they seem to sell a lot of lavender, but the fact that not everyone is a dick. People can actually be nice, and at the end of the day they’re in a similar situation to you even if they handle it differently. Now I know people from across the globe from all kinds of different backgrounds; now my hometown seems smaller than ever and all those people who picked on me at school and university just aren’t important anymore. All it took for me to finally accept this was that single leap of faith.
If, like me, you’re anxious about going it alone, an organised trip like this one I did is a Godsend. It was only a few hours away from home by plane so I knew if I hated it I’d be able to get back again, but those fears were just a complete waste of time and energy. Being completely alone in Budapest was all well and good for a day and was its own kind of personal journey, but it could begin to get a little lonely if I’d have kept it up; this was the perfect happy medium. That first morning had me an anxious mess, but spending six hours on a coach sitting with someone whose name you’ve only just learned is the best kind of therapy, the natural push that you need to put yourself out there – because you don’t have any choice in the matter. If you’d have asked me a year ago if I’d want to do something like this, I’d have thought you were having a laugh, but now I’ve done it I never want to stop and I’ve already taken things a step further and booked a trip to Thailand for next year, which is an even bigger deal for me as I’ve never really ventured outside of Europe in my 25 and a half years on this planet.
This one short trip, a tiny blip in my existence, has changed my entire outlook on the world. It’s exhilarating, empowering, and leaves you with lasting memories you’d never want to forget. So again, if in doubt just book yourself a flight and get the hell out there, because at the end of the day no problem you may possibly face along the way can make you feel worse than that lingering sense of regret about not following your dreams; I certainly wish I’d done it sooner. Life is for living and I believe now more than ever that the most important thing is doing what you love, not giving a damn about what anyone else thinks and worrying about any consequences later.