I had been slugging it out in and out of bands for over a decade, living the typical broke musician life with any money coming in, going right back into my music or whatever band I was currently in. Making it tough to get out and travel the world. I had made the decision to get into graphic design which was probably one of the best moves I’ve ever made. It was all by accident of course (which will be the topic of another blog) but regardless I found myself freelancing working on multiple projects that paid way more than the retail job I had previously. Having money meant I could finally get out and explore the world.
I have always been enthralled by exploring new places and gaining new experiences. Ever since being in a band on the road, a part of me always wants to be on the road. There’s nothing more invigorating than being in a new city every week. This feeling has translated well into discovering the joys of traveling.
My first major trip was backpacking throughout Europe for 6 weeks, solo. It has been the best experience of my life. Going it alone is empowering, confidence building and life changing. People who haven’t gone on a similar trip just can’t relate. There’s something about being lost in a country where no one speaks english that make navigating your home city seem like a breeze.
For a few months I questioned on where in the world I was going to go. Mexico, South America, Thailand, Australia, and Europe were my choices. Hard to narrow just one down right? After a bit of research, I decided on Europe as I figured for my first time I could ride the rails and experience many cultures instead of just one. I did research through some books – my favourite being a book called Weird Europe which highlights odd festivals, museums, and places to visit.
So I bought my tickets, got a new backpack and was ready to go. I had no plan when I landed in London.
By going solo, I had all opportunities open to me – I could go wherever, whenever I wanted.
Now this being my first major trip, I of course had some reservations about being alone for that length of time, not speaking any other language than English I didn’t know what to expect in trying to communicate in some countries, and of course not really knowing what I was doing.
The trip ended up taking me through Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, Amsterdam, Spain and London.
I quickly found out that travelling solo does;t mean you will be alone – in actuality I think I was “alone” for only 4 days of the entire trip. Going solo means you are open to meeting people, making friends and travel buddies making for a unique experience that is yours to own alone.
It started on my first day in Santorini where I was on Kamari beach when this guy walks out of the water, comes up to e and says “hey you were on the ferry last night”. My first North American instinct was to think “who is this creep and how does he know that?” – also in all fairness being non-experienced traveller in Greece I also was thinking, is this guy hitting on me? I said yes I was on the ferry and we began to talk. It turned out that his name was Paul and he owned a restaurant in Australia and was travelling solo as well. We hit it off and decided to meet for dinner later that night which also turned into a night on the town, which turned into travelling the islands together. We also meet up with a friend of his Nick, a Greek from Australia which meant we had someone that could speak the language for us. We had a blast – I tell some of the stories in another blog but what an amazing way to island hop – my fears were gone as there were others now to back me up, help me figure things out as both Paul and Nick had been to Greece before. Also Paul for some reason in sited on paying for almost everything – dinners, drinks, cover charges, and he never asked for anything in return.
After leaving Paul and Nick in Athens for Corfu where you get the ferry to Italy, I stayed at a place called the Pink Palace with 18 Australians. I’m telling you the Australians are everywhere and they can travel! Again, instant friendships made and great times. For those 4 days we were all part of a brotherhood. It was a sad day when we all went our separate ways – and trust me, 4 days at The Pink Palace seems like weeks!
After Greece was Italy and Brindisi is the port city you land when you take a ferry form Greece. This was a time before smart phones and internet so I relied heavily on my Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring book that listed places to stay, where to eat, and how to get around. Everyone had their book out when they landed somewhere new. Next to me was another Australian, Sean. We both looked at each other with a lost view and figured out we were both on our way to Rome so decided to travel together as two heads trying to figure it out was better than one. I ended up travelling with Sean throughout Italy, Nice (France), and Spain. I learned a lot about confidence from Sean as he seemed to have no fears. Including jumping off steep rocks into the ocean somewhere on some island in Spain. Yes, meaning just going for it and not having a care in the world.
Sean and I hit it off and really tore through the places we visited – which also meant being chased by cops, getting banned from bars, and a few other things…. For that time we were like best friends that had known each other for a lifetime. I even sent Sean my rail pass after I returned home as there were a couple of days use left on it.
I did head up to Brussels for a night and staying in a hostel you make instant friends and head out for a night on the town together. Of course one was an Australian, there were also a couple of girls from Austria and a couple from Japan. Which made for quite the mix and great conversation learning a bit about everyone’s country. There’s something about getting over language barriers and hard to understand accents that brings people together. Lots of laughing going on.
A stop in Amsterdam was next. I arrived mid afternoon and the place was in chaos. Endless amounts of tourists and backpackers everywhere vying for a place to stay. There were huge lineups at the hotel counters…. I just stood there trying to figure what to do as it seemed bleak as to getting a decent room anywhere close. I truly thought I was screwed. “Are you looking for a place to stay?” someone said to me – I turned and saw a couple which turned out to be brother and sister. They said they had been looking everywhere for the last 2 hours and they finally found one place just 5 minutes away but the landlord wanted 3 people not 2 so they were looking for a third. And it was only $50 each – cheap in Amsterdam during high season. What luck! Of course I took it and we ended up hanging out the three days I was there.
So basically everywhere I went, I met good people and have memories that would never have happened any other way. I can try to tell people about the experiences but they will never fully get it unless they have travelled solo and have experienced something similar. I met more quality people in those 6 weeks than I do in a year at home. Hearing about their cultures, their customs, ways of living… everything! It’s eye opening and stimulating. It brings you to life and you bring that back home with you.
I came back a different person, I’ve never looked back and I keep welcoming the challenges of each new adventure that comes my way. Since then I have been to Tokyo, Mexico, Costa Rica, Europe multiple times, and various islands of the Caribbean – solo. Backpacking is they way to go for meeting people and staying in hostels guarantees meeting people – staying in hotels not as much, people aren’t as open to talking and sharing experiences.
You will come back a different person, you will grow in confidence, you will be more friendly with people. Travel when you are young or when you can. The sooner the better as it will change you for the rest of your life.
Of course you must be safe and note that things do happen – that’s part of it but how you handle adversities also makes you grow.