Whenever I tell people that I traveled around Europe by myself this past summer, I am usually met with some surprise and disbelief. I'm known for being quite clumsy and not so great with directions but here I am now, back safe and sound with some of the most amazing memories of my life.
I have always been passionate about travelling and knew that I wanted to go to Europe the summer before transferring to UCLA. So I worked as much as possible at a food service job I spent every shift daydreaming and finally saved up enough money. I used my favorite website, Skyscanner, to find a round trip flight to Italy for under $500.
Soon enough, summer rolled around and I was frantically researching and (over)packing as I counted down the days. I had decided to add Greece to my trip, as it had always been a dream destination after watching "Mamma Mia" and I had gotten lucky again in finding a cheap flight. I had it all planned out - Florence and Rome, then Athens, Paros, and Santorini. It was a bit exhausting finding affordable yet safe hostels and planning an exciting itinerary, but the fantasies of romantic cobblestone streets, authentic gelato, and sunbathing on a beautiful Greek island motivated me like none other. I was a bright-eyed 20 years old full of excitement and optimism for whatever came my way - I would have the time of my life!
And I certainly did, but not without some valuable lessons learned first.
1. It's okay to get lost
I can't count the number of times I got lost in those two weeks. I recall one day spending nearly four hours wandering the streets of Rome, my original destination forgotten. However, it ended up being one of my favorite days. I was with a friend I had met a couple of days earlier, and we walked around exploring quaint parts of the city we would not have discovered otherwise. We ended up at a breath-taking, hidden lookout point of the city. Another time I got lost I stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with quite possibly the best food I have ever eaten.
2. The importance of making friends
Of course, it can get a bit lonely traveling alone. That's why putting yourself out there and making friends is so essential. Staying at a hostel makes it a lot easier since most of those staying there are also traveling by themselves and wanting to meet people. Although it is nerve-wracking to go up to strangers and talk to them, that feeling of getting out of your comfort zone is so satisfying. From day one, I met great people that I ended up traveling with for most of the week. My favorite part, however, had to be befriending the locals. They were so friendly and eager to proudly show off their home city. I was able to get the most authentic experience this way, getting a personal tour of all the local spots.
3. Sometimes the best experiences are the unplanned ones
Be spontaneous! I will never forget my first night in Santorini. I was ready for bed, exhausted from the full day of excursions when I was invited by some new friends to go down to the beach with a bottle of wine and some good European music. We spent hours just laughing, talking about anything and everything, and appreciating where we were. I am still close with a couple of those friends now, and we look back on that spontaneous night with much fondness. I learned through this experience and other unexpected ones like it, that sometimes you just have to say "Yes!" Life is too short to not live it fully when else was I going to get a chance like that?
4. Budget well
One last thing I learned, and perhaps the hardest - you have to stick to a budget or you'll end up too broke to even buy a water bottle at the airport. It's definitely very easy to overspend, especially when you're delirious on good wine and the carefree travel mood. But I realized that if I want to keep on having these unforgettable exhilarating travel experiences, it's so important to set a budget. However, even though my bank account looked quite sad after my two weeks in paradise, I do not have regrets. I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of. I was independent, confident, and had made the best out of every situation thrown my way on the crazy journey that is solo travel.