Solo Travel in Europe: Spontaneity at its Finest

I think I am realizing that I am living my life “in the moment.” I’m not really thinking about later today or tomorrow or next week, let alone next month. In fact, the past few days of my trip, like today, I don’t even know where I will sleep tonight or what I will be doing tomorrow. But, I’m not worried. I’m not scared. I’m not concerned. I know something will come up and I will be taken care of. Trust. Faith. Luck. Worst case is I will have to sleep in the street tonight, and do nothing tomorrow, which I am sure won’t happen!

This has been a “life changing” trip for me, in the sense that instead of being organized and knowing where I would be every moment, such as I had planned on my Alaska and New Zealand trips, that instead, for nearly five months, I was just spontaneous most of the time, not really knowing where I was going the next day, or where I would be sleeping the next night, and many times, not even knowing what I would be doing a few hours later. It has been great to live like this! The freedom and flexibility. Spontaneity at its finest!

These are two paragraphs from my journals that I had written at different times during my five-month solo European journey back in 2004. The first paragraph was written very early on in my trip, during my second week; the second paragraph was written during my fourth month. Reading these two paragraphs today, brings back thousands of memories, and gets me filled with the excitement that I felt back then. Man, what a great feelings I had during those five months – the spontaneity; the freedom. The exhilaration of being able to decide at any given moment where I wanted to go next, and what I wanted to do!

You see, prior to my Europe trip, as I alluded to in the second paragraph above, I was completely organized in my travel planning. For the Alaska and New Zealand trips (both approximately two-week trips), I had made myself itineraries, knowing exactly where I was going to be on any given day. I planned; I reserved places to stay; I booked things to do; I made lists. About the only thing that wasn’t so predetermined was where I would eat. Now granted, for these particular trips, I enjoyed this type of pre-planning. And, I needed to do this type of arranging considering the short amount of time that I had in those places. And believe me, because of all this preparation, both of my Alaska and New Zealand journeys were fantastic!!

But, something was different about having five-months time. It was too much time to plan out day-by-day. It would have been near impossible to make about 150 hostel reservations, or make sure that I didn’t miss a train, or know exactly when I wanted to visit each museum, or see each sight. Yes, I had done quite a bit of pre-planning for this Europe trip, such as picking out what countries I wanted to visit, and what cities, and what I wanted to do in each city. In fact, I did a lot of research prior to this trip. I read books, many books, highlighting and writing down the places of interest that I wanted to see; I attended travel lectures about places to visit; I looked on the Internet; I talked to people who had already been. I even had a map where I circled in pink all the general places I wanted to go, and I wrote a list of the general direction of travel, including the order of the countries, that I wanted to take. I was organized; but as it turns out, only to a point. There was no way that I could plan out day-to-day; and before I knew it, even my general direction of travel got all turned around.

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My “Planning” Map

The first week of my travels, I did stick to my original plan. This was because I had made a few flight and hostel reservations that I had to stick with. But after that, the rest of my well-thought out planning mostly just went up in the air. I began realizing the joy of being spontaneous; the fun I was having just winging it; the amazing experiences I encountered when I just happened upon something that I was not planning on. Sometimes I realized that I wanted to spend more time in one place than originally thought; sometimes, I realized that something I thought sounded interesting to me before I left, no longer had its appeal; sometimes something else would happen to me that just changed my course and direction for the day, or for the next few days.

Now this is all not to say that the pre-planning I did was worthless; in fact, it made my spontaneity all that much better because at least I had a sense of the places I wanted to go, and the things I wanted to do, so that became my base. But the order in which I did them was completely changed. And after all was said and done, I found that some of the places I originally thought I would get to, I never did; but conversely, I got to many places that I did want to; and on top of that, I had thousands of experiences that no planning could allow for.

What is interesting about me is that for most of my life, I had been the planning-type (as evidenced by my Alaska and New Zealand adventures). I wanted to know where I was going, what I was doing, and to be sure that I had a place to sleep. I had always been a very organized person, paying attention to all the details, and really thinking things through. (I sound like I am writing a resume.) But during my European journey, a new part of my personality emerged. A part of me that just threw caution to the wind. A part of me that was traveling by the seat of my pants. A part of me that was living in the moment. A part of me that had faith and trust that it would all work out. A new-and-improved me!!

And the best part about everything is that fortunately luck was on my side during my five month solo European journey, and knock on wood, I never had to sleep in the street, and I always had something to do tomorrow!

Sweet Travels!

I will say, however, that the planner in me returned when I went on my journey around the Baltic Sea.

Travel: A Lifetime Goal

One of the advantages of traveling is meeting interesting people from around the world. When I was in Poland, during my five-month solo European journey in 2004, I met a couple that was also on a journey of their own, and we ended up enjoying a genuine Polish meal together. During this meal, I learned a bit about them and their travels, and they learned a bit about me and my travels. One very wonderful thing that they told me about themselves was their lifetime goal: they wanted to travel to 100 countries on this planet Earth! What a great goal, I thought! At that time, the couple had been to about 70 countries already!

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This lifetime goal of theirs sparked my curiosity, and I wanted to know just how many countries there actually are in the world. I found an interesting article at http://geography.about.com/cs/countries/a/numbercountries.htm, stating that by most accounts, there are 195 countries; although the number varies a bit according to the source. There is even a link from this article to a list of all these 195 countries. So, this couple that I had met had set a goal of seeing about half of the countries of this planet!

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I also wondered how far I would have to travel to reach this goal for myself, if I ever decided I wanted to try to accomplish it. As of March 2008, here is my tally, both from solo trips, and from travel with others:

United States (and I have been to about 37 of them, including 33 during a three-month trip in an R.V., and a solo excursion to Alaska)

Australia
New Zealand
Vietnam

17 countries during my five-month solo European journey, including Vatican City

7 countries during my “around the Baltic Sea in 15 days” trip

Iceland (a European country that I visited on its own vacation)

Canada (but do I really count that if I have only been to Victoria and Vancouver so far? sure, why not.)

Mexico
Jamaica
Belize

Puerto Rico (but that technically doesn’t count because it is a territory, so I shall not count it)

That is a total of 33. Not too bad, but definitely way more to go. So, let’s see…how can I visit 67 more countries in approximately the next 40 years?

*I could travel to 1.675 countries a year for the next 40 years.
*I could visit one country a year until I retire, and then I would need to see about 42 countries during retirement.
*I could explore 3.35 countries a year for the next 20 years.
*I could go see 2 countries a year for the first 20 years, and 1.35 countries for next 20 years.
*I could take a trip to 5 countries every other year for 13.4 years.
*I could journey to 28 countries this year, and one country a year for 39 years thereafter.
*Or I could just quit my job and travel to all 67 countries now!

Oh so many countries, so little time. And the exciting part is getting to choose which countries I would want to explore. I guess I better start planning my next vacation if I want to reach this goal!

Sweet Travels!

maps from maps.com

Solo Travel: Start with Something Enjoyable-A Walk to New Dungness Lighthouse

Start small. Start simple. Start short. Start local. Start with something enjoyable. That is what I did when I knew that I wanted to begin traveling solo. I wanted to test the waters before I really ventured out into the world. Here is the story of my first solo travel experience, and if one of you women reading this blog is not sure how to get started on the adventure of solo travel, maybe this will give you some guidance and inspiration.

Start with something enjoyable: I like walking and hiking. I like the outdoors and nature. And I happen to like lighthouses. For my first solo trip I decided to go to the New Dungeness Lighthouse on Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. It is a 5 1/2-mile walk (each way) on a sand spit out to the lighthouse.

Dungeness Spit
Dungeness Spit

Start local: Since Washington state has so many opportunities for the type of exploration that I like, I wanted to take advantage of that fact. Also, I wanted to travel somewhere within a couple hours driving distance, not too far from my home (Seattle), making sure that I could get home easily and quickly, just in case I wasn’t comfortable with my solo trip.

Start with a time when the weather would most likely cooperate: I chose a warm summer month, June. I had to make sure that I was picking a time of year where it would be possible to walk the Spit without worries of tides or waves or storms. If the weather was not cooperating, I was only a few hours from home. Of course, one can’t control the weather, so sometimes a good attitude is needed if the weather is not exactly what you wanted, as long as it is safe.

Dungeness Lighthouse

Start with packing the essentials, and packing light: I needed comfortable clothes to drive in, and appropriate clothes to walk in. Over the years, I have learned to pack as light as possible for my travels, depending on where I am going and what I am doing.

Start with a short, yet reasonable time frame…I decided that I wanted to do this trip in two or three days. After consideration, I realized that two days would be enough, but I would give myself an extra day cushion time, just in case. I left on a Friday evening, drove part way, and stayed over at a hostel (more on that later). The next morning, I drove the rest of the way to the Spit, walked to the lighthouse, toured the lighthouse, walked back, and returned home that evening. If I needed to, I could have stayed one more night in the hostel after the walk.

The Lighthouse

Start with accommodations that feel comfortable, or stay somewhere new as an experiment: I knew that if I were to travel more in the world, for budget reasons, I would want to stay in hostels. So on this first solo trip, I decided to get the experience of knowing what staying in hostels would be like. I stayed at Olympic Hostel in Port Townsend, which is actually formerly an army barracks building. Staying here really gave me a flavor for what it is like to eat and sleep in a shared environment. Also, I made a reservation ahead of time so that I knew that I would have a place to sleep.

Start with a popular place: Safety and loneliness was a slight concern of mine, so I wanted to make sure that other people would be around. Choosing a hostel and a popular place to visit were ways to alleviate any concerns. To test out my potential loneliness, I also decided to take myself out for a good meal at a restaurant, where I would be sitting by myself.

Dungeness Lighthouse
New Dungeness Lighthouse

Small starts lead to success! Fortunately for me, everything on this solo journey worked out, and I realized that I could travel solo!! The location was convenient, the weather cooperated, the hostel was comfortable, and the people in the hostel were friendly and helpful. The scenery was spectacular on the Spit and at the Lighthouse!! I didn’t mind walking or eating by myself. In fact, I rather enjoyed the solitude. I was also able to interact with people as needed.

Starting with a local and enjoyable experience made me want to travel solo even more…

Sweet Travels!
(New Dungeness Spit photo from Wikipedia)