Around six years ago, I headed on my first and only (to date anyway) solo backpacking adventure. Although much time has passed since my trip to Croatia, I still look back on it often as it was such an achievement and the experience taught me very valuable life lessons. I backpacked from the south of Croatia up to the north in the space of two weeks. Two weeks might sound like quite a short time but when I was there, it felt like a lifetime.
I never intended to do this trip alone. Originally a friend was going to come with me. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they had to drop out and with the short notice, I couldn’t find anyone to join me. I’d already spent a lot of money booking flights, hotels, and hostels and a lot of the bookings were none refundable. Traveling to Croatia had been on my bucket list for quite some time, especially island hopping, and so I decided to pluck up the courage and continue my plans as a female solo traveller.
Once I’d packed my backpack, my boyfriend took me to the airport (my partner and I are still together now but at that point, our relationship was still fairly new). Once we’d said our goodbyes, I totally panicked and broke down. I realized how alone I felt and longed for him to join me. Due to us working at the same company, my partner couldn’t take time off work to backpack alongside me, and I had to face the fact I was to go on this trip alone.
I think I cried the whole time I was in the airport and on the flight. I had never done anything like this before and I was terrified to spend two weeks alone in a foreign country. I feared something bad would happen to me or that I’d be really lonely and not enjoy the trip at all. Once the flight landed, I had to wipe away my tears and figure out how to get from the airport to my first booked accommodation in Dubrovnik. I soon realized the place I had booked was actually quite tricky to get to from the airport by public transport. On day 1, this meant breaking my budget to get a coach followed by a taxi.
Once I arrived at my lodging, I had the chance to sit down in my own space that wasn’t in a crowded airport or on a cramped flight. I was able to sit on the bed, open the window to the stunning view and take a moment to appreciate what I had achieved so far. I began to feel proud of myself. I could have so easily let fear and anxiety take over me and cancel the whole trip. Instead, I’d made it here, and I was sitting staring at my bucket list, right in front of me waiting to be ticked. It was from that point on I started to gain confidence and determination.
After a freshen-up and unpack, I headed into Dubrovnik and started to enjoy the sights there was to see. I even plucked up the courage to head to a fancy restaurant and ask for a table for one. I read my book in front of the marina and soaked in the scenery. I started to catch a glimpse of how spending time with myself could actually be quite a nice experience.
The following couple of days, I spent some more time exploring Dubrovnik. I got a map, planned my days and headed out on my adventure. Within these two days in the city, I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone and ended up cliff jumping with a group of people I’d bumped into as I was sunbathing on a rock face that was apparently perfect for that activity. Although I was feeling more comfortable in my surroundings, I don’t think the fear or anxiety ever truly went away until I got back home.
After leaving Dubrovnik, I had eleven days left of exploring to do. This consisted of quite a bit of travel, island hopping, and heading toward the north. Within these ten or so days, I achieved and learned so much. I let loose, booked many activities and tours, met some amazing people I still chat with today and learned to enjoy spending time in my own company. Below I have listed some tips for other female travelers who may be heading out on their first solo adventure, I think these learnings really helped me make that two weeks special, safe and enjoyable.
- Booking things in advance takes a lot of stress away and also gives you the motivation to get out of bed and get where you need to be.
- There’s no shame in asking for a table for 1!
- Pack some books or other entertainment. Time can move slowly when you’re own so it’s nice to have something to do.
- There are so many other solo travelers out there who are also looking to chat, make friends or travel some of your journey with you.
- Call home often to let your loved ones know you’re safe but don’t become overly reliant on connecting with them. Try to make connections with the people around you.
- If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, be sure to trust your gut and leave the scene. I sometimes felt that the hostels I’d booked didn’t go with my vibe so I asked for a single room or booked another place.
- Believe in yourself and do what you want to do. Enjoy the fact you’re not with a friend or family member negotiating over plans you don’t want to do.
- Although you may have a tight budget, try to be free and adventurous with your plans. I went river rafting for the first time, kayaking, on a waterfall tour and more! This trip is now one of my favorites ever.
- If you feel overwhelmed and can’t keep up with your own schedule, take some time out. It’s important to go at your own pace.
- Don’t be embarrassed to take loads of selfies or ask others to take photos of you. I took a billion and I LOVE looking back at these memories!
- Make people watching a new hobby. It is important to be aware of your surroundings but it’s also great for spotting other solo travelers or friendship groups that look really welcoming.
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Photos: Anna Ashbarry