“Don’t you ever get scared?” Asks everyone whenever I tell them that I travel solo.
And honestly, the answer is no.
Fortunately, I have encountered very few problems during my time travelling solo, both aged 21 and over the past year, aged 28. Sure, there was the man who squeezed my bum at a Lisbon train station, and the guy who followed me through a park in Berlin in broad daylight, but these things could – and do – happen in my hometown, too.
And of course, it’s not just potential criminal acts that leave people apprehensive about solo travel. Navigating overseas public transport, sitting in restaurants, and going on excursions are also activities that people often inform me that they would not feel comfortable doing in solitude.
Do you know what scares me more than the risks, and the self-diagnosed awkwardness of being alone? Living a life without fulfilment and purpose.
Solo travel is such a huge part of my life.
I’m not prepared to put my desire to explore this big, beautiful world on hold because I ‘might’ get mugged, or somebody I will never see again ‘might’ think it odd that I’m sat in a restaurant on my own.
Solo travel has, over the years, made me a hell of a lot braver and more confident than I ever imagined I could be. Above all, it has birthed such immense deep-routed happiness and overwhelming creativity. My solo travels have inspired me extensively, both in my writing and my day-to-day existence.
Travelling alone has taught me so much about myself. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone time and time again, taken a leap of faith... And I haven’t been disappointed by what I have found while free-falling through this miraculous liberty!
Harder Kulm, Switzerland ❤️
I love the person I am when I’m embarking upon a new adventure with myself.
As individuals, we have the potential to constantly change and mentally stimulate our minds. The more knowledge we gain - be it via insights into ourselves, or the world around us - the richer we become. Experience in itself is wealth, and knowledge is most certainly the power of the mind.
I'm addicted to immersing myself in new places, hearing the stories of the people I meet, tasting the local food and savoring every mouthful... I just want to dive head-first into the world and never resurface. I want it all. I want the private treasure chest of my mind to explode with things that have left me spellbound; the people, the places, the sights, the sounds, the food, the words I've written, the lines I've read, the music I've devoured...
It’s important that we give our minds the room to evolve. It’s SO beneficial to our wellbeing to just slow down, hit the pause button, and get to know ourselves away from the ever-rolling rat-race of the outside world.
The voices and often unwelcome inputs of those around us and the suppressing influence of the media can completely stunt our emotional growth.
Bern, Switzerland ❤️
For me, solo travel is an opportunity to just firmly eschew everything that doesn’t bring me joy or enrich my time. I see the world differently when I’m alone.
Of course, I get variable levels of this zen outside of my solo trips too, for example when I go for a run, or a long walk in the country, but there’s something so cleansing about being totally alone with yourself, miles from your 'norm.'
I always feel so refreshed after my solo travels. It may sound like a bad cliché, but solo travel leaves me feeling as though I can see clearly again. Spending that time with myself reminds me what's important, and what really isn't.
One of my biggest pet hates is when people misunderstand my solo travels and say things like, “Aw, such a shame that you had to go on your own. Didn’t any of your friends want to go?”
Oh my days, like seriously!
Even if my second husband turned out to be a Richard Madden x Alex Turner hybrid, (ooof 🤤) I would still opt to travel alone.
I honestly believe that until you have tried it yourself, you will never appreciate how bloody life-affirming solo travel really is! You will never look back!
Sassin' in Stockholm! ❤️
And even when things don’t go according to plan during my solo travels, I put the experience down to ‘character building,’ as I discovered in Belgium last week...
While in Belgium, I encountered what was probably my biggest travelling nightmare to date. (Yep, even worse than the time my Parisian hotel had an all-night power-cut and I spent 5 hours sat on the pavement outside, alongside a cuddly toy Mike Wazowski and 400 other angry guests...)
Upon completing the Half Marathon (1:32!! Did I mention that I ran it in 1:32?! 🤣), I took my phone out of my bag to see a stream of ‘Approve your recent online transaction now’ notifications from my banking app, alongside several missed calls from a random 0800 number, which I later found out to be the Natwest Fraud Line.
Approve my recent online purchases? This automatically raised alarm bells; I wasn’t exactly browsing through Shein while running 13 miles, was I?!
I called Natwest straight away.
“We’d just like to go through a few recent transactions, if that’s okay?” Said the lady on the Fraud Line.
Well, this was a painful experience.
“H&M – location: Brugge?”
No brainer. Obvs that was me, although the last thing I needed was a detailed reminder of how much I’d splurged in there.
“Hawaiian Poke Bowl, in Brussels?”
“Haagen Dasz, Brussels?”
“Godiva? Gourmet Chocolatier Belge? Galler Chocolatier?”
Check, check, check.
Shit, had I really visited that many chocolatiers?
Leave me alone, I’m an anorexic on a rare chocolate binge, okay?!
“...And 22 payments to Only Fans this morning?”
“Only Fans? No, that was definitely not me,” I stated.
I mean really, who is sat there making 22 payments to Only Fans? Waterstones – yeah, maybe. Hobbycraft – deffo. But bloody Only Fans?
Only I could be financially pimped out by a perve.
Fraud had been detected and confirmed, and so my card was subsequently blocked. Leaving me with 60 euro in cash. The taxi fare from Brussels to Charleroi Airport is 200 euro alone, and naturally, my Uber account was also now totally inactive as I had no other card to link it with. Mint.
So what on earth was I going to do?
I’ll tell you exactly what I did.
I stayed up all night on Sunday – after 3.5 hours sleep the night before, and following a Half Marathon – and left the hotel at 2:30am.
My lovely hotel host, Mario, very, VERY kindly booked (and paid for) a taxi for me on his own Uber app, and even waited up to ensure the taxi arrived.
I took the taxi to Brussels Midi train station, which doesn’t exactly scream the best reputation... You only have to Google its name to see it linked to comments such as, ‘Major crime wave,’ and ‘Extra police after sharp increase in theft.’
Hell, there’s even a Change.org group dedicated to a call for the station to be made safer for women travelling alone, due to frequent incidents.
I actually came face to face with a human shit on the stairs while returning from the race at 12pm on Sunday. I mean, if that’s the sort of carry-on that casually makes an appearance at midday, I really was not optimistic about spending time there in the small hours!
Once at this charming train station, I had a half hour wait outside for the airport bus to arrive. At 16 euro, it was peanuts, and my leftover cash covered the fare.
I have to admit that actually, I was a little nervous at the prospect of waiting for the bus.
My taxi driver was a true gentleman, and made sure that there were other people at the bus stop before he left me. I couldn’t have been more grateful to him or Mario for their stellar efforts to keep me as safe as possible that night.
One of the remarkable things about solo travel is that despite the solitude you may be seeking, help and kindness can always be found, even in the unlikeliest of places. And that fact alone is enough to restore your faith in humanity.
My thanks to the taxi driver were interrupted by a homeless man pacing the front of the station, repeatedly and aggressively yelling, “EHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” Remember ‘Anne’ from Little Britain? Well, those were the vibes I was getting. Great stuff.
It was like a game of ‘disreputable bingo’ outside that bloody station at 2:30am.
Local drunk making random sounds and intermittently violently throwing up. Bingo.
A handful of beggars holding out their hands for money. Bingo.
Old, stooped, toothless lady like something out of Hanzel & Gretal, tottering around with a gnarled old walking stick, giving out roses. Bingo.
Annnnd it’s a full house. 😑
I was just relieved that I was surrounded by other airport-goers, who all looked as horrified as I felt. We silently congregated closer and closer together as the time passed, seeking safety in our numbers.
Jeez, writing this all down makes the ordeal sound a bit like the plot to a Lara Croft film!
Although at the time, I felt less Lara Croft and more like that grumpy old sock that lived in a drawer in that trippy kid’s programme, Wizadora. (DON’T Google it – it will haunt you for weeks. The fact that I used to love that show as a kid probably explains why I ended up with OCD, anorexia and a mild panic disorder.) 🤣
The airport bus arrived on time, thank God.
I sat next to a French guy who spent the hour-long journey on the phone to his girlfriend. He was speaking to her in English and literally, I think they are my new fave couple. Forget Ben & J-Lo.
“You can’t talk about marriage as in, it will happen in one month, or two month, It doesn’t happen like this. It’s a feeling. You will know when it’s right,” he said. 🥺 (I refrained from yelling, "DON'T DO IT!!!!" 🤣)
Usually, I can’t be doing with loud phone calls on public transport, especially not at 3-basatrd-am, but his lovely accent was sending me to sleep. I promise I wasn’t ear-wigging, but it’s kinda hard not to when you’re sat next to the only sound being made on a bus of 50 snoozing passengers. It was better than listening to the man behind me sleep-talk about Anton du Beke (true story).
I genuinely nearly kissed the floor once we arrived at Chaleroi Airport. I’d made it!!!!
I mean, I still had a Ryanair flight to negotiate, so whether or not I’d actually make it home this side of the next millennium was debatable, but I had survived fraud and Brussels Midi at 2:30am, and that was triumph enough!
Now, had I been presented with the possibility of this entire situation prior to my trip, I would have had a full-on meltdown. I’m an OCD anorexic; I think it goes without saying that I can only function when things are in STRICT order!
I am exhausting in my efforts to ensure every eventuality is covered, AT ALL TIMES.
I always scope out the contact numbers for the local British Embassy wherever I go, just in case. I carry not just one, but two portable phone chargers. I get the doctors to prescribe me spare antibiotics, lest I get a kidney infection while travelling (the last thing I want is a repeat of Hungary... I swear by the fact that I nearly died).
Surprisingly, finding myself slap-bang in the middle of my fraud-situ didn’t stress me out half as much as I thought it would.
Annoying, it obviously was, but I didn’t waste time dwelling on it or worrying about it. Once the bank had frozen my card, I headed off on my merry way to make the most of my last day in Belgium, stretching my remaining 60 euro as far as they would go.
Because what could I do, really? Nothing.
And what’s the point in worrying about something that I can’t control?
My Belgian fiasco was not only a story to tell, but also another life-lesson: sometimes, you just can’t prevent things from happening, no matter how meticulously you try to control and plan.
Solo travel has been sneakily working its magic in this department for years.
While I’m away, I’m so at one with myself that I actually often forget to listen to the voice of anorexia. I am so keen to experience the local foods of my latest travel conquests that my anorexia gets a firm backhander as soon as it starts to whisper its spells. (One of my favourite things about my solo trips is finding a hidden gem of a restaurant over-spilling with locals, where I can just sit, eat and write while soaking up the atmosphere and revelling in the buzz of the foreign voices around me.)
My love of arriving in a brand new place and just getting lost without a map to hand is also a gentle reminder that, while travelling, I seem able to shed my usual need for stiff control.
The first time I travelled solo - back in my early 20's - I was running away from myself. Now, when I travel solo, I'm running to myself - to the version of me I like the most.
And so to conclude, I just want to emphasise my point that solo travel beholds the power to make us into the very best versions of ourselves. Because you never really know yourself until you’re alone with you, striving, overcoming boundaries you never imagined possible... And living.
Salzburg, Austria ❤️
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©