International Solo Travel - From A Female’s Perspective
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Travel has always piqued my interest, although I had been reluctant to travel on my own internationally. My brother is an avid learner who has a strong interest in personal development, growth, expansion of knowledge, and a heightened sense of cultural awareness. This greatly inspired me. I joined him on trips to Barcelona, Lisbon, and even China. He taught me the nuances of planning an international trip, organizational skills, and tools and resources to navigate new countries. My first solo international trip was to Chile for a friend’s destination wedding. The whole itinerary, including local transportation and accommodations, had been pre-arranged by my friend. All I needed to do was book the flight. There was no effort on my part to plan. Subsequent to this trip, I started taking more interest in travel but was still reluctant to plan it all on my own, let alone travel all by myself.
It wasn’t until I had lived independently in multiple cities and gained a better sense of self and independency that I soon realized to live for the moment. Why would I need to wait until my friends were available to book the European trip I had always dreamed of? For as long as I can recall, I have wanted to explore and travel to Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. The history, the art, the beauty, the class, the architecture, and the interplay between the old and new all appealed to me. I was also on my own path of self exploration, on my own path for personal development and cultivation of a more spontaneous, yet structured character. So, when I finally decided to book the trip alone, my family encouraged me. Granted, my parents were understandably anxious about my safety. Yet, despite this concern, they wholeheartedly encouraged me to pursue my passion and to explore another world outside of my own. They were excited for me, as was my brother, who encouraged and inspired me to take that leap of faith. Some even called me audacious to decide to travel to Europe alone. Ultimately, with that goal in mind, I requested 10 days vacation from work and for 3 months prior to my trip, I intently planned all of the details of my itinerary.
The first step was the daunting task of booking flights, accommodations, train tickets, and inter-European flights. I knew once I had those plans finalized, I was well on my way. The smaller details and tours within each country would be much more manageable. With that in mind, I took to Google and to Rick Steves’ guide books and soon enough, my flights and hotels were booked. There was no looking back now!
My first destination was Budapest, a city that so beautifully combines the old (Buda) with the new (Pest), and separated by the River Danube. Buda is home to the 13th century Matthias Church, the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the sweeping views of the city. The 19th century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district to the flat Pest. On the Pest side, the Jewish quarter offers a stark contrast between the historical quarter lined with ruins and old synagogues and the modern architecture. It also houses the famous thermal baths (I highly recommend the Szechenyi) and the beautiful neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building. During nighttime, I visited the many Christmas Markets. The best one is that held at St. Stephen’s Basilica with the lighting of the Christmas Tree and the amazing light show displayed on the facade of the Basilica every 30 minutes. Vendors sell the famous dish (Goulash) and hot wine, along with Chimney cakes, strudel, and many smaller souvenirs. The second day of my stay, I decided to join a group tour and met another solo female traveler from the South of France. To this day, we still message each other and, hopefully, once the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, we will plan to visit each other. I have not yet been to France, but it is definitely on my bucket list. We visited Heroes’ Square, which houses the towering pillar and Millennium Monument Complex that honors Hungary’s 7 founding figures and other national leaders. We finished the day with a river cruise on the Danube River while enjoying a nice cup of hot wine on a cold winter afternoon.
The next stop on my tour was Vienna. Traveling on the European train system offered a relaxing view of the beautiful countryside and landscape. Once I reached Vienna, I felt like I was in the middle of a fairytale with beautiful and grande architecture. Its focus on the arts, music, and culture is even reflected in its architecture. Home to residents such as Beethoven and Mozart, it houses the beautiful Shonbrunn Palace, the Habsburg’s summer residence. I couldn’t visit without making sure to enjoy a symphony orchestra concert at the Palace preceded by a dinner at a nearby restaurant. At night, I stood outside Cafe Sacher in the long line to taste their famous Sacher Torte (chocolate cake from the 1800s). Suffice it to say, it was well worth the wait! In the city center, stood the majestic St. Stephen’s Basilica with its ornate tile roof which contrasted with its gothically decorated interior. Horse drawn carriages sprawled the cobblestone streets. It truly is a romantic city. In keeping with the city’s artistic feel, Kunsthistorisches Museum is home to many of Caravaggio’s, Titian’s and Raphael’s art. The interior of the museum was itself an artistic masterpiece. After taking in the city’s beauty and grandeur, I decided to explore a different aspect of Austria’s beauty - its countryside. While in Vienna, I decided to cut my time short and take a day trip out to Salzburg for their famous Sound of Music bus tour. While the weather was dreary, the landscape was still breathtaking nonetheless. My time there was short lived, but hopefully one day, I will plan to revisit and fully take in the beauty of Salzburg’s terrain.
My last stop was Prague, quite easily now my favorite city. It reminded me of Budapest, but with a more modern appeal with its beautiful cobblestone alleys and streets. One could easily get lost in the serpentine streets lined with shops, art, and artistic Renaissance and neo-classical architecture. It is well known for Old Town Square, the heart of the medieval Astronomical Clock, baroque buildings, and gothic churches. Much like Budapest, it is also separated by a river, the Vltava, which separates the city from the hilly Prague Castle. The many church spires seen from the hilltop city viewpoints give the city its description as the “city of a hundred spires.” In the middle of Prague Castle stands St. Vitus Cathedral with its statuesque spires. If you plan on visiting, I would encourage you to enjoy the audio tour within the church for a wonderful overview of the city’s history and the church’s interior. What astonished me the most about the city is its beautiful interplay of Romanesque chapels, Gothic cathedrals, Baroque palaces, and Art Nouveau buildings, all represented oftentimes even in one town square. You don’t have to be a seasoned architect to appreciate the diversity of the city’s architecture. The city views are breathtaking from any observation deck. Prague embodied the musical acumen of Vienna (with many symphonies, concerts, and orchestras throughout the city) with the old and modern feel of Budapest. It truly offered the best of both worlds and was the best way to end my tour.
I am proud of myself for overcoming my reluctance and deciding to finally book the trip I had always dreamed of. Traveling alone has been one of the most eye-opening experiences. Immersing oneself in another world and culture and meeting people from all walks of life along the way is truly a worthwhile and fulfilling experience. If you have any qualms, especially as a female, of solo travel, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and take that leap of faith. With prudence and caution, you can plan the trip of a lifetime and learn so much along the way!
In my next blog, I will offer some tips on traveling solo (at least what I learned from this experience). Hopefully, some of you may find them helpful in some way :)