Solo traveled 4665.8 kilometers by trains, buses, and trams.
Walked, hiked, and ran 436.12 kilometers.
Stayed in 17 different homes/apartments/hotels.
Explored 9 lovely countries (+3 for layovers and border crossings) in 36 days.
I’m thankful for surviving another crazy trip and for bringing home beautiful lessons that would definitely stay with me for a longer time than my total # of bus hours. Hopefully this list would encourage you to explore the world (and even try solo traveling):
2. Traveling is not about ticking off your guidebook's must-see destinations and increasing your tally of 'visited countries in this lifetime.'
The best part of traveling will always be experiencing the place, having a great time, getting to know the people and culture, and learning things that would stay with you for a long long time.
3. Traveling alone is the best way to like and hate yourself, all at the same time.
You picked the right hiking route? You gotta pat yourself on the back. You took the wrong train? Thank yourself too. It's all about you and your decisions. You just need to trust yourself ;-)
4. Kindness transcends everything, even language barrier.
In laid-back Nova Varos town in Serbia, I had the hardest time communicating because only few people were fluent in English. But this is the place where I found the kindest and friendliest people. I was offered free lifts, alcohol, baklava, discotheque company, and other small things, even if most of the time, we were only communicating via sign language and Google Translate.
5. Learn to trust and distrust Google Maps.
This precious app can save and break you. It will know (or assume to know) the best route to choose, which train to take, and create an invisible road to make you curse for a long time. In Budapest, I almost missed my bus because it suggested a non-existent bus line to get me to the bus terminal. But of course, I wouldn't survive my explorations without my genius best friend, dear Google Maps ;-)
6. And if you can't completely trust Google Maps, you should only trust the weather forecast 30% of the time. 'It will rain’ but the sun will definitely come out. It will be hot but be prepared to get chilly. Be prepared for the worst.
7. Toilets in Europe are more expensive than subzero beers in Asia.
So be sure to plan your toilet breaks and alcohol binge if you don't want to deplete your food budget.
8. If you're Asian and you're so used to eating rice and flavourful food, Central European food will only be good for your stomach for a while. Learn how to look at the brighter side of things: they have the best beer in the planet.
9. Preparation is the king.
If you booked Airbnbs and apartments on top of hills, be sure to hit the stairmaster or do cardio exercises months before your trip. Walking with your heavy backpack under the scorching heat of the sun is no joke. And paying taxi in Euro currency (converted from your powerless third world country currency) will leave you even more breathless.
10. Hostels are not for old people.
It's hip. It's cool. It's the cheapest option. It's the best way to meet other travelers but I will not stay in a hostel again ;-P This is old Jazz speaking and I have already convinced myself that my inner peace requires decent amount of sleep, and a clean toilet. And no more bunk beds, por favor.
11. Traveling will make you meet extraordinary people.
In this trip, I've met so many awesome people whom I would not have met if I stayed in the comforts of my home, or if I traveled with my friends. I had the chance to meet a Bosnian war survivor who gave me Yugoslavian History 101, an old Slovenian woman who shared her travel stories around the world and made sure that I got off on the right bus stop, a Slovenian reserve army who's also a lawyer for labor union workers, an Egyptian basketball player who took the best top shots of me from 209cm above, a Czech waiter who gave me free alcohol and cake just because the Philippines is his favorite country, a Montenegrin military hospital doctor who toured me around Beograd for free, a group of American teens who gave me makeup tips, a German brewer who gave me a sneak peek about German beer, beer gardens, and German bad words, a fellow Filipino who takes badass photos, a novelist from UK who influenced me to try unicum and forced me to hit more than 30,000 steps that day, a group of Italian oldies who sang a Louis Armstrong song with me, a Spanish lawyer who shared cocktails with me during sunset, a Croatian robotics PHD student who showed a secret exit in touristy Dubrovnik, an Austrian dad who made my Austrian train ride shorter with his animated stories about his kids, and a bunch of other people who've made my trip so much fun and memorable!
12. Go for comfort before style. But still be a little bit stylish for the photos.
I wouldn't have been able to walk and hike 436 kilometers without the help of my trusty running shoes. My reliable pair didn't look good with my dresses, but it's ok. At least my feet are still intact :-P
13. Traveling can sometimes be the best way to promote your country.
In Serbia and Montenegro, it was as if I was the first Filipina traveler in those towns and cities. Most locals do not know anything about my country, except Manny Pacquiao and my notorious President. Yes, traveling is a great way to correct misconceptions about your country, brag about it like you're an ambassadress, and be the best example of your country. Who knows, maybe I was able to convince at least one person to visit my beautiful country ;)
14. I learned that I can also be beautiful and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
In my country, I am just average-looking. But whenever I travel, I feel like the ugly duckling in me was suddenly wiped out of my system. Sometimes being 'exotic' and being the lone Southeast Asian can be a great ego-booster. It's sometimes pretty to be called pretty too many times in one day. But it ain't funny when strangers offer you marriage proposals and stalk you on the way to your apartment.
15. Never trust estimated time of departures and estimated time of arrivals.
Buses and trains leave and arrive depending on the country, traffic jams, border controls, and drivers' moods. You'll never know until you get there.
16. Not everything will be answered by your trusty smartphone. Sometimes you gotta ask for help from real human beings too.
Asking won’t hurt you. Don't know where platform x is? Are you feeling lost? Are you confused if bus with n direction really exists? If you do not know or if you're unsure of something, ask around. And if you can, ask twice, even if the person you’re asking looks like the unfriendliest monster. You need to understand that in some cultures, smiling can only be witnessed once a year.
17. Sometimes having no plans is the best plan.
Maximizing your time in a city usually means seeing 30 places in one day, which can only be pleasant in photos but physically tiring in real life. Sometimes having slow days or doing nothing like relaxing in a park, reading a book, trying out local beer, getting lost in an old city, or napping in your apartment can be 100 times sweeter than checking out famous landmarks.
18. Stereotypes aren’t absolute truths.
You can't say that all citizens of a specific country have the same characteristics. Always be open to other ideas, experiences, and cultures.
19. As cliché as it may sound, it taught me to appreciate big and small things in life. I've learned to treat bidets, refrigerators, cheap food and fruit shake, smiling Asian people, white rice, subzero beer, free toilets, and small comforts back home like gems that are ought to be celebrated every time. But at the same time, I've seen the beauty of Austrian efficiency, classical music, and architecture, German frankness and environment-friendly initiatives, existence of European parks and trails, Serbian and Montenegronin kindness, and loads of history. The absence and presence will make you widen your perspective.
20. Solo traveling can get sad.
Maybe I'm getting old now, but there are occasional times when I felt sad while traveling. Sometimes I felt like those picturesque trails and romantic views would have been a million times more beautiful if they were shared with my loved ones. BUT!...
21. Still, solo traveling rocks!!!
I’ve never been called “brave” too many times in my life, except when I’m solo traveling. Yes, solo traveling requires a little bit of bravery. But most of the experience involves more than being fearless. You need to be crazy to be able to tolerate yourself 24/7, trust nothing but your own decisions 24/7, and be happy with or without other people— but definitely with yourself 24/7. Solo traveling can get lonely, but 80% of the time, it will push you to discover yourself, have fun, meet so many amazing people, do insane things that you don't normally do, and learn so much about this beautiful world.
And if my 21 learnings didn't convince you to travel, check out my post last year about my 45-day trip to Greece, Italy, Spain and France here.
Watch out for my blog about my adventures in Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia soon!
Follow me @fartherfurther