Story and photos by James Middleton
Traveling alone can be frightening, especially when venturing into a country where the language is foreign. I first experienced this when I traveled solo to Munich, Germany, for three days. I was lost in an unfamiliar country in the middle of the pandemic with no concrete plan or knowledge of what to do next. Initially, I thought flying to Germany would help me better understand and experience a culture that was part of my background, even though I do not speak or understand German. The language barrier proved challenging at the beginning of the trip, but I managed to ease my discomfort and achieve my goal of exploring my German heritage through conversations with locals. I have outlined a few tips that I crafted from my experience abroad to ensure that your solo excursions around the world run smoothly, and that you experience all that traveling has to offer.
Overlook your fears about interacting with locals. I was anxious to ask locals for help or recommendations on where to eat. However, with the right attitude and enthusiasm to learn more about their country, nine times out of ten, you will find someone willing to help. I remember my first interaction with locals when I came out of the airport, starving and looking for food. I decided to walk into the nearest pretzel shop, or Brezel, as the Germans say, to buy myself a snack. With my dead phone and my feeble German skills, I smiled politely at the shopkeeper and asked to try a pretzel by pointing at it. Most of the time, your non-verbal body language will get across to just about anyone; the lady was kind enough to help me, even teaching me how to correctly pronounce the snack I wanted in German. It was so good that I went and ordered another one.
Stay at a hostel! Trust me, this decision will improve your experience significantly. Not only is the price much more affordable than hotels in the area, but hostels allow you to easily meet other travelers who can help you navigate the city. Also, most hostel guests speak English, so it was a breath of fresh air for me to communicate without needing Google Translate as a middleman. The bed may feel small, but remember that this is only a place to sleep, and the majority of your time spent will be exploring all the city has to offer. The staff are very welcoming, often recommending local places to eat or explore such as one recommendation to drink at the Hofbräuhaus, the oldest brewery in Munich. Their helpful tips allowed me to plan my days in detail rather than just spontaneously walking around.
On the topic of planning your itineraries, make sure to plan more extensive excursions ahead of time. As I mentioned, I often meandered through the cities of Germany, with no real plan of where to eat or what to see. However, I pinpointed one prominent place I wanted to travel to outside of Munich: Fussen, Germany. The train ride there cut through the German countryside, making it feel like I was on a movie set for The Sound of Music. Fussen has breathtaking views and also hosts the original castle of Mad King Ludwig, which the Disney Castle is modeled after. Planning to go on one or two main excursions allows you to structure your trip better and save a lot of money on train tickets or other necessities. Europe can be cheap and easy to explore using the right methods, such as traveling on weeks when tourism is at its lowest point, scheduling trips late at night or early in the morning, and getting lots of sleep while traveling. This allowed me to experience places like Fussen for a fraction of the regular tourist season cost.
All in all, the main thing to remember when traveling alone is to harness your excitement and to have an open mind. Try the local cuisine, wander into the unknown parks, book a bed at a hostel, and constantly introduce yourself to other travelers. When you throw yourself into these new experiences and put yourself out there, you never know who you may meet or what you may experience. However, always travel with a hint of caution. I hope anyone planning a trip to Europe or elsewhere feels more comfortable and ready to do so. Happy traveling!
The story is featured in VOL 7 ISSUE 2 SPRING 2023 (Print Edition).