I have always wanted to do a solo trip and now was my chance! I even had two people tell me, “Oh wow london for the long weekend I want to go with you!” And I flat out told them, “No.” They can’t come. This is MY solo trip and I’m going it alone! However, I was very tempted to let them join me. I mean, all by myself?? What was I going to do all day? Who would I talk to? Who would I eat and drink with? Well, I wasn’t sure. But I’ve always heard traveling alone is a fantastically liberating experience and it must be done at some point in your life. And I was hell bent on checking that off my to-do list.
Last minute a friend of mine offered to set me up with a friend of theirs in London that I could stay with for a few days so that I wouldn’t have to stay in a hostel the entire time. While I do love hostels, they’re cheap, fun, and would’ve actually preferred to stay in one the entire time, London is freaking expensive. Even the hostels, so I thought this would be a great idea to save some money. 2 nights with a buddy, 2 nights in a hostel. How financially responsible of me! WRONG. I thought it’d be fun staying with someone who lives in the city that can show me around a bit, plus I’ll save like $100! A buck is a buck right?! Well, I wish I could go back and pay that 100 bones right now. This person was so annoying and clingy I wanted to bash my head threw a wall. I had established, or so I had thought, how I wanted to spend my time. I would appreciate a little tour guiding but primarily plan on flying solo. Well, lesson learned. And that is, despite that fact that I do enjoy a large portion of the population, some people do bother me. A LOT. Especially know-it-alls who do not, in fact, know much at all. So! Next time, stay in a hostel. Luckily, despite this bump in the road, I was in London, LONDONTOWN!! (Yew sahnd lack yuh from LUN-DUN!! 100 points for whoever gets that reference!) And I was off like Mary Tyler Moore in Central Park, except I was in London, and loving it!
I have to admit first of all though, I definitely made some mistakes on my first solo trip. I thought I had planned out as much as I could, wrong again. Your to-do list can be a million miles long, mine might have as well have been, but it’ll do you no good unless you figure out which things are near which, well ahead of time, and group them together. (DUH. Face-palm.) Not having a proper map of where all these places were the first few days (since I didn’t stay in a hostel right off) was a huge fail. I went back and forth across the city more times than I’d like to admit hunting down spots I was dead-set on seeing. Another fail was when I ended up taking the tube back to Heathrow on the way back. My flight was so early in the morning that the tube didn’t run early enough to catch my flight in time, so I had to take it the night before, but because it was so late at night, when it came to cash out my oystercard (subway pass that you put $ on to use it) the kiosk thing was already close by the time I arrived to the airport! So I wasn’t even able to get my surplus money back! Lesson learned, splurge for the shuttle and don’t sleep in the airport. Or if you’re going to be that stingy maybe you should pick a cheaper city. (You think!?) London is not the place for saving a buck.
But despite all my fails, I had an incredible time. There is SO MUCH to do and see in London, it’s impossible to fit it all into 4 days. If I stayed for two weeks I still would have wanted to stay longer. What I did see of it though was beautiful and enchanting. The different neighborhoods, the shops, the bars, the food, the markets, the sites. Even the tube was really fun to people watch in. I think I got an abnormal amount of satisfaction coasting along alone in the tube, headphones in, observing the average day commuters.
Borrough Market is full of all different types FOOD! Of course I had to try something I’ve never had before and opted for a kangaroo burger. Yep, kangaroo. And yes I do think they’re cute and cuddly and am all about saving animals, but, I’m all about eating them too. I am the dominate species, therefore, I shall eat you. Haha.
Some of my faves from Camden Lock, Portobello, and Borrough Markets…
Although, while I fell in love with many parts of London, my travel heart was surprisingly stolen by Trafalgar Square. I know everyone says it’s so touristy, blah blah blah, I know that, and they’re usually right, typically I don’t like the super touristy spots. Because I feel like a cheesy tourist. But I loved it. I thought it was beautiful. Plus there’s this one street at the foot of the square that when you look beyond the foreground you can see Big Ben peaking above the busy streets. It was the first time I’d seen it in person and it felt really special. I actually stood there for a moment and smiled to myself. (I know, I’m a dork.) I took a picture of it while I was standing on a island in the middle of the street, it’s sort of a weird intersection, and it’s my favorite picture from the trip. (It’s also the very first photo I included in this post) I guess because in it you can see the buildings on either side, all the traffic, cabs, buses, a theatre marquis, the quintessential red phone booth, people walking on the sidewalks. It’s perfect!
Something else that may have swayed Trafalgar as my favorite spot, is that my new favorite museum of all time, The National Gallery, is perched atop it, like the crown jewel it is. Claude, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Monet, Boticelli, so many incredible artists and really notable pieces are on display here. (Don’t be fooled, I don’t have this good of a memory, I looked all these names up just now because I forget everything!)
And these aren’t even all the ones I loved. There was this one piece by Georges Seurat, and the whole picture is made of little tiny dots. It’s a technique called “stipple.” The painting is of children cooling off next to the Seine river in Paris. It’s mindbending how a person can create something so enormous and beautiful, and makes you sit and stare for awhile. It really captures you. I took my time here, and it was well spent.
After wandering this grandiosity of a museum, sitting in the middle of Trafalgar square, in one of the most important, coolest cities on the planet, I felt humbled, excited, and inspired. To see places like this, it just ignites your desire to see more of the world. It’s like, “Look how amazing this place is! What else is out there?”
So now that I’ve talked about a few of my favorite places, I want to talk about some one of my favorite nights.
I met someone in Italy over the holidays who I didn’t get to spend much time with, it was New Year’s Eve, in Rome, and our friends were going separate ways. So we exchanged contact info and kept in touch. Being that he lives in London we met up and went out with his friends in the city. Which sounds average, but being able to step into another group of friends, who live in London, was pretty cool. Usually when you’re traveling you meet odds and ends of people and you sort of wind up forming your own group, so this was a nice departure from that. At home I’m usually the one inviting people to join my crew, being that I had lived there my whole life. So even though it was a little intimidating at first, it was nice being the newcomer. We met his friends in a bar that looked like maybe a barn from back in the day that had been renovated into a dark pub, with low wooden ceilings and old brass fixtures. Super British!
After a few beers we went out to eat in Coven Garden. I remember distinctly a certain moment. Sitting there, everyone chatting easily, leaning back feeling relaxed in my seat, and being so pleasantly surprised how easy everything felt. Their friends laughing casually over various conversations, and lazily holding hands, smiling and talking, with my friend sitting across from me. Just feeling peaceful, really. It kind of reminded me of being home with my own friends. Hanging around, taking our time, cracking up over stupid jokes and things that we tease each other over from years ago.
Before we all said goodnight everyone went to kiss each other goodbye. Some of them, being originally from Italy, went to “dos beso” us all. Well, in Spain, we start on the left. And apparently, as I’ve learned, Italians start on the right! So, I almost kissed like 3 people. Luckily they had a good sense of humor about it!
My second favorite night was the first night in my hostel. I was so ready to rock out after days of running around, sight seeing, getting lost, and being annoyed with my host, I was ready to go! I made a few friends when I arrived in my room and we decided to check out a Jack the Ripper night tour. Creepy, and so up my alley! So on the walk to meet the tour group of course it starts pouring rain. It was raining so hard that we said screw the tour, lets go get some drinks, round up a fun group at the hostel and hit the pubs! This couldn’t have been a better hostel to meet people. If you ever go to London, do yourself a favor and stay at the Walrus. You’ll be glad you did. The downstairs is full of ottomans and couches made for people to lounge around and mingle in. We met some other girls who lived outside prague and they taught us all a few funny phrases in Czech before we tubed it to Camdentown to find a fun spot for drinks. We hopped around a bit before stumbling into a pub jam-packed with people, the music loud, and the beer-a-flowin’. We probably took one too many shots but we had a ball making new friends and dancing the night away!
Traveling solo was good for me in so many ways. Not only do I know that I can do it, survive, and be responsible for myself (and if you know who I am, you know that I forget things all the time, and have a bad habit of letting myself be pretty absent-minded when I know that someone else will pick up the slack where I leave off). And even better, that I even have a pretty good time alone. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Which was pretty liberating. I could wander the museums for as long as I pleased. I went to the British Museum and explored the Asian history section for an hour. I never would have been able to stay that long with anyone but myself. I could just stay in peace. I started talking to this old guy who was gawking over the same intricately built white pot I was gawking over. The pot was made of tiny individual clay leaves, it was beautiful. Small connections like that are what make the days a little extra special when traveling solo.
And while I’m raving on here how great it is to be alone, I have to say there were still moments when I was like, “Dang, I kind of wish I had a buddy for this.” So I have some quirks to work out. But that’s okay. Like staying in a hostel alone, for example, before I got there, I was a little nervous! I had never had to make friends while traveling alone before. While I had enjoyed my time spent with company at this point, I still wanted to go out and have a proper London pub night without someone intending to look after me. I adore my Rome friend and maybe I’ll see him again some day, but there’s a large part of me that really enjoys flying solo. No pun intended. And it’s not that I’m trying to mingle with every hot British guy (then again… I’m not NOT trying to either :P). But I can’t help it, I’m a free spirit, and I don’t like commitment (heck, I’ve been trying to book a flight home for the past two weeks and I just can’t do it! Round trip or not to round trip? How long should I stay after my course is through? What if I want to travel on the way back and fly somewhere else first?). I enjoy the freedom of roaming on my own.
So while yes, sometimes I’d get nervous, frustrated when lost, and wish I had someone to sit and have a long lunch with at times, I enjoyed the solo moments more than I wished I had a constant companion. Enough to absolutely do it again. And I plan on it. I’ve heard this so many times and it’s so true. You meet so many fantastic people when you’re alone, people that you may not have had the opportunity to otherwise. It’s really, really fun!
London left a dent in my heart and I hope that one day I’ll return. I’m sure I’ll still endure a few fails along the way but that’s okay, makes for some good stories and dully noted lessons. After all what good is traveling if you don’t learn a thing or two along the way?