What’s the best way to travel? | Post-summer musings (procrastination)

My very long and very wonderful European summer has come and gone in the blink of an eye. I’m back in Logroño, about to enter my final 3 months of studies here and as I put off starting a UTS assignment, I can’t stop replaying the last 4 months in my head. I’m hardly the first privileged Australian twenty-something to cliff jump in Dubrovnik or pose with the white houses in Santorini, so I will spare you all the unoriginal details of how I ~found myself~ during a hallucinogenic drug trip and decided to stop wearing shoes to be more in touch with the Earth. Instead, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the different ways I travelled: alone, with a close friend or joining an organised tour. If you’re keen to travel but don’t know where to start, perhaps this will be useful. If not, it’s an excuse for me to live in the past for a little while longer before it’s back to reality.

Travelling solo

Travelling solo was never my first choice, but earlier this year as I grappled with a lonely existence in Logroño, I found myself in desperate need of a holiday to an English-speaking country, whether a friend could come with me or not. After reassuring my parents that I wasn’t going to get myself killed (but not being so convinced myself), in April I set off on my own to see the United Kingdom for 3 weeks. I had the absolute time of my life, turned into an Anglophile and my love for travelling solo was born. Later, I went on to see Amsterdam and some of Italy by myself and also enjoyed every moment.

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Travelling alone allows you to go at your own pace. If I didn’t feel like waking up early, I didn’t. If I didn’t feel like sightseeing in the afternoon and just wanted to watch British Netflix, I did. If I felt like spending the entire day in a museum making sure to read every bit of information, I did. I’ve never liked the pressure to pack every single day with different attractions while on a holiday, so I took things slowly and still felt like I saw everything I wanted to see. When you’re by yourself, there’s nobody to argue with about when and where to eat and nobody to drag you somewhere you don’t feel like going. Being able to do exactly what I wanted, whenever I wanted, definitely allowed me to choose my own adventure and leave a country with fantastic memories.

However, you may feel like you miss out on the full experience. As good as the days were, at night I really felt the downside of being a female solo traveller. I’d have a lonely dinner before it got dark outside, then I spent every single night in. This obviously means travelling solo is not ideal for places that are famous for nightlife, like Amsterdam, which I took on by myself in late May. Amsterdam was not intended to be a solo trip, but since someone who is no longer my friend cancelled on me 2 days before the trip, I decided not to waste the flight and accommodation and went anyway. I still had a wonderful time, but it would have been nice to safely walk through the Red Light District when the red lights were actually on. Of course, if you really hate your own company, it can be very easy to find people to be your companions when the sun goes down. For example, staying in hostels puts you bunk-to-bunk with people in the exact same boat as you are. However, being the princess I am and after a few too many hostel horror experiences, I sacrificed having someone to sit with at dinner for accommodation where I don’t have to wear shower shoes and lock up my belongings.

Travelling with one friend

The month of June was spent seeing the south of Spain and Portugal with a friend on exchange with me in Logroño. I also met up with a long-time friend visiting Europe from Sydney for the second half of my Italy trip at the end of August.

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Good company means good times. You make so many new memories with someone dear to you to reminisce about for years to come. You’ll never have to worry about being lonely or bored with someone you love right beside you to keep you busy. You also get a wider range of experiences as you join them on something you may not have tried otherwise. For example, I always try to steer clear of strenuous exercise, but after my friend dragged me up various cathedral bell towers and castles, I was grateful to her for my new tan, muscles and collection of picturesque panoramic photos.

It also helps to not suffer alone if misfortune should strike. When a problem arises, two brains are better than one. In Lisbon, we found ourselves locked out of our accommodation. I panicked and was convinced we’d be sleeping amongst the stray cats that night, while my friend kept a cool head and persevered with contacting our hosts. In Milan, I had a horrible bout of gastro (I’m off piña coladas for life), which I never would have got through without my friend there to provide me with Hydralyte and to reassure me that I wasn’t about to die, as much as I insisted otherwise. Good experiences are always enhanced with a friend to enjoy it with, while the bad experiences don’t feel so terrible with a loved one by your side.

However, it means spending every waking minute with just one person. Travelling can be tiring and frustrating, and after a long day of lugging around backpacks and boring bus trips to the next city, you’re at risk of taking out your frustrations on each other. I was extremely lucky to be travelling with level-headed and good-tempered friends, but unfortunately I can’t always say the same about myself. Today, I look back slightly embarrassed on times when a lift wasn’t working or accommodation turned out to be subpar and I carried on like it was the end of the world. If you’re easily annoyed like I am, you have to make sure you’re with somebody who knows you well and will understand that you didn’t mean what you said when you were hungry.

Travelling solo, but not alone (touring)

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To ring in September and farewell the summer, I flew straight from Naples to Athens to join my Topdeck tour of the Greek islands. I booked it on a whim early in the year when the Spanish winter was freezing my very soul and I was holding out for the sunshine. It’s not often that I don’t regret my past impulse buys, but it’s hard to imagine anything that could top those 10 days in Athens, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini.

By far the best thing about touring is making new friends. We were a group of 29, mainly Aussies but all very different: some from the city, some from the country, some travelling alone, some with a friend and some with a partner. Everyone was spectacular, but I was drawn to 5 other girls who were also travelling alone and we became fast friends. We ate together, swam together, shopped together, drank together and laughed ourselves stupid together the next morning about what unfolded when we drank together. I’m still stunned at how I managed to be on the exact same tour at the exact same time with a bunch of girls who are just like me, it’s almost like it was fate. I’m still in touch with them and we’re already planning reunions. I highly recommend tours to anybody who’s looking to make memories with brand new people, which is why you have to consider if you’re going to go by yourself with a friend. If you go by yourself, it’s important to put yourself out there, or you’ll have a pretty average time. If you go with someone, make sure you’re both social people who are both happy to leave your little bubble, otherwise you may as well save some cash and just travel with each other!

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The next best part is sitting back and relaxing knowing everything is under control. I am so relieved I chose to do a tour of Greece rather than figure it out myself, because while I have become very decent at travelling solo, I don’t think even I could have got myself to the ferries between the islands without any problems. With a very able local guide doing all the thinking for you, you’re free to relax with your new friends without worrying how you’re getting to your accommodation or where your next meal will be. You’ll never have to consult a map or ask an irritated shop-owner for directions. This is why touring is a particularly good option for someone who’s never travelled before and is nervous about it. But it’s also important to remember that some places, like the UK, are much easier to get around than Greece, so you could have just as good a time taking it on alone or with a friend.

The only problem I can think of with touring is that stress-free good times don’t come cheap. I paid a pretty penny for the tour, but today it feels like a small price to pay for the amount of fun I had. The price included our fantastic tour guide, accommodation, transport and some meals. You have to pay more during the tour if you want to do any of the optional day-trip activities, some of which are unmissable and everybody signs up for. Also, your tour guide will know the best places for shopping and there’s plenty of free time to do it, meaning it’s very difficult to leave empty-handed. If I chose to tour every time I travelled from now on, I’d be filing for bankruptcy before my 30th birthday. So I would definitely recommend trying a tour at some point in your life, but if you’re on a budget, choose it well!

SO, 8 countries and 32 cities later (not including the many day-trips), if I had to call it, I enjoyed my experience on tour the very most. I think it was particularly good for me because it was the first time all year I sat back and let someone else worry about getting from A to B, so it really was pure bliss, the exact way you’d want a holiday to be. But since I can look back on the entire 4 months with just as much nostalgia, I think travelling is best done in a few different ways as each one brings you different experiences and memories. If your head is in the right place, you’ll enjoy yourself no matter how you travel.

Now, it’s time to stop poring over photos of London pub feeds and Andalusian sunsets and try to get my brain working again. Actually getting back to the “study” part of study abroad won’t be easy, but I’ll push through it with one more trip to motivate me before the heinous 23 hour flight back to Sydney: Morocco…with Topdeck! 91 days to go!

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P.S. Why yes, that is Adam Devine and his girlfriend Chloe Bridges looking scared for their lives, after we hounded them for a photo in a Mykonos bar. And no, that wasn’t the drunkest I was all night.