I prepared for my 9-week solo trip about a year in advance and actually surprised myself by deciding to do it. One Sunday afternoon, my husband and I were taking a walk and I told him how much I really wanted to go to Europe before we have kids. I grew up listening to my parents’ stories about when they lived in Germany when my dad was in the army and I always envisioned myself going to Europe to visit my relatives there.
I expressed my frustration with Junkyu that he never has time off work and told him that if I wanted to go to Europe and see all the places I really wanted to see, it’d take me two months at least. He told me, “So go by yourself for two months.” I thought he was kidding. It wasn’t realistic. I’d live alone abroad before but I’d never really traveled alone. Could I really do something that extreme?
His encouragement and my desperation to go gave me the push I needed to start looking into solo travel. I knew people who were solo travel advocates, so I contacted them about their experiences traveling alone in Europe. They all encouraged me and gave me great advice about free things to do, the best time/season to go where, good hostels, etc.
Hostels. That was another thing I was concerned about. I’d never stayed in one before and had read books about people sleeping in dirty rooms on the floor with people they didn’t know and that had solidified my image of a hostel as a cheap, crappy place where only the people who couldn’t afford hotels slept. How wrong I was. I started looking at hostels and reviews and was ecstatic to find out that hostels, while a budget option, are often designed for solo travelers and people who want to make friends and memories.
On YouTube, I found videos made by solo travelers who stay in hostels and their stories got me excited for the freedom solo budget travel can entail. I started picturing myself with a huge backpack like the one Rory and Lorelai wear on their way back from their trip around Europe and started to panic. What would I bring for a 9-week trip? My husband and I load up the car just for one-day outings – how would I be able to take everything I needed in one bag, as many people recommended doing?
I researched backpack brands and sizes for weeks, exasperating my husband by asking him what color or style he thought I should choose. “Can you just buy one and stop talking about this already?” he asked one day after I pushed my laptop at him with yet another picture of a bag I’d had my eye on. Unfortunately, in Korea, the bag I wanted wasn’t sold at any nearby stores, and I really wanted to test it out in the store or at least see it in person before I made a decision.
Thankfully, we were in the States for our American wedding when I was planning this part of my trip, so I went to REI with my mom and got to see all the Osprey bags I’d been drooling over for months. I chose my backpack – the Fairview 40 in Rainforest Green – and the real planning could begin. I tested her out by using her as my carry-on for our flight back to Korea and still had doubts that I could pack everything I needed for 2 months in this one bag. Junkyu helped me name her, though. Fiona – like from Shrek!
Then I bought lots of travel guides, watch a million travel videos on YouTube, and became a Rick Steves fan. I decided I’d book my hostels and my main transportation methods between cities in advance but leave mostly everything else until I got on the ground in Europe. I knew I had to book a few other things early, like Broadway tickets in London and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. But I didn’t want to lock myself into a specific day-to-day plan until I knew how I felt being there.
I also decided my budget would be about €100/day including accommodation, food, activities, transportation, etc. I tracked how much I spent each day and it averaged out to be about that much. I planned to stick to my budget as much as possible, but I didn’t want to limit myself completely from doing things because of money. Before my trip, I worked for a year teaching English at an engineering company. Junkyu and I agreed that I’d be able to save everything I made working there for my trip. He’s the best.
As my trip approached, I began to get nervous about it. It was a constant roller coaster of emotions, from “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!” to “Am I actually doing this?” and I was simultaneously proud of myself and scared. I bought travel insurance just in case. I contacted my friends in Europe to ask if they’d have time to see me, in case I got sick of being alone.
One of my best friends actually lives in London, and she was kind enough to invite me to stay with her, so that’s where I started my trip. I decided it’d be better to start in an English-speaking country where I knew someone who could show me around than to plop myself in a totally new place alone. I also wondered about those German relatives I’d been told I had. I started learning German about a year before my trip and a few months before I left, my dad gave me some old addresses he found.
I ended up writing a letter in German to my relatives, asking if they’d be able to see me and telling them of my plan to visit the Munich area where they (hopefully) lived. A good month went by before I heard anything, and then suddenly one day a letter was in my mailbox, postmarked from Germany! It was my dad’s cousin, telling me he’d be delighted to see me and to email him so we could work out the details. He told me that he’d seen pictures of me and said I look just like the rest of the family. I was so excited and anxious to meet as many of my family members as possible.
He booked a hotel for me and we agreed on a meeting place and time, and before I knew it, my trip was about to begin. I spread out all my clothes and toiletries, two pairs of shoes, electronics, a journal, and more on my living room floor and Skyped with Jessica, maid-of-honor at my wedding. I held up articles of clothing for her to see and she told me what to put in my bag, which seemed like it had shrunk two sizes since I bought it. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to get it under the weight limit for all the cheap plane trips I’d booked.
I eventually got everything into my bag, reminding myself that Europeans have clothing stores and drug stores, too, and before I knew it, I was at Incheon Airport, ready to take off.