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Solo Backpacking: Three Tips I Wish I Knew Before My First Trip

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kenyon chapter.

When people asked about my plans for this past summer, the first question I got was usually “Aren’t you nervous?” While there were definitely nervous thoughts in the back of my head, the thought of my first solo backpacking trip excited me enough to push those nerves away. For months I had been set on taking this trip alone, in order to truly spend time exploring my interests and myself. I spent the first part of my summer hopping around five countries in Europe, but spent about six months researching and preparing before hand. I read countless solo female traveller blogs with tips for backpacking alone, and had insights from my mom who spent years of her life backpacking which certainly helped. Despite my preparations, there were definitely some things I wish I knew more about beforehand. Although I wouldn’t change how I went about my first trip, here are the tips I would go back and give myself.

Something will go wrong (honestly) — do not panic

I think I anticipated this one, but I wish I knew how common and fixable a lot of these travel mistakes are. While I was heading to the last stop of my trip, Milan, I made the mistake of not double checking the unrecognizable Italian words at the train station and wound up on a train to Switzerland. I noticed as the train started heading in the opposite way of Milan, continuously passing stops that were not on my scheduled train map. When I realized that I was in fact not heading towards my hostel, but into another country, I froze, and then laughed. Somehow I did not panic. My mother’s wise voice in the back of my mind was echoing “you can always find a train to where you need to go,” so I stayed sitting where I was and let the train bring me back into Switzerland. I arrived at the small Swiss train station and realized the next available train ticket was not for hours — so I waited. Mistakes will be made along your journey, but most are not to be panicked over, especially when traveling in areas where English is commonly spoken.

Your confidence will take you places

This tip applies to many areas of your travels, from your social scene, to your safety. As someone with anxiety, I understand the difficulties in maintaining confidence in brand-new settings; however, this trip forced me to step outside of my comfort zone to enjoy my trip to the fullest. I pushed myself to go up to groups of people at my hostel, even though in my head I was telling myself I look like a loner trying to make friends. The truth is, that’s who I was, and that’s who I signed up to be by going on this trip. But I put on my confident, social attitude and that’s how I ended up on some of the coolest adventures on my trip, such as polar plunging in an alpine lake in Switzerland, bar crawling around Milan, and cooking family style dinners in Lake Como.

Another wise phrase my mom constantly repeats to me: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I think this one was ringing through my ears the most during my trip, and it really does help. If you act like you know what you’re doing — even though most of the time solo travelling you probably won’t — your trip will go more smoothly. Especially with safety, if you act like you know where you are walking — even if your Google Maps is as confused as you are — there is a better chance of safety. Looking confused and panicked, down at your phone for directions, will not help you if someone is looking to pit-pocket or scam. You will eventually find where you need to go, but it will go better if you stay calm, cool, and confident. I always looked at my route before leaving my hostel to know the general direction, and in times of long walks, I would put in one earbud with speaking directions if it was not a place where I should have my phone in hand.

Have a plan, but not a strict one

Having a plan might be a given, but some things are necessary to plan, while others are not. One of my biggest mistakes of my trip was not booking my train tickets ahead of time, but it was simultaneously one of the best decisions I made. Travel has certainly changed since my mom’s backpacking days; thanks to the internet, changing your plans last minute is not as easy as it used to be. I landed in Amsterdam with not a single train ticket booked (having assumed that I could hop on any train with my Eurail pass) and found myself scrambling last minute when I found out many train tickets had been booked for months in advance. At one point I ended up getting on a connecting train from Belgium to France, not knowing if I would get a ticket for my second train until I was in the next train station, and not having plans for lodging in case I didn’t. So spare yourself stress and book those train tickets in advance, along with your hostels.

However, I found myself in places I wouldn’t have by not booking all of my trains in advance. I spent two extra days with a French family in a small village in the Loire Valley because of train mishaps; I took a day trip to Venice on a whim because I found myself not enjoying Milan. Not having a strict plan is so beneficial when traveling, especially when alone since there are no one else’s needs to cater to. You might run into amazing people along the way, and find yourself taking a trip with them. I dropped many of my loose plans because a new, better opportunity arose. Don’t be hard on yourself for changing your plans; you may discover once in a life time experiences.

Zoe Malouf

Kenyon '25

Zoe is a junior at Kenyon College, originally from Massachusetts. In her free time she enjoys spending time outdoors, creating art, playing guitar, and playing rugby.