My experience of travelling alone

From Dublin to Budapest, Strasbourg, Paris, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Vienna, Riga, Istanbul, to Dublin.

Written by Aileen Donegan


Before April of this year I had never booked a flight on my own before. I’ve always been nervous about booking these things on my own – what if I accidently book the wrong return flight and won’t be able to get home? What if I can’t find my way around the airport? Yes, I am one of those worst-case scenario people.

Here are all my travel worries in one paragraph: I book the wrong flight, I book the wrong dates, I lose my luggage, I have to go to the toilet right before takeoff (when the seatbelt sign is on), I lose my passport and/or boarding pass, I miss my flight (which HAS happened and IS terrible but manageable), I get lost in the airport, my baggage is too heavy, I get too nervous and feel like crying… you know, all the usual stuff, right?

It would appear that most of my fears about travelling come down to two things: losing things and not being proactive enough to make the journey in the first place. All of this doesn’t matter anymore though, because I’ve become a pro at bookin’ flights, here’s how…

Travelling alone is better than travelling with friends

I’ve been abroad with friends before and the airport situation is almost always more stressful when you’re thinking of more than yourself. Airports, generally, are considered to be stressful places anyway – with security check, queues to check-in, paying for check-in if you’ve forgotten to do it online (Ryanair) – and to make the situation a little more painful just add your mates to the equation.

Imagine this, you’re all together chatting, waiting in line, worrying about your luggage and whether you’ll make it and then one of you realises you’ve left your passport in the café you just had your coffee in? Anti-banter.

When you travel alone you don’t have this added stress; you practically glide through check-in, security and fly past the people waiting on friends and family at the gate. Well, glide is a strong word when you’ve got a wheelie suitcase and a big shoulder bag to compete with, but you are swift.

But being alone while travelling is not quite so fun…

I’ve been travelling a lot this year for work and pleasure – mostly alone. Not by choice. I emigrated earlier this year and in my role I’m required to travel to other European cities. It’s great to visit other countries, be part of other cultures for a while – the time I wore a hijab in Istanbul to visit mosques was a very warm and inviting experience – and experience life on the other side of Ireland.

Other times, like when I was in Vienna, it can be quite lonesome. It was a holiday of choice because I’d always wanted to see Wien (and visit the film locations of my favourite film Before Sunrise) and I got the opportunity when I had to take my holidays from work. I jumped at the chance and it took no longer than 30 minutes to book my Lufthansa flights and Do Step Inn hostel reservation.

But when I got there… I felt sad. I was genuinely excited to see the place, go on the trams (I love street trams!), and use words ending in –strasse and –hof, as a non-German speaker it was a thrill. But I had no one to spend it with. I spent my first night in my room on Skype with friends and family… then felt silly for not taking advantage of being away.

Day 2 was better

The night of Day one, I decided to ‘snap out it’ so I set the alarm for 9am (which is early for me). I’d scoured the internet for interesting things to do in Vienna that weekend and settled for a city bike tour at 4pm. Before that I’d make my way to Friedhof der Namenlosen (Cemetery of the Nameless), a small far-off cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

The name of the cemetery is interesting. It’s called ‘Nameless’ because most of the deceased there have never been identified, having washed up on the shore of the Danube river in Alberner Hafen over 100 years ago.  Some say they were from a shipwreck that sank up the River. Almost 50 bodies rest here in wooden coffins with simple iron crosses marking the spot.

I went there because it featured in Before Sunrise. It’s become a cult place to visit in Vienna solely because this film mentioned it. Getting there was tough-going: I took the Underground to Simmering, then Bus 76a to Alberner, the last stop. Unfortunately I disembarked two stops early and had to walk thirty paranoid minutes up a long, wide passage way with derelict building staring at me and non-commuter rickety train tracks reminding me of the eerie film Stand By Me.

Traveling alone taught me

For the following three days I continued my mission to fill up time – to spend it visiting film locations from a film made 18 years before and sight-seeing the capital of Austria. I mostly did novelty European things like drink coffee in cute cafes all afternoon, read from my Kindle (for this holiday setting I reeeeally should have brought an old worn paperback…) with wine in the evenings, and walk around map in hand and wandering intrigue on my face for the moments in between.

The point of this piece is this: I genuinely never thought I’d get to do this much traveling and when it became clear that my life would be like this for a while I avoided it. I stayed on the internet all day to keep up with Facebook and Twitter, which I still do (I’m an addict!) and read The Irish Times to feel closer to home. I didn’t embrace it, but now I do.

It also didn’t help that I had a crippling self-esteem complex that made me think I’d always lose my things, miss journeys and do something stupid – like book the wrong dates for a trip. My mind kept telling me I couldn’t do it. I just started doing it anyway. And you can do it too. If you have a trip on your mind book it now. Don’t be afraid to go it alone!

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