In August 2018 I flew to Bergen in Norway to start my two week Scandinavian train journey. I had designed the itinerary based on what I wanted to see, I had booked the accommodation with a mixture of Airbnb and hotels. I knew I had to leave the country for this holiday because if I didn’t I would come home early, give up at the first hurdle, at the first pang of homesickness.
In the last year I have reconnected with my best friend from university. We have been writing proper letters to each other but have no links on social media, purposefully. I knew that she was doing the Iron Man in Copenhagen and I really wanted to be there to cheer her on. My friend is Norwegian and I had always wanted to see a bit of Norway. Over a week my itinerary evolved to take in the Norwegian book town I longed to see, Oslo, Stockholm and finally Copenhagen. I would fly into Bergen and then train it to the other cities before flying out of Copenhagen and home.
During my trip I regularly posted pictures and updates on Instagram and was touched by how supportive people were and how inspired they were that I was alone, that having a solo adventure was something they wanted to do but didn’t have the confidence. I said that I would write a little something about it.
- GO FOR IT!!!! Mainly I really wanted to go but I wouldn’t say I had the confidence to go, I just thought I should bite the bullet as otherwise I’d never get to it. I organised myself carefully with places to stay and the train journeys. So the skeleton of the trip was in place. I knew where I had to be and when.
- GET ORGANISED!!! I got organised with this information and had a poly wallet of prints relating to flights, accommodation and train tickets for each town. I kept these wallets in the front of my carry on case and packed them once they’d all been used. That organisation definitely paid off during the trip.
- LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU’LL BE… I left a copy of the itinerary including contact details for the hotels and times of trains with my husband.
- TALK TO STRANGERS!!!! I’m not very good at being sociable at the best of times so I had to push myself totally out of my comfort zone to speak to people, I made myself do it. This really brought a happy dimension to parts of the trip and I learned of other places to visit as well was what to watch on Netflix when I got home!!!!
- EAT OUT OR IN, BE COMFORTABLE! I purposefully booked Airbnb when I could and ones with a kitchen so that I could eat in. This was a trick I learned on a visit a few years ago to Copenhagen which benefitted us because it is expensive to eat out in Scandinavia. But I don’t like eating out alone anyway and I didn’t really do it much on this trip, unless it was lunch in a tea shop. Dinner was always in my room. It is how I feel comfortable and I think when you are travelling alone you should try to feel comfortable. Not everything has to be a big fight to show you can!
- USE THE STAFF… Though Airbnb are great, hotel reception staff are the font of all knowledge (In Sweden anyway, in Norway they didn’t want to talk to me at all!) and I learned a lot about public transport from them and managed to get a few free cups of tea.
- BOOK IN ADVANCE...Train Travel in Scandinavia was surprisingly cheap. I booked ahead with the train company rather than with a middle man, about a month in advance, and found that travelling first class was not that much more expensive and often included breakfast and consistently tea and coffee. This totally worked for me. The First Class carriage was small and travellers tended to be older. On a few of the journeys I walked through the train and found them noisy and often smelling of feet. LOL. The Man in Seat 61 is my favourite web site for helping out with train travel and gives excellent advice on booking train tickets.
- BE SAFE!!! I felt safe everywhere I went but I am a fairly careful person and was in the police for 16 years so feel I do look for out for way to avoid being a victim of crime. I wouldn’t be out in the dark (fairly rare where I went, in the summer in Scandinavia) I would always plan journeys and have a map with me which I would try to look at in a secluded position, rather than in the middle of a high street and highlighting my tourist status. I check reviews on accommodation and personally felt more comfortable booking hotels in the bigger cities. My one failure was my train time from Oslo to Stockholm – an 0557 train with a sunrise after 6 meaning I would have had to walk in the dark to a train station – a hub of criminal activity in the dark usually. So I made an exception and took a taxi for this journey, again researching the firms reviews! I am not paranoid about safety but I think it is important not to be complacent about it or assume you’ll be safe. Definitely need to try and take as much responsibility as you can when travelling (thinking about the bag you carry, how much money you have with you, looking after your passport, not showing out as travelling alone etc)
- HAVE FUN!!!! When I went to the National Gallery in Oslo I knew that there was a tradition to take a selfie with The Scream. I felt a bit self-conscious and nearly didn’t do it But I figured this was why I was here, no-one cared and so I just did it! I have to say that two weeks of taking photos shows me that no-one is looking. No-one cares that you are on your own. At least not that I was aware of. What does it matter? The people I did speak to were all in awe of my being on my own and every single one of them said they’d always wanted to travel alone because it meant you could do exactly what you want.
- PLEASE YOURSELF! You can do exactly what you want! If you want to spend all morning shopping you can. If you want to spend all morning in bed, you can. If you want to spend all afternoon in a museum going between paintings and tea breaks with cake, you totally can!
- SMASH THE COMFORT ZONE!!! Don’t be scared to be over ambitious. I say this because I was, over-ambitious. I was trying to prove something to myself, that I could do this, and ultimately I found this trip tough. I found the nights before onward train travel quite stressful and the night of arrival in the next city generally a time when the anxiety bubbled out of me, sometimes in the form of tears alone on my bed. But I did it. I bloody did it. Nothing bad happened. I saw everything I wanted to see. At the end I felt like it had been healthy to push myself, that I had learned that the anxiety was temporary. I enjoyed the adventure, what I saw, meeting new people, learning new things, taking photographs of beautiful places and seeing sights that I just never thought I would see. I learned that on future holidays with my husband I will make sure that I pencil in a day where I do what I want, alone. Where I go to a museum and go between the paintings and the tea shop at leisure. I might not think it is a good idea at the time but I will totally benefit from it and enjoy it.
- EASE YOURSELF IN. OR NOT… There are solo traveller holiday companies out there that may help you make the transition to travelling alone or to support you in travelling to places you might not want to go to absolutely on your own. For me the UK and Europe are, in my experience, great for solo travelling. I’ve had a few trips away in the UK and I find the drive there exciting in itself! I tend to go home on night three though, even if I’ve booked 4 nights. What I found on this two week trip that night three is my homesick night. After that it got easier and I relaxed and enjoyed it. So now I understand it isn’t permanent. Though I still really love coming home.