Traveling Solo in London
Written by: Kenzie
It’s kind of a long story to tell you exactly why I ended up going solo to London. My boyfriend, Brad, had an interview in England so we were both going to go. Then my friend, Claire wanted to meet us halfway through the trip. Brad found out he had lost his passport and ordered a new one and it didn’t come in on time, so he couldn’t go. I was going to just not go too (after all, he paid for the plane tickets so it was no skin off my back besides a small Airbnb cancellation fee). But I didn’t want to leave Claire hanging since she already had her plane tickets, so through much back and forth, I was going to be flying to London by myself, staying for six days on my own in a flat, and then meeting up with Claire at a different Airbnb for the remaining four days.
Problem was, I didn’t have a place to stay for my solo portion. I ended up booking this Airbnb the night before I flew out. It was expensive and not in the best part of town (no attractions nearby), but the host was so so nice and it was a ten minute walk to an Underground station which is the best way to get around anyway, so I got it.
With the details finally taken care of, I got off work early Friday to come home and pack. To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement. I had never traveled on my own any farther than to and from college and I was about to fly for twelve hours by myself and then be on my own for six days in a country far, far away. So, I did what I do best and disassociated until we got to the airport and I had to say goodbye to my mom, dad, and boyfriend. That was when it really hit me and the TSA guy at security was really nice and asked me why the heck I was crying like a little baby.
I lucked out on the flight and got the whole row to myself. I slept, ate, watched movies, and listened to music and forgot about my anxiety as best I could. It came back when I landed in the Istanbul airport and had to find my connecting flight on my own. The Istanbul airport is huge and so HOT for whatever reason, but I found my other gate no problem and would soon be landing in London. After standing in the customs line for what felt like two hours and was actually about an hour and a half, I found my luggage and finally took my first step in London.
It was very late and I was unsure of how to get to my Airbnb. I was too tired to try to navigate the buses or Underground, so I walked straight to the taxis all lined up and took the first one about thirty minutes to my Airbnb. It was SUPER expensive. But I didn’t mind, because I was pretty much over the whole traveling thing at this point. The taxi driver dropped me in a neighborhood and I had to walk until I found my Airbnb host hanging out of a window and calling my name. He showed me around the small flat, I took a shower (tip: always shower after planes or traveling for many hours, it feels incredible) and slept HARD. I did not set an alarm because I had no definite plans and this was a vacation.
The next morning, I woke up and realized that I could do anything I wanted to. Now, for someone like me, that thought is both exciting and absolutely daunting. There were so many possibilities, how could I ever decide? Solo travel taught me a lot of things about myself, one of them being that I don’t typically have FOMO (fear of missing out) when I have to miss plans with other friends, but I do have FOMO when I’m trying to decide the best way to utilize my limited time. Laying in bed, I kept thinking Well what if I do this but don’t have time to do this other thing? Do I go full tourist and hit the big stops or look for lesser known attractions? How can I decide what I will get the absolute most joy from doing?
Questions like this overwhelmed me and I ended up staying in bed much longer than I would have if I just got up and went somewhere. Through this whole process, I learned that it’s okay to take your time, and it’s okay to miss out on some things. You’ll only stress yourself out if you try to go go go or worry too much about choosing your next activity. It’s a hard thing to do but an easy thing to say: go with the dang flow.
Once I finally got out of bed, I walked to the nearest Underground, loaded an Oyster card, and I was on my way. Actually being out and about in the town with all the different people, I felt much better. I felt more alive and more clear-headed and ready to see new things and be a little more easygoing. Things carried on this way for a few days in blissful exploration. Then I had a bad day.
I’m not really sure why it was bad. It definitely shouldn’t have been as bad as it was. I left the flat around eleven and was going to be riding for half an hour to a cute breakfast place I had found. When I got off the train, I got lost. My phone was being odd and couldn’t pick up my location and this wasn’t the best neighborhood to be lost in. I saw a cool steeple at the top of a big hill over the trees and decided to check it out, trying to keep up the free spirit act and follow my feet to interesting things. It was a pretty church, but not anything I could tour.
I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t eaten in about a day and I was pretty much lost and I had no further plans of how to spend my time so the day wouldn’t be completely wasted. I looked up nearby attractions and there was a museum, but then I got lost on my way to that. I went back to the Underground station because that was the only thing I knew in this area. Everything was starting to pile up and I felt myself losing faith that this would be a good day. Brad called and tried to talk me through this anxiety attack while I hid my watering eyes from the other commuters behind my sunglasses, but his pep talk didn’t work. It wasn’t his fault, I had just let everything pile up and was feeling completely overwhelmed. When we hung up, I stood there between platforms a moment longer and then left the station once more. I ended up taking an Uber to the museum (Brad’s idea) which was embarrassingly close.
I sat in the garden for about half an hour and read my book which I always carried with me and this ended up being the best thing I could have done. To take the time to sit in a beautiful, new place and enjoy something familiar, a good old-fashioned book. This gave me renewed strength and courage and the rest of my solo days were so enjoyable, I could’ve spent more time alone.
This trip taught me a lot about myself and a lot about how to successfully travel solo. A nice thing about traveling with other people is to have extra pairs of eyes and ears. They can typically help you find what you’re looking for or get from point A to point B. And even if you get stranded somewhere, at least you’re not alone. On your own, though, you only have yourself to rely on. This also means that you get to choose what to do and how to spend your days. You don’t have to worry about pleasing other people, you’re not responsible for anyone else but yourself. Once you get over the initial fear of it, it’s actually quite freeing. And it shows you how strong and resourceful you actually are.
I hope that my story was honest and real, because that’s how it felt when I was living it. It was scary and daunting but also so fulfilling and definitely worth it. It showed me that I shouldn’t always strive for perfection, but instead be happy with the imperfect moments because that’s what life is, just a series of imperfect moments that make something so beautiful and so much better than perfect because it’s something real.