Travelling alone and loving it
UNLIKE most travellers, I never expected to stay in the ritzy hotels in Europe, fly first class or dine at beautiful restaurants.
I had always wanted to be in the heart of it all, getting to know the locals, challenging myself by being out of my comfort zone and going off the beaten track in search of adventure, beauty and, above all, myself.
I wish I could say I originally headed over to Europe for me.
Unfortunately, it was nothing that gallant.
It was off to England to confess my love for my then flame.
Needless to say, although I went over there for him, the trip ended up being all about me and where my life was headed.
While overseas, I spent most of my time flitting from one country to another, depending on my mood.
If it was raining in England and I wanted sun, I went to the Greek Islands.
When a couple I met in a hostel told me they were headed to Austria to get away from the busy city of Munich, I jumped in the car with them without a second thought.
I was possibly a little careless with my life, but at the time, I never felt like I was in any real danger (well, maybe once or twice).
You operate on the assumption those around you will respect the backpackers' code and have your back.
On most occasions, I found this to be true, but there were a couple of moments that made me think I was a little too trusting and a bit naive.
But I didn't let those experiences spoil my trip.
When I couldn't find a hostel to stay at, I bunkered down in bus shelters and train stations, slept in fellow travellers' cars, caught trains in a loop to get away from the cold and slept on the couch of a few strangers I met in grocery stores or on a bus (unofficial couch surfing).
I made a few massive blunders including when I missed curfew at my hostel in Venice and ended up having to sleep in a single bed with one of the waiters I had met at a restaurant I dined in.
I also slept on the roof of a hostel in Athens with Irish hippies when the owner gave my bed away by accident.
The possessions I carried on my back day-in, day-out in Europe were my lifeline for these particular endeavours.
Night time in Europe, even in summer, is cold and I have to admit it wasn't too comfortable curled up on a metal seat but if I had waited until I could do Europe five-star, I may never have got there.
On the nights I couldn't find somewhere to sleep in one city, I would jump on a train and head to the next one.
The freedom to do as I pleased was exhilarating.
Backpacking through Europe alone was definitely the best way to go, for me.
It took strength and courage I never knew I had and pushed me unlike anything I had experienced before.
No one should ever have to compromise in a place like Europe, so travelling alone is ideal and the best way to avoid confrontation.
If you want to sit at the Trevi Fountain for an entire day and watch everyone's faces when they see it for the first time or sing and dance to musicians in the streets of Paris, then you should be able to.
You should be able to do and see whatever you want (as long as you are not breaking the law).
I did, and as a result, I had some of the most incredible experiences of my life in Europe.
I quadbiked around Santorini, climbed the Eiffel Tower and celebrated Bastille Day in Paris, went to a protest in Frankfurt against the young Nazis, tasted ice-cream in every country I visited, ate pasta and pizza in Italy and took a train trip to a village at the foot of the Bavarian Alps that was the closest thing to a fairytale I had ever experienced.
On my travels, I met so many amazing people - many of whom I am still good friends with and who have come to stay with me at home in Australia.
During my trip, I also tasted my first Krispy Creme donut in Hyde Park, chased squirrels around a park in Bournemouth, England, and devoured chocolate croissants in Paris.
I relaxed in a row boat on a beautiful lake in Madrid, snapped a photo of Picasso's Guernica (before being asked to delete it by security) and tossed a coin in the Trevi Fountain.
These positive and incredible experiences definitely outweighed the bad.
But when you are travelling alone and staying in less-than-mediocre accommodation, awful things can easily happen.
I was robbed, I put my back out, I was really sick twice, I came across bed bugs (I thought they were just a myth), and I was harassed by an intoxicated passenger on a train (he was put under armed guard).
Someone tried to steal my bag when I was asleep at a bus shelter, I was caught in the middle of a fight in the Hofbrauhaus Munich (beer garden) and was stuck on a train for hours while police investigated the death of a woman who had jumped into the path of our train.
I also had to go without a shower more times than I like to admit to (baby wipes are a godsend when you're backpacking), found myself lost in small villages where no one spoke English, was unable to get money out of my bank for days (luckily, a fellow traveller came to my aid), I was dropped off at wrong places by dodgy cab drivers, I had a lot of near-misses on public transport and in taxis, plus missed flights and trains which left me stranded. Travelling alone entails many dos and don'ts, but each individual needs to work most of them out for themselves through research, chatting with people and by trial and error.
My experiences will differ from other travellers, but hopefully by telling my story, I can put some of the backpacking fallacies to rest.
Maybe you, too, will be inspired to take the journey you have always wanted to take but never thought you could. Happy, safe travelling.
KRISTY'S MUST-DO EXPERIENCES IN EUROPE
1. Visit Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau, Germany
2. Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, Rome
3. Go up into St Mark's Campanile (bell tower) Venice
4. Go out for ice-cream in Germany and gelato in Italy
5. Celebrate Bastille Day (July 14) in Paris
6. Eat Krispy Creme donuts from Harrods at Hyde Park, London
7. Get a massage on a beach on Greek Islands or in Italy
8. See the sunset at Oia, Santorini, Greek Islands
9. Ride on a red double-decker bus through London
10. Quad bike around Santorini, Greek Islands
11. Climb one of the mountains in the alps
12. Oktoberfest in Munich
13. Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, Austria
14. Enjoy tapas in Spain
15. Take a gondola ride in Venice.