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First time solo travel - Backpacking through Eastern Europe

by Juanita
(New Zealand)

Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle) in Transylvania

Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle) in Transylvania

Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle) in Transylvania Juanita's last night in Istanbul Sunset at Nesebar on the Black Sea in Bulgaria Local musicians play it up in Maramures, Romania

After years of admiring tales of women traveling solo to interesting places, I finally took the plunge and embarked on a 6 week adventure from Prague to Istanbul via Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.

I planned the trip meticulously, mostly because I love the planning, but also to ensure I'd make it home safely to my daughter, and so that I would have less stress and more time to explore each destination. I prepared for the worst but expected the best.

I had the time of my life, traveling to out of the way places only by public transport, and staying in a mix of hostels and hotels (from 2 to 4 star). I laugh now remembering some of the crazy moments, but they will stay with me forever. I never spoke any of the local languages but met lots of people along the way, both locals and fellow travelers.

Everyone who met me commented on how brave I was traveling through the region alone, but to me it seemed natural, and I never felt unsafe at any stage. It was an adventure in every sense of the word.

My itinerary took me Prague > Cesky Krumlov > Vienna > Budapest > Maramures > Bucovina > Cluj Napoca > Sighisoara > Sibiu > Brasov > Bucharest > Veliko Tarnovo > Sofia > Melnik > Bansko > Plovdiv > Nessebur > Istanbul.

Highlights were some of the hostels I stayed at, a river rafting pub crawl, the painted monasteries, the open-top sightseeing buses, Dracula's Castle, Peles Castle, a tour organised by a hostel in Bulgaria, various hikes, the Rila 7 lakes, the Black Sea Coast, and Aya Sofia (to name a fraction of them).

Even before this trip, I knew that I was capable of anything, independent, and enjoy my own company, but what I underestimated was the kindness of perfect strangers. That's the last memory I will have.

If I did it over, there is only one place I would skip (Bansko), I would eat at restaurants less and stay at hostels more. But other than that, I wouldn't change a single moment. Although, I'd carry a bit less in my backpack.

Perhaps my greatest achievement was keeping my blog, which people seemed to love as much as I did. It enabled me to reflect at the end of each day, visitors could post comments, and to this day I can (and do) often re-read the story of my adventure, which takes me straight back there and inspires me to plan my next one. You can read my blog here which includes many photos.

Comments for First time solo travel - Backpacking through Eastern Europe

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Aug 19, 2012
First-time solo travel is the hardest
by: Leyla

Well done, Juanita - and I'm so happy you had a great time! Your blog shows it all and I hope it's just the first of many trips. You went to some places I don't know (Romania and Bulgaria) so now I feel I have to follow in your footsteps... Thanks so much for sharing your travels with the rest of us!

Aug 20, 2012
by: Claire

I started my journey a month a go and will continue after the new year.

Aug 29, 2013
by: Annie

...Dear Juanita and Leyla,

Yer...this is me, Annie.. super dooper scared...
I so badly say to myself, just do it book a flight, get a date happn, give myself a time frame to get organized and just simple go...
Then I think of another excuse, need to save more money...can I do this on my own...need to loose more weight, get a bit fitter..can I really go it alone...blah blah blah..
I know I need a good kick up the.....
But in saying some of my.. poor me..excuses,
I must say, Leyla..Thank You. :}
Quite by accident I found your site and I have sat here for almost 4 hours, pondering over different tips, advice, comments from other solo travellers, etc and Iam loving are inspiring me...
to Trust the Process...I Can Do this, I Can travel..and I will be just fine...I must say thank you again....gotta go now that butt is getting sore from sitting for so
Cheers, Annie N.S.W...Australia xox

Aug 29, 2013
I know the feeling!
by: Leyla

Annie, we've all been where you are. REALLY. When I took off on my big backpacking trip I was certain I was insane (not to mention what everyone else thought!)

In the end it amounted to putting one foot in front of the other and not overthinking.

Maybe you should start with something small? Another reader, Cheryl Smith (you'll find her story here, took a relatively short trip closer to home - she stayed in the same country - and I have no doubt she'll wander even further someday. If you look around you'll see plenty of similar stories - women who have traveled solo for the first time or who are thinking of it and coming to grips with the challenges they face.

If you start with something 'easier' you can then build on it... but you can do it, just like the rest of us. Just one step at a time.

Jun 28, 2014
by: Bel

I have just arrived in Eastern Europe and am looking forward to doing some hiking. How did you go about hiking alone?

Jun 28, 2014
by: Juanita

I didn't go hiking alot on my own although I did at times end up on unplanned mini hikes alone! I wasn't comfortable being alone in places where I couldn't get help if I needed it, so in these situations I turned round and headed back to be amongst people. The one exception was in southern Bulgaria, where the locals assured me that it was safe to walk to a monastery on my own. There was a moment on that walk, sitting on a seat under a tree in the middle of absolutely nowhere, totally alone, looking out over a view that reminded me of a scene from ancient times. At that moment, I don't think I have ever felt more content in my life. Then I tripped over a skinned my knee badly lol The one big hike I did, I hired a guide and we still keep in touch on Facebook. I guess the answer is do what you feel is appropriate for each situation. Use your head and your heart. It won't always be safe but when it is, it will be magical.

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