I couldn’t figure out how to leave the train station. After a full day of traveling and barely any phone service, I was stuck in the Atocha train station in the middle of Madrid trying to get on the Metro but couldn’t figure out how to leave. It was a whole hour later when I finally cracked the code. I was so discouraged by my lack of preparation that I began to think…
Did I make a mistake? Was I actually not cut out for the solo female traveling life that I’ve been dreaming of for years?
It took three days to get used to not being home and I was really wondering if I was going to have this hard of a time for the entire one-month trip. I really contemplated booking a ticket home ASAP but fast-forward to the hostel pub crawl with my amazing roommates a few days later and it all settled in…
I love it here.
Was I scared? Honestly, no. I have more fear driving down I-4 in Orlando, Florida than going to a foreign country by myself. Though I had a few bumps in the road, (mainly getting horribly lost in the streets), I thrive in an environment like this. New places. New people. New languages. It’s all so exciting and I can’t seem to get enough of it.
You may be thinking… a whole month in Europe and you only went to Portugal and Spain?
I get that question a lot. But truthfully, since I work, being constantly on the go wouldn’t allow me to enjoy where I am at. It usually takes a day or two just to adjust to a new place so a slower approach to traveling is what I decided to take on. I don’t want to feel guilty for not constantly doing something during every hour of my day which is why I would always suggest this slow version of exploring the world over anything else.
In Madrid, you can appreciate beautiful buildings, amazing museums, parks, and delicious sangria. I stayed in two different hostels that were located on the same street and had so much fun at each one, so don’t ask me to pick a favorite! If you make your way to Madrid, I highly suggest staying at 2060 Newton Hostel and Ok Hostel Madrid – you will not regret it.
I explored the beautiful El Retiro Park, walked around the markets, went to different plazas, and took tours. Going on tours, especially as a solo traveler, is the perfect way to make friends if you’re not especially fond of staying in hostels. Airbnb experiences have amazing pub crawls and tapas tours that will have you leaving Madrid with plenty of friends.
I’ll be honest, Portugal was not my first pick. I was originally wanting to go to Italy instead. I’ve never met anyone who had been to Portugal but I couldn’t sleep one night and had this feeling that I needed to cancel all my Italy bookings and do Portugal instead. I tried to shoo that thought away because who wouldn’t love a few weeks in Italy but I really couldn’t shake it.
So I sat there and canceled everything for Italy at two in the morning just a few short weeks before my arrival.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have loved to have an Italian vacation but it really would have been hard to beat Portugal. It’s beautiful, historical, and most of all – very safe for women. As a solo female traveler, it’s important for me to find places that other solo female travelers have raved about so here I am telling more people that Portugal is a safe country to visit. You’ll enjoy their famous pasteis de nata which are custard tarts that you can sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top. I enjoyed one of these every day with an espresso to get the true Portuguese experience.
In Lisbon, you’ll love Fado shows, fun nightlife, and it’s only an hour away from Sintra. The Lisbon Destination Hostel Rossio Station was the perfect place to settle for 10 days in Lisbon and I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the building was. You actually stay inside the train station which makes it so convenient when you take a day trip to Sintra. Just wake up, walk a few seconds through the station, and you’re ready to hop on the train!
Porto offers a ton of history as it is one of Europe’s oldest cities and is famous for its dessert wine called port. The Gallery Hostel Porto was unreal and I’m honestly not sure if I stayed in a hostel or hotel because this place was that amazing. Take an Airbnb experience tour into the Douro Valley to see where the grapes grow and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world. During that tour, you’ll find yourself having lunch with complete strangers in someone’s home you’ve just met. Don’t worry, you’ll love every minute of it.
Pro tip: Watch the sunset at Jardim do Morro as often as you can
And here I am, living the solo-female traveling life after all.
I encourage everyone to go on a trip by themselves at least once in their life. You learn so much about yourself when you’re in a new environment without anyone you know around you. It’s truly exhilarating, and sometimes even heartbreaking, to be someone that no one knows.
And when I come home, it’s hard to settle back in. Post-trip depression is real and it stares me right in the face along with my luggage that I have yet to unpack. I’m buzzing with stories to tell my friends and family, and though I could give every detail, there are still things I wouldn’t be able to put into words. And that’s the bittersweet thing about solo traveling, these trips are only yours and no matter how much you talk about it, you won’t be able to fully capture what life was like somewhere else. But don’t worry, I’ve already booked a 3-month trip back in September.
Selena Shore is a writer and project manager for TCS with an adventurer’s heart. Her passion lies within world travel as she is currently crossing several bucket list destinations off of her list. When she’s not island-hopping or jetting off to a new city, she’s based in Florida where she spends the majority of her time fulfilling the role of a friend, daughter, sister, and—currently favored—Tita.