The real solo travel experience happens after the 4th day. — Unknown
I can’t remember where I first read this. It was just before I left for Berlin, on my second solo travel experience.
And it proved to be right.
The real solo travel experience hardly ever happens before the 5th day.
I barely remember what happened during my first four days in Berlin. I just wandered alone through the main “must-see places” of the German capital. On the fifth day, I got out of my comfort zone and went to a party at a nightclub. There I met Steffie. This turned the end of my short trip into something much more meaningful and memorable.
I was curious to see if the theory would prove right again this time. It did. And I think there are reasons for that.
What makes or breaks the true solo travel experience?
I think that’s the first question to ask. Everyone will find a different answer. As far as I am concerned, I have discovered that the moments I remember most in my life are those that have been shared. I don’t like to admit it, because it means that I depend on others to experience some of the best moments of my life, but it seems true. We are creatures of connection.
For me, the real travel experience also happens when I feel comfortable in my new environment. When I know the neighborhood well enough and start to develop micro habits. When my body and mind begin to recognize that they are somewhere else and really take stock of it.
And when I start to share that and create memories with other people.
These two conditions take time to set up.
The important point is this: it’s perfectly normal if you don’t find the experience you’re looking for in the first few days of your trip.
Because it’s the seeds you’ve planted in the first few days of your trip that will allow you to reap the harvest later on.
Tip #1. To form valuable relationships it takes time
Since the first day of my arrival here in Lisbon, I have been trying to find ways to get in touch with locals and expatriates, be it through my connections, Facebook groups, or friendly dating applications like Bumble. I started chatting with several people, and it usually takes a few days for the first meeting to take place.
Today I am having lunch with a friend of a friend, in a Portuguese restaurant. We have been talking for a few days now. On Sunday, I’m having coffee with a new friend I met on an app.
It’s rare that you arrive and manage to connect right away with people. Things take time. Human relationships take even longer. Give it time.
Tip #2. Do one thing at a time
Unless you’ve been traveling alone for a few years now and you’re a pro, or you’re an extrovert who’s very comfortable talking to virtually anyone around you, it will take a few days before you find opportunities — and the stability you need — to get out of your comfort zone.
I’m an introvert. I usually need a few days to get used to my new environment, to quietly explore it on my own, before I feel comfortable getting out of my comfort zone. One thing at a time.
Tonight is the night. I booked a food tour of Lisbon in 17 tastings, with a guide I don’t know (but who seems to be the nicest), and 3 people I don’t know either. It will probably be a great experience! And it’s only happening today, the 5th day, because I needed time to feel stable and balanced enough to look for experiences to book.
Tip #3. Be proactive and patient
That’s the whole point of this piece. Don’t worry if the first days of your solo trip are not as good as you had hoped. The best ones usually happen after the fourth day. Provided that you’re proactive. The three things that were planned today were not planned until yesterday. I used to feel a little desperate not to be able to connect with other human beings and enjoy memorable experiences, despite my best efforts to make that happen.
After the night I met Steffie in Berlin, we kept in touch and the next night she took me to several bars in Berlin where we talked all evening. She made me taste different local beers, and we ended up playing table soccer with two Germans. It was a lot of fun! Unfortunately, I left the next day, but otherwise, we probably would have met on several other occasions, and she might have made me meet some of her friends, which would have allowed me to make other connections, and experience other meaningful moments.
The thing is, you just have to find a way to stick your foot in the door in every new place you find yourself. Whether it’s through referrals from friends in your hometown who know people in your new destination, or by finding ways to meet people on your own. Once you have a foot in the local world, all you have to do is “pull the string” to make the connections and intertwine, the moments leading up to others.
Encounters are the most significant moments of your trip. Time spent with people. But building connections takes time, usually a few days. It requires you to cross the line out of your comfort zone. And for that, a few days of getting comfortable with your new environment is helpful.
So focus on planting seeds in the first few days of your trip, and harvest when it’s ready. It won’t happen by itself. You have to put yourself out there.
All important things take a little time to happen. So be patient and proactive, the real experience you are looking for is only a few days away!