I’m not sure if you knew this, but I’m engaged to be married in less than 2 months (oh, snap!). So, it may or may not come as a surprise that I just up and went to London a few weeks ago without my Fiancé. You may be thinking: “What? Melina, why did you cross the Atlantic alone when you have someone to accompany you?”
The answer: Because I wanted to.
Here’s how it all went down:
I’ve been wanting to take a solo trip for quite some time now, years actually. But I’ve been putting it off for no reason other than the fact that I love to travel with my fiancé. He’s the best travel companion. I just wanted to be able to experience solo travel for myself and I figured the best opportunity is now, before we get married.
Now, I’m not the kind of person that thinks my life is going to be over once I say “I do.” I know that there will be ample opportunity for travel post-wedding, both solo and not. But when opportunity stares me in the eye, I stare back.
I decided on New Year’s Day that I would book this trip – new year, new me. I first booked the flight, which was really cheap. I then started looking at accommodations, which were really expensive. Too late to turn back. After about 3 hours of searching for the best hotel at the most reasonable price, I booked my room for 4 days over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
That was it. I did it. I was going to London in two weeks time from when I booked. As it turns out, I already had the days requested off from work due to a prior trip I had planned that fell through. I was going, okay? Was I nervous? Yes. Did people in my life judge me? Yes. Did I think of every possible bad thing that could go wrong or happen to me while abroad and alone? Double yes. But I went any way.
And it was SO great!
I had absolutely no problem with venturing out in the city of London by myself and doing all of the touristy things. I wandered around alone and figured out their public transportation system. It felt a little strange at first, but then I realized a few things:
- This strange feeling was a feeling I’d developed from assumptions I was making about what I would encounter, none of which was real;
- There were LOTS of other solo travelers around the city, minding their own business; and
- No one was paying as much attention to me as I thought they would, so I needed to get over myself.
From there, everything went to normal. It started to feel as if I was going to NYC by myself for the day–which I’ve done many times, and is actually much harder than navigating London. I’m sure people noticed that I was alone, but they sure didn’t go shouting it from the mountaintops, so I was completely fine.
The only thing I had a bit of a hard time with was dinner. Each night, I had to venture out and go to a restaurant to eat by myself. I had to build the courage to get myself out of my hotel room each night. I then had to get to the restaurant and ask for a table for one and then subsequently eat alone. The reason for this “aversion” was probably because when I was younger, every time I see someone at a restaurant eating alone, I would assume they were lonely and I would feel sad for them.
Little did I know they were probably just enjoying a night to themselves and actually enjoy eating out alone. So, I had a little bit of a hard time going out to eat by myself every night, but I did it anyway because there’s nothing a good look won’t solve. I brought my Kindle along with me and got some reading done. I think people took notice to my eating alone–I did notice a few people looking at my engagement ring, but the world still kept spinning.
Where did I stay and what did I do each day?
I stayed in Piccadilly Circus, which many people refer to as the Times Square of London (honestly, I can’t see why). Though this place just does not compare to Times Square in NYC, it is a central location and is close to all of the action. I was within walking distance of many cool attractions, like the National Gallery, Chinatown, and Leicester Square.
Piccadilly Circus is also a great place to stay because the Piccadilly Underground (aka Tube) line runs right through it and has connections to pretty much every other line, and bonus: you can take the Piccadilly line to and from Heathrow Airport–which is what I did since it’s much more affordable compared to a taxi or Uber.
Arrival to London and lallygagging
I arrived in London at 8am, which is a pretty typical time if you’re coming from a westward direction. It sucks because you’re tired from not sleeping well on the flight (read: not sleeping at all) and since your standard hotel lets you check in at 3pm and probably won’t have a room available when you arrive before everyone checks out at 11am, you’ve got to stay awake. Someone should really do something about these timeframes.
Anyway, I dropped my bags off at the hotel and hit the ground running. And by that I mean I went to Pret a Manger, ordered a coffee, and sat for about 1.5 hours before I got the courage to actually try and navigate the city alone. In my defense, I did need to charge my phone and I also took the opportunity use the wifi to book myself on a tour.
After several other patrons came and went, I decided the workers at Pret would notice that I’d been there for an unreasonable amount of time and would start to question my presence, so I left. I basically wandered around until I saw something interesting and/or familiar. So, here’s what I saw and did:
Day 1: Venturing out as an engaged solo traveler
- Westminster and Victoria Tower Gardens – Westminster is the part of England where Parliament is housed, and where you can find the famous Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. I didn’t realize Big Ben was Big Ben until the 3rd day. I’ll explain. Victoria Tower Gardens were beautiful on this balmy 60 degree day in January!
- The London Eye – this large Ferris wheel was closed for maintenance until 2 days after I was set to leave London so I could not ride. Bummer. It looks really great in your selfies though.
- River Thames and “London Bridge” – via hop on hop off ferry ride to Greenwich (I ended up purchasing a 2-day hop on hop off ferry ride up the River Thames to Greenwich and the Tower of London since it was almost 2pm by the time I got around to this. It cost 19 pounds and worth it in my opinion). There were a bunch of other sights along the way, such as the Shard, but I cannot remember them all.
- Greenwich and Greenwich Observatory – I’m a nerd, so I was all about learning the ins and outs of time and standing on the Prime Meridian. EEEK! The observatory is situated on a hill in the gorgeous Greenwich park. The walk up to the observatory is not for the faint of heart. The surrounding area in Greenwich is so quaint.
- Trafalgar Square – my hotel was steps away from Trafalgar Square. It’s a cool center where people come together to hang out. It’s where you’ll find the National Gallery art museum, artists with sidewalk chalk, and aspiring entertainers putting on shows.
- Dinner: Poppies Fish and Chips – I personally prefer fried catfish over cod or haddock, but I had to try it anyway. They claimed to be the best fish and chips in London. Maybe, maybe not. In my opinion, the experience was bland and needed seasonings on both the fish and the chips.
Day 2: Almost missing my ferry back to London
- Buckingham Palace – you know the one. This is where some members of the Royal Family take residence. I came here at 10am to get a spot to watch the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11am, where the Queen’s Guard change shifts. Traveling solo here was perfect, because you could squeeze in wherever without having to look back and frown at the person you’re with for not being able to see. It was a cool sight to see, and I was cold.
- River Thames (again) – Remember, I had that 2-day ferry pass. Still worth it. This time it was to the Tower of London. This time on the ferry I realized that the bridge that everyone thinks is the London Bridge is actually called Tower Bridge. The real London bridge is actually pretty unsightly.
- Tower of London – my favorite. I spent hours in here engrossed. The Crown Jewels, the torture chambers, the prisons, the ravens, the Royal Family. SO cool!! So cool, in fact, I had to run out of there like a mad woman because I almost missed the last ferry back to London. Oopsie.
- Dinner: some Thai restaurant – I cannot remember the name of it. I’m so helpful, I know. But they used a little too much chili pepper in my drunken noodles. At one point, I was in tears with my nose running, bu I had no one to complain to, so I acted like everything was fine.
Day 3: Going off the beaten path a bit
- Windsor Castle – we can’t go to London without paying a visit to Her Majesty the Queen in her residence. Well, the Queen was not home but it was still rich AF. There, I saw Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the more intricate and detailed dollhouse you’ll ever lay eyes on. I then saw the State Apartments, which were far from apartments in terms of aesthetics. There was gold in the ceiling. Let that marinate for a bit. I also saw another Changing of the Guard Ceremony. I wonder, do these get old?
- Stonehenge – the thousands-of-years-old famous peculiarly placed stones that people travel 1.5 hours out of London to see, only to learn that no one knows anything about them. They think Stonehenge is either a religious burial site, or a sundial of some sort. There are mounds scattered for miles around the site that when excavated, are found to have human remains, supplies, and jewels in them.
- Roman Baths – another favorite. This is in a town called Bath about 2.5 hours outside of London. A very quaint town. The baths are a 10 out of 10. Another situation where I was engrossed (but learned to keep track of the time). It’s an ancient bath house that the Romans used that is fed by a hot spring nearby. It was so interesting to witness being in a place that stood buzzing with people thousands of years ago.
- Dinner: Burgers – am I not so American? I went to Byron, which was steps from my hotel. Good stuff. Side note: I was the only one eating my burger and chips (read: fries) with my hands. Everyone else was European, civilized, and eating with a fork and knife. I didn’t try to follow suit out of fear of fumbling around. Merica.
Day 4: More lallygagging and afternoon tea
- Afternoon tea on a tour bus – this was the key activity for the day. I knew I wanted to have afternoon tea at some point on my trip, but wasn’t sure where to pick out of the endless possibilities. One day, I was lallygagging around, and I saw this old school double-decker public bus labeled afternoon tea tour bus by Brigits’s Bakery. I was sold. It was glorious and bumpy at the same time. You get a tour around London while being served tea, light bites, and Prosecco. I mean, what more could you want?
- Westminster Abbey – an Abbey is basically a campus of buildings and churches occupied by religious figures. This one is in Westminster and it’s gorgeous in terms of the architecture! You have to pay to get inside, so I did not go inside (don’t judge me, I just ate 70 pound worth of afternoon tea items), but I’ve heard a bunch of times that Westminster Abbey is a favorite of many.
- National Gallery – This is an art museum in Trafalgar Square that I mentioned earlier. I spent about 35 minutes in here pretending to be into classic art, and then gave up. There are some great pieces that I can appreciate, but I’m not into art enough to stay and become engrossed.
- Big Ben – Big Ben is located among the buildings in Parliament in Westminster. Big Ben was apparently under “emergency construction” on my visit, so I could only see scaffolding. This is why it was pretty unrecognizable to me the first few days. First the London Eye, now this. This only means I need to go back to England!
- Knightsbridge and Harrods – if you’re a window shopper, this one’s for you. Unless, of course, you can afford to shop at expensive brands like Gucci, Prada, or Hermes. Knightsbridge is an upscale neighborhood in London where people live lavishly. I walked around, window shopped, and found myself in residential neighborhoods and wondering how much it costs to live there. Then there was Harrods, a famous department store where people go broke buying things just to get the green bag. I got there around 5:55pm on a Sunday, and it closed at 6pm. But from what I saw, man…
- Hyde Park – Hyde park is the largest park in London near Kensington Palace. I walked around Hyde Park in the dark, and after about 20 minutes, I realized it was probably not the best idea to walk alone in a park, so I left since I couldn’t see anything anyway. But, my steps for the day were A1.
- Dinner: Indian – you really shouldn’t visit London without getting Indian food. I went to a place where I cannot really remember the name of, but it was delicious! I was basic AF and got chicken tikka masala. When all was said and done, the staff pretty much begged me to write a good review on trip advisor and mention their name. It was a high pressure situation.
Whoa, you’re still here? Wow! This must have been super interesting, go me! Kidding. But, there you have it: my first ever solo travel experience. My solo travel adventure while being engaged. It was so much fun! And I am so blessed to have had the privilege to be able to do this. Traveling can be stressful and a lot of effort when you go with other people.
Traveling alone is an experience like no other. You get to be yourself. You get to know yourself. You get to do things on your terms.
TL;DR – If you’re thinking about traveling solo, do it. If you have the privilege and opportunity to travel solo, do it. If you’re married or engaged or whatever and you’re thinking about traveling solo, do it. Don’t feel limited in a universe that is infinitely expanding.