So, this summer I’m taking a solo trip through a few places in Europe that I’ve been drawn to, but that aren’t exactly top destinations for most of my travel buddies.
Throughout the winter, I’d been stalking travel blogs, google flights, and AirBnb. I planned out a few different possible itineraries, complete with detailed, cost-calculating spreadsheets and links to articles and attractions. I finally settled on a trip that took me into the UK- an old favorite- and then on to several new places: Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, and Denmark. In May, after extensive research and months of working several side jobs to justify such a crazy journey, I went online and BOOKED IT.
The most affordable flight into Europe went from Boston>London, a city where I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the past (I studied abroad in the UK) and a city I 100% love.
I chose to travel with a 38 liter hiking backpack for this trip rather than my beloved Samsonite carry-on. See, my itinerary includes three internal flights, two long-haul train rides, and lots of walking along historic, cobblestone streets. I’ve learned from experience (I’m looking at you, Edinburgh) that backpacks are the way to go for this kind of traveling.
So me and my green backpack boarded an overnight flight to London last Sunday night. Every time I take an overnight flight I tell myself never to take an overnight flight ever, ever again. I’d done a long run that day in the hopes of tiring myself out, but the truth is, I just don’t sleep in places other than my bed. I landed in London on about three non-consecutive hours of sleep, and had flashbacks to a trip to Ireland a few years ago where my friend and I had taken a similar flight and spent all day shouting “NO SLEEP NO PROBLEM!” at one another while maniacally giggling and consuming well over the recommended daily amount of caffeine.
Anyhow. I took the train into London, Victoria, where I was able to have my backpack securely stowed for the day. I grabbed some breakfast and a double espresso, and then headed out to take a walk past some of the touristy spots before it got too hot outside.
I immediately ran into a knot of people as I walked past Buckingham Palace. I was so out of sorts that I hadn’t realized it was nearly 11:30am; the Changing Of The Guards was about to happen, which is a big deal in the mid-summer tourist season. There was still a walkway open between crowds of people, so I tried to rush through. Just as I got to the gates, though, a police officer stopped me. “You’re going to have to wait, but now you’ve got the best seat in the house!”
“This is unintentional!” I replied.
And indeed I did have the best seat in the house; the tourists were hundreds of people deep, but I was standing literally at the Queen’s gates as the guards came marching out. In all my visits to London, I’d never actually made it a point to see the changing of the guards, so this was a first time experience for me. It was pretty cool!
After that I walked through Green Park over to Picadilly Arcade and Picadilly Circus. I then looped down through the Royal Mews to see the Parliament building and Big Ben, which JOKES ON ME was covered in scaffolding as it’s being renovated.
After that I headed to the British Museum, because their Classics gallery is top 3 in my book (behind Actual Rome and the Met in NYC). It was nice to reconnect with my Latin/Archeological roots, and it was also nice to get out of the sun. I haven’t been in Europe during the summer since I was a teenager, so I’d forgotten how intense the combination of heat+ densely packed tourists can be.
On Day 2, I started out my morning with a slow-paced 7-mile run through Hyde Park to see Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, and the Prince Albert memorial. I’d seen these sites before, but it was fun to see them while running:)
Then I headed onto the Tube, which I’m proud to say I can still navigate at a satisfactory level! I’d found a bit of a deal for Tower of London tickets online, and although I often avoid super-touristy things, I was interested in seeing this one in particular since it has such a winding history.
It was super hot and crowded, but so, so worth it. I loved being able to walk through all the many moments in history that have impacted the Tower. I started by walking the battlements and going through all the different towers. I walked through the medieval palace section, then the prison section, and I was also able to see the crown jewels.
I’d budgeted 90 minutes for the Tower Of London, but ended up staying there for just under 4 hours. It was so interesting!
After that I stopped in at a Tesco where they still carry gluten-free grab-and go sandwiches, then headed towards the Borough Market for dessert: Chocolate-Ginger organic goat’s milk ice cream. Go London.
I finished the day with a walk around the boutiques in Notting Hill and dinner at Nando’s, which is a chain that’s kind of like a sit-down Chipotle? After running 7 miles and walking close to that on intense jet-lag, I was just ready for food and sleep!
London was a really nice, semi-familiar way for me to ease into an un-familiar solo-travel experience. I felt really comfortable navigating and choosing activities there, which definitely helped me to feel more confident going into the rest of the trip.