Being stationed overseas has presented some crucial life lessons. It’s taught me about the importance of adaptation, acceptance, and perhaps most crucially, independence. When my partner left rather suddenly for a 6-month deployment in the dead of winter I considered various options: get a full time job in London, move back to Denver and work there, or use this time as an opportunity for growth both personally and professionally in our home in Cambridge. I decided the latter. When else was I going to have the opportunity to discover what it is I want to do as an individual? Who am I outside of a career? When else was I truly going to learn the meaning of being alone, and the lessons that couple with it? To say I am lucky to be in this position is a bit of a stretch - I certainly wouldn’t opt to be away from someone I decided to marry for a grueling 6 months, but ultimately committing to bloom where I’m planted ended up being the best choice because I was able to finally bust through some major comfort walls, and that included traveling alone.
Technically, I’ve travelled alone a lot, but it was always to meet someone in a different location, or for photo jobs. Austria would be the first time I set out to travel for myself with no other goal except to experience it. The Salzkammergut (literally translated to “salt demesne”) area is full of lakes and mountains and has been on my bucket list since I came to England. I was caught between going somewhere I’ve been before for that sense of comfort or somewhere completely new. I’m proud of my decision to take the less settling road and discover a postcard place in real time.
Normally Salzburg would be the airport you’d want to fly into when making a visit to the Salzkammergut region, but as I was booking this trip, I quickly learned the Salzburg airport is rebuilding a runway, so there were no flights from London. Alas, I decided to fly into the next closest city, Munich, and take a 2 hour train to Salzburg. Train travel in Europe –especially in Germany and Austria – is near perfect. So I didn’t mind sitting in a comfy, clean train with the views of the Alps.
If you followed my Instagram stories, you’d know the first day upon arrival into Salzburg was a rough start. I had been a little anxious pretty much the entire day, knowing I’ve truly committed to this whole solo travel idea as my plane took off out of Stansted. I intended to rent a car from Salzburg so I could travel the Salzkammergut more freely. When I arrived in Salzburg just after 1900, the rental car place was closed. After cursing Chase Sapphire Travel Rewards for an hour over a paid international call for allowing me to book a car passed closing hours, I was stuck with public transport.
Enter lesson number one: Don’t book a car internationally with points. My mother had warned me of it afterwards but it was too late.
There are sometimes kiosks to buy transport tickets with card, but the bus itself only takes cash, so keep that in mind. I was so obviously shaken up by my sudden change of plans + a language barrier with the driver that a kind Austrian man paid for my bus fare when I couldn’t find another euro in my wallet. I cried in gratitude, and he probably thought I was insane. Regardless, a 30 min bus from Salzburg to Fuschlsee ended up being easy enough.
Enter lesson number two: People will help you if you need it. People are innately good.
Public transport ended up being perfectly fine throughout the trip, so a car rental isn’t necessary. However, it does take significantly longer than driving, so depending on how efficient you want to be with your time you may want to rent a car , just make sure it’s open when you arrive and call prior to your arrival for confirmation. Otherwise, I quite enjoyed getting to stare out the windows of each bus and train without being in a rush.
Pro tip! When possible, use the app Trainline to buy train and bus tickets. Not all routes were on there, but for the ones that were, prices ended up being much cheaper.
When picking places to stay, it depends on your vibe. I generally gravitate towards nature-centered destinations, thus I skipped both Munich and Salzburg entirely. If you have the time, definitely check out Salzburg (because why not), but if you have limited time and want more of a getaway feel, head straight for the Salzkammergut region. I decided against staying in Hallstatt and I’m glad I did, because I not only saved money but also discovered a smaller, quaint but equally beautiful lakeside town: Fuschl Am See. It would also be the best B&B experience I’ve had yet.
I woke up the next morning to crisp, mountain air with a view of a turquoise lake – just what I was seeking – in a beautiful B&B called Haus Iro, owned and operated by the lovely Christiana and Munky (pronounced Moon-Key) in Fuschlsee. There’s something so special about feeling comfortable in a stranger’s home. They sat down with me for each breakfast on their amazing patio, which is included, and even invited me to dinner one evening where we talked about their children, growing up in Austria, traveling the world, and settling in Fuschl in their authentic Austrian B&B chalet and the wonderful people they’ve met while doing so. Solo travelers and couples – do yourself the delightful favor of staying here if you want to explore the lake district of Austria. It truly made my trip so memorable!
Day one: I took a bus + train to Hallstatt from Fuschl. Specifically, I bussed from Fuschl city center to Bad Ischl, then caught the train into Hallstatt. It took a total of around an hour and a half, but if you’ve got the time, definitely stop in the stunning towns on the way, including St Gilgen, St Wolfgang, and/or Bad Ischl. All are humble compared to the attention Hallstatt receives, but on my journey I could see they were equally beautiful. I only had one day, however, so I continued to press to the place I originally set out for.
If you don’t already know about Hallstatt, you’d be one of the few. This fairytale town has become quite the tourist destination over the last several years. According to my B&B host, Munky (we’ll get to his angel-self later), Hallstatt used to be an extremely poor salt mining town. Once it was discovered, it was hard to keep it a secret. In fact, China has an exact replica of the town, which could explain the immense amount of Chinese tourists that visit every year. I went here knowing the town could possibly be tainted by tourism, but I would soon discover why. It’s quite honestly the most picturesque town I’ve ever seen.
I got off the train to take a quick ferry across the lake to the town of Hallstatt. As I saw the iconic chapel on the horizon, I took a deep breath as an Australian female around my age said to me: “It really is so beautiful. This has been a bucket list item for a long time…I can’t believe I’m actually here.”
You and me both, girlfriend.
The size of Hallstatt took me by surprise. You can walk the whole town in under an hour. I was happy with my decision to make Hallstatt a day trip. The best thing you can do is wander by foot, shooting photos and stopping at the one of many lakeside cafe’s for a coffee or spritz. Pay attention to the narrow side streets for the photo ops.
East of the city center is the best view of Hallstatt you can get, and it’s probably the one you’ve seen thousands of times on social media if you search it. You’ll also know it’s the viewpoint because you’ll be competing with hundreds of tourists to get the shot (did I mention to try and visit this place off season?) But all that aside, it truly is a remarkable scene.
After a full day of walking, shooting, and taking it all in, I hopped back on the ferry and did the aforementioned transport in reverse. When visiting this region, definitely make Hallstatt a day trip.
Day two: Christiana and Munky insisted I stay in Fuschlsee and take the 11km (6 mile) hike around the entire lake. It didn’t take much convincing; I had been looking to do something active. I geared up and started the walk from the B&B. What was supposed to be a 6 mile hike ended up being close to 11 because of a few diverts, but those diverts ended up being highlights of the hike.
One was the stop for lunch at Castle Fishery about halfway around the lake. Known for fresh smoked fish and epic lake views near a castle turned 5 star hotel.
The other was this long, narrow dock meant for summer swimmers (also near the fishery). This was truly the perfect rest spot and I even had a dress to change into to cool off. Be warned, in May, this water in insanely frigid. Like, not refreshing kind of cold…like, you might be hypothermia cold. But I’m sure it’s an epic spot mid July through August.
The main aspect of Fuschel Am See I couldn’t get over was the color of the water. It seemed almost every hour the water was a different shade of turquoise or blue. I don’t know what this part of Europe does to keep its waters so clean and pure, but they’re doing something right.
Solo Travel Revelations + Tips
After I completed mile 11 I sat down in the center of Fuschlsee, ordered a Radler and reflected on what I had just done. Not only had I done this trip completely on my own, but I hiked in a foreign country I’d never been to - as a female - completely trusting my B&B hosts and those around me. I was sweaty, exhausted, yet eternally grateful for my strength to complete everything I had set out to do.
I took a train back to Munich that evening with a completely different mindset than the one I’d arrived with. Upon my approach to Austria, I was riddled with uncertainty, fear, and lack of trust in myself and those around me. What if something bad happened to me? Surely I’d crumble at the seems. What if someone mugs me? What if I look like a foolish American? What if I’m stuck and completely helpless?
None of those questions help your case, and certainly none of them accurately prepare you for the reality of solo travel, which is that most people are willing to help. Most people care about other humans. Most importantly, even if for some reason no one was helpful, you are a lot stronger and resourceful than you give yourself credit for. Your anxious brain has all the questions, but your gut has all the answers.
There’s also something so empowering about being alone in public places, sitting at a restaurant or cafe listening to everything around you. There’s no doubt that when you travel alone you notice your surroundings more; you use all 5 senses frequently. The power of noticing also innately helps you feel more connected to nature and people in a foreign place. There are so many universal languages: laughter, soft smiles, “hallo’s,” visible deep breaths…not to get all hippy dippy, but these are all ways to realize the oneness and interconnection with all humans. You’re never really alone.
If you’re waiting for someone to come with you on your next adventure, you’re backing up. If you have the means and the will power, I urge you to push yourself beyond the comfort of your space and just go. Look, I cannot tell you with certainty that it will be all the good parts of Eat, Pray, Love, in fact…I can almost guarantee you it will not be. But that is the power of uncertainty: It’s always there, no matter what. It’s what you do with its presence that determines the quality of your life.
Here are a few solo travel tips that I discovered as well as received from my followers:
- Pack lightly. I brought one backpack and any more would have been much harder on myself.
- Plan ahead. I’m all for spontaneity, but having a rough plan on what you’re going to do each day AND planning transport will help ease any stress.
- Have a plan B and C. Because it’s likely one or more of those plans will not pan out.
- Share your location on Find My Friends with family and friends so they know where you are.
- Do a lot during the day and chill at night. Aka…avoid getting drunk by yourself please.
- If you’re in a city, do a free city walking tour!
- Look up resources for solo travel! I like the subreddit r/solotravel
- Go with the flow. Let complications flow through you and you will get more out of your experience.
- Ask for help. If one person’s an ass, chances are the next one will be helpful. If you need help, keep asking. At the very least, ask for the Wifi then look into it yourself.
I hope you choose to be bold and do what scares you most. I hope you discover the world knowing there’s some bad but it’s overrun with good. I hope you find connectedness in foreign places. I hope you go.