As I write this it’s a Saturday night and I’m back in England, putting on platform boots and black eyeliner about to go to a 70’s birthday party. This time last week I was drinking horseradish vodka in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, the week before I was on an evening walking tour in Moscow taking in the sights of the Russian capital.
Rewind two weeks and I was partying at the Street Parade in the Swiss city of Zurich, and the month had started off with a Saturday evening at the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland watching a magician and a mind reader. Not bad for a month’s travel!
But as great as this all sounds. I’ve also experienced some lows with these highs. August for me has a been a month of realisations and of learning some valuable life lessons…
Having arrived in Russia, it wasn’t long before I got sick. Two weeks of constant travelling had taken its toll and with the change in temperature, I got the flu. To make matters worse, I seemed to have a case of food poisoning too. I was in the unfriendliest of dorm rooms and I felt so incredibly alone. I didn’t even have the energy to shower and could only let my body sleep and sleep some more until I had to make a decision to leave.
Before arriving I had booked a hostel in Yaroslavl, one of Russia’s oldest towns which was a four hour train journey away. According to the reviews the hostel staff didn’t speak English and my instinct was that even finding a taxi when I got there would be a problem with my lack of Russian. I had already missed my first night there and if I didn't go I would lose an additional two nights accommodation cost. But I was so drained and couldn’t even take the train. The only thing I could do was sleep on it and decide in the morning.
I awoke to the sounds of a bag being unzipped and realised that it was someone checking out. I checked the time to discover that it was 10:25. I had 35 minutes before I had to check out! I felt sick and knew that I had food poisoning from my stomach gurgles the night before. I checked out 5 minutes late then sat in the hostel kitchen and locked eyes with the girl with the weird energy that I had seen every day. I knew I was going to feel better when I left this place. Too many people and the most unfriendliest people I have ever shared a dorm with.
I was travel fatigued, sick and tired of constantly challenging myself. The thought of getting on an old Soviet train to Saint Petersburg and sharing it with three potentially unfriendly strangers filled me with dread. So I reached out to my Facebook community. I felt as though I would be a failure if I didn’t continue with my plans. The responses that I received were so supportive. Being told to stop travelling and to rest until I had fully recovered was the best advice I could have had. I no longer felt like a failure for not pushing myself and most of all… I felt less alone.
So I booked a hotel room on the outskirts of the city and with my luggage on my back I managed to walk to and from the metro stations to my next bed for the night. Finding my hotel next to a calming forest I knew I had made the right decision. I checked in to my rainbow-coloured room; my home for the next 48 hours. During those two nights I rested and slept and allowed my body to heal in the privacy of my own space.
Still with the desire not to sleep in a train compartment with strangers (I had previously ticked this off my bucket list), I changed my plans to go to Saint Petersburg earlier and booked a day train instead of an overnight one. When the time came to leave, I was nearly fit enough for my eight hour journey and my next chapter.
The moral of this month’s story – listen to your body. Yes I lost the cost of accommodation in Yaroslavl and I didn’t get to see one of Russia’s oldest towns but my health was so much more important. Travelling when you are sick makes you so much more emotional and it really isn’t worth it. I could have easily booked another night in the hostel and gone back to sleep instead of checking out but it didn’t feel right.
Looking after yourself needs to be your number one priority when you’re travelling solo so be flexible. I went over budget booking a private room but my health is so much more important than sticking to my plans.
To spend that time resting and getting support from friends was what I desperately needed. There are also two more lessons I learned: it’s okay to change my plans. I had nothing to prove to anyone. The only one who would have suffered if I had stuck to my plans out of sheer stubbornness would have been me. Just because you have an itinerary doesn’t mean you have to stick to it.
And the final lesson for this month: that it’s okay to reach out. Contact friends, family or if it’s the middle of the night back at home reach out to a Facebook community such as Girls about the Globe. I received instant support that made a difference to how I was feeling. Having people there to support you is so important when you’re travelling solo. As one of my supportive community said: “Just because you travel solo, doesn’t mean you’re alone.”
As for my solo travels in Russia, I’ll be sharing all very soon…