As I sat aboard the Arlanda Express, making the final part of my journey to Stockholm, I was alone with my own thoughts. Since finishing university, time has flown by and as one often finds, I haven’t done half of the things with my free time that I wanted to do when I was so ridiculously busy researching dystopian fiction and typing away furiously to the tick tock of the deadline clock. I’ve spent much of that time not so patiently waiting to board a flight to somewhere in South East Asia and begin my journey around the region. In that moment of solitude, with Sweden passing rapidly outside the window, I knew I was making the right choice in accepting my call to adventure and going it alone in the big wide world. But this, my short stay in Stockholm, would be the true test. It would be my first time travelling solo and a part of me knew that my mind, though set on travelling, could potentially be swayed.
I stayed in a hostel that, unlike my recent stay in Berlin’s Generator Hostel, was nothing to write home about. It did it’s job and provided me with a room, a bed and a shower, I wouldn’t be spending that much time there. When I travel, I like to see stuff, in fact I like to see as much stuff in the time I have as possible and not just the stuff everyone else sees, the real stuff. For me the best way to see stuff, as I continue to so wonderfully articulate it, is to walk. Everywhere.
When I was a young Aaron my dad used to make me walk for hours around towns, villages, cities, castles, parks, woods, you name it! “Why do we have to walk so much dad? My legs hurt dad… Can we go home now dad?” Now at the wise age of 21, it no longer takes the leering gaze and stern voice of my dad to get me to walk. How much do you really get to experience and take in when you’re stuffed like sardines onto a bus or cloaked in darkness as you rocket along on an underground train?
I probably walked for about 30 hours in my five days. Ok, a little excessive but that’s just me. I took plenty of breaks for meals and just chilling out in parks but I got bored so quickly, particularly with the prospect of an unexplored city in the palm of my hand. I was blessed with some beautiful, and not so common, weather while there. I was informed by many a Swede that I’d come at a great time and their only good weather comes in July and August. A bit like England then, just far more snow in Stockholm outside of that period. The sun wonderfully added a glow to the Baltic Sea as it entered the city bay and even managed to lightly tan Casper the Friendly and Pale Ghost.
The city is fantastically diverse with its centre in Norrmalm, the upmarket Östermalm, the trendy streets of Södermalm and the wooded Djurgården. All of which are surrounded by waterfront walks that are often very quiet. If you’re looking for things to do there are museums, great shopping options, an old town, boat trips, quiet parks and even a theme park. I managed to find one grassy area that was silent, almost literally, no sound of cars or birds and even the two or three people also there respected the tranquility and made not a peep.
I wanted to use that moment, use the silence and peace to dig into the undisturbed depths of my mind and harness something amazing, pull it to the surface and embrace it. Nothing of the sort would happen, all I could do was lie in appreciation of that around me. All I had was the moment and I.
I’m disappointed to admit that I never ate any traditionally Swedish food, thus Ikea’s cafe remains my sole experience of the cuisine. However, as an avid lover of food of every kind, I didn’t miss out on too much. Flip Burger served me my first meal and the Ben & Jerrys Cookie Dough milkshake is not something I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Beijing8 provided a much needed carb refuel consisting of dumplings, rice and iced tea, following a particularly long 8 hours of walking. While Hattori Sushi Devil delighted me with a selection of sashimi that allowed me to avoid carbs, I mean I think I’d had enough after the previous two restaurants.
Funnily enough, the restaurant talk brings me back the topic of travelling alone, because I had to do something many people would be very uncomfortable with. Walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. “Yes, I am eating alone. No, no one else will be joining me. Oh and do you have an English menu?” It’s a little strange, for some reason eating dinner alone is different to eating lunch alone but then I spend a lot of time by myself anyway. No, I’m not a loner and yes I do have friends (both questionable).
While I love socialising and almost went slightly insane during my dissertation writing when I was cooped up by myself rather a lot, I’m perfectly comfortable with my own company. So many people become reliant on having someone else around all the time, I love the feeling of independence and solitude is a particularly underrated state.
Travelling alone meant that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and I never had to hear a single complaint. I’m not selfish, I love compromising and doing things with other people, but I felt so free. When you’re alone you’re constantly put outside of your comfort zone and this is something I push myself to do as often as possible no matter how uncomfortable it is. Like turning around in Urban Outfitter and walking into a conversation I’d overheard in which a guy was asking about local bars that he could meet people at because he was also travelling alone. It took effort, but the act of putting myself out there was perhaps the biggest lesson I learnt. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met the awesome Noah from Los Angeles and spent the night bar hopping with him and meeting even more people.
If you’re travelling alone you must put yourself out there and make a conscious effort to talk to people, otherwise eventually you will go crazy with the lack of social interaction. The wonder of it is that you meet some great people, have some interesting conversation and hear genuinely great stories. I now have a Salvadoran friend, Rebecca (said I’d give her a shoutout), who has travelled El Salvador by herself and plans many more adventures, like myself.
I have a friend from LA, who’s urged me to check out his city and even offered to put me up for my stay. I spoke to two gorgeous but crazy sisters from Iran who I could only put up with for about 20 minutes; but that is another wonder, you’re not committed to anyone. If you don’t like someone you meet, you don’t have to see them again if you don’t want to and you can ignore their Facebook friend request without guilt. It’s not so easy to dump a travel buddy who you realise after a week is a major pain in the derrière.
So should you go to Stockholm? Yes. Yes. Yes. Should you give travelling a go a try? Yes. Yes. Yes. Will it be for everyone? Of course not, personal preferences aside, it would probably be dangerous for some people in particular parts of the world. If you do enjoy it though, it’s such a liberating expression of freedom and independence. You’re in control. If, like myself, you know undoubtedly that somewhere in your mind is a call to adventure, accept it. Grasp it with both hands and stick a finger up at the school, work, marriage, retire system you’re told you must follow. Take the call to adventure!