Solo Travel with a chronic illness

 

So, a few weeks ago I had a moment of spontaneity – one that had been bubbling for a long time. I booked a 4 day trip to Berlin. Yes, I have an adventurous side and very much  have something calling me to do more travel. So I decided upon a short solo trip as a warm up for a longer or further afield trip one day because new York is a dream of mine but I also want to do the backpacking through Europe thing. This blog post will be discussing my experiences and lessons learnt.

First off, I should have maybe been less spontaneous – done more research into the hotel I was staying in and such and common scams in Berlin – although I did figure it out by myself. Whilst in Berlin I had no major problems. Getting lost, a little language issue but on the whole everyone spoke surprisingly good English. The heat was another issue, as for those of you following the news there was a “hell” heatwave in continental Europe the past week. But I was safe. I felt safe and it was amazing. I did more than I have done in years – it was liberating.

The first day I arrived mid afternoon. Navigated my way through Tegal airport – which on the arriving end was lovely as it’s so small. (Will say more on the departing end later). I then navigated my way to the hotel, checked in, showered and headed off to explore the east side gallery and Checkpoint Charlie.

 

The East side gallery is incredible -with a lot of incredibly powerful street art. I took a break half way through and sat by the river for a few minutes. I would say that this is the best part about solo travel with a chronic illness. Not feeling guilty for having to sit down and rest or move through a museum faster because standing still and reading is more taxing than walking. Just being able to be your own person. To be free…

The second day was the hottest but I somehow managed to walk the most I did on the whole trip because I am incapable of just sitting still. Honestly starting to wonder if I have ADHD because it’s a problem. Not just the sitting still either. I went to the Brandenburg gate, found some incredible vegan donuts, went to the dome and roof terrace of the German parliament. (This was the best experience of the whole trip). I also went to Urban Nation, which was a free art gallery in Berlin of street art from across the world. (Definitely a close second and well worth a visit. I absolutely loved the atmosphere as well as the art.) I then went back to my hotel to rest for a few hours and ventured to find dinner, at which point I also had a quick look round the holocaust memorial.

 

Had a lot of rest and left a little later the next day. On my third day I went to the topography of terror. This was a very moving experience and again I certaintly recommend visiting. I’m not really a museum gal but it was an experience to remember and I was captured by it. I then went to the cathedral on museum island. Museum island has some incredibly beautiful architecture and despite the many scam artists on the grass outside the cathedral I can see myself spending hours there just reading a book and enjoying the sun. (This is from the gal who can’t sit still). I then decided to make my way down to the Berlin wall memorial – just wanting to see the spikes rather than actually hand around and read the information as I really was not feeling well at this point and the fatigue was taking over. After public transport, I hired a bike through mobike and cycled round. I also had a little cycle through mauerpark. This was when I realised just how weak I am as the 3k cycle was incredibly difficult and slow even though I physically could not go any faster. But at the same time, it was liberating to be independent – to get on a bike and finally start getting those building blocks to be able to go on bike rides with family or group bike tours again.

Yes my legs were very cramped up and weak after this, my bum was also sore from sitting on the saddle. (Anyone else get that bruised bum feeling from a bike seat?) I had vegan currywurst for dinner and ice-cream for dessert. Berlin is fab for vegans.

 

My final day I made sure to get lots of rest in the morning. Not heading out as early as usual and promised to take the explorations slower as it was going to be a long day due to flying back that night. I went back to the cathedral with the intention of reading but actually ended up talking to someone. He seemed nice but I wasn’t 100% comfortable because it was an area where lots of scammers lied. So when he offered to walk to Tiergarten with me I kindly refused. I also made sure not to give away too much personal information – i.e by saying I lived in London rather than my actual town and not giving away my flight time.

After sitting there for what must have been two hours, talking and then reading some of my book, I went to Tempelhof as I still had some bike credit left to use and I thought riding along an airport runway  was a great way to do this. And it was – again didn’t stop to read information and just rode. I swear I nearly died and it took 36 minutes to cycle the 5k but I managed!

Finally, I headed to the airport, had a bagel for dinner and read some more of my book before the check in and security hell commenced.

The problem with Tegal is that it hasn’t adapted to the modern world. The need for in depth security after 9/11 etc and it’s still kinda stuck in the cold war. Looks that way too. Navigating the check in queue was difficult as it was right alongside and on the inside of a longer security queue for at least another flight. It also took a very long time to go through both despite not being that long. This caused my shoulder to dislocate, which I struggled to get back in for a while. But they are the breaks. I also found the airport staff very rude. Not really to myself but certainly to other people who were just asking questions as it wasn’t a particularly clearly signposted and navigable airport. Once you’ve passed security you only have a couple of vending machines, a hot dog stand and a duty free that’s about half the size of my bedroom. So, I am very glad I got food first.

Flight was fine. Wasn’t even sitting next to anyone so I had the extra space that I very much appreciate. I finished my book and listened to more of “the secret barrister” on audible. It was a more bumpy flight than I’m used to but no problems. Once getting off, had a little passport issue. It wasn’t scanning but eventually got my way back into my own country. Got my baggage and through customs which was no problem and after asking a member of staff got my way to the bus stop to get to the hotel.

This was where I had a problem. I don’t want to go into it because I’ve discussed it too much and it’s painful and traumatising to remember although physically I remained untouched. Lets just say when I heard the friend of this London based male say “lets knock on her door tonight.” I should have gone back downstairs and asked to change room. One of them knocked all night – clearly high on something and saying things that felt intimidating and scary. That sort of fear that makes you freeze rather than doing the logical thing and phoning reception to complain. I had zero sleep and despite having several bouts of diarrhoea, and having to breath deep all the way home whilst slowly eating packet of crisps and drinking water so I wouldn’t vomit I got out of that room at 7:10 AM.

We got home safe and sound but that’s definitely taught me some important lessons. Don’t freak and freeze. But also to trust my intuition. The second I felt unsafe on the same floor of them I shouldn’t have thought “Oh I’m just being paranoid”. I should have taken action and next time I will. It has knocked my confidence with being alone. I could have very easily been raped by his male who was probably around my age and sadly these things happen to some people in hotels.

I have also decided I would feel safer in hostels in female only dorms due to safety in numbers – although this is likely not a sensible health decision I will definitely look at it next time I travel. Although nothing happened and I didn’t get hurt it ns something that will stay with me for a while and honestly it just goes to show going abroad as a female isn’t necessarily more dangerous than staying in a hotel or just living your daily life in your own country. There are awful men everywhere, yes some countries are worse than others but it does, it can and it will happen everywhere. So the fear of being raped should not be a deterrent to solo female travel. With proper precautions and research I definitely recommend it and I’m looking forward to more.

It was overall a really positive and freeing experience. Just one that was tainted at the end. But that’s okay, life’s not all positive and there is a lesson in every experience. I can move on from the bad and if you dream of travel but have no one to go with, I highly recommend just going for it and taking that leap!

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