I've never intended to become a solo traveller; one of those wild and carefree people who grab their backpack and seek out adventure on their own. I'm too cautious and map illiterate for that. I've plenty of times set foot on a plane on my lonesome, only to be met on the other side by a friend, or family member, who takes me under their wing for the days that follow, not once leaving my side in a land unknown.
My trip to Sydney was kinda different. While I was surrounded by many friends, friends of friends, ex-colleagues, and some pretty key figures in my life, these people had their 9 to 5s to contend with, too. A 16-day holiday ain't annual leave friendly for ANYONE. So, during their working hours, I found myself cracking out Citymapper, city guides, and my headphones, and exploring a land down under on. my. own. If, like me, you're a keen traveller, but super wary of walking into the unknown without back-up, here are a few tricks and tips that made me fall in love with solo travel (backpack optional - I opted for a 23kg suitcase instead).
Learn to enjoy your own company
First things first, you've got to be okay with your own company. I would consider myself a fairly self-confident person, however I realised entering social situations with only me, myself, and I, was a totally foreign situation to me. Grabbing dinner at Heathrow at the start of the trip was the first time I'd ever sat in a pub on my own and, frankly, I didn't know what to do with myself. How that has changed in just over two short weeks - in fact, one of the days, I opted to spend the afternoon on my own, rather than meet a friend. The secret is to just grin and bear it, until you find that it's not a forced smile and, actually, you're involuntarily smiling to yourself because you've realised your own company is frigging fantastic and you are having a great time (yes, cringe, but yes, I did do this).
On two occasions, I found myself wandering alone around Sydney - once though The Rocks towards the CBD and Darling Harbour, another time through the Royal Botanical Gardens and around the Circular Quay area - at my own pace. There's something about walking around with your headphones amongst the cityfolk that makes you feel like you belong there, despite not knowing where the F you're going. There were no complaints about how long I was taking, thanks to my little legs, no objections to spending an obscene amount of time in the palm tree section of the Botanical Gardens, then breezing through the so-called pretty sections in 0.2 seconds (palm trees are my fave plant and they had them from all over the world!), and I could walk in circles admiring the Opera House and eating as much gelato as my heart desired. Isn't that great?
I changed my plans on a whim and there was no one to explain or 'pitch' this idea to - I could do what I damn well pleased! YASSS. I know the sightseeing buses are so classically tourist, but I think they are the best way to get an overview of a city. There was quite a bit of Sydney I would have missed if I skipped out on the tours, such as the Vertical Gardens, residential Dover Heights (#homegoals), Rose Bay and some incredible views. The tour here is split into two; the Bondi line is a must do for gorgeous beaches and bays, and cityscape views, while the City line is packed with a whole host of fun facts, for example, Oxford Street, home to many a pub, bar and restaurant was paid for in 45 gallons of rum. I enjoyed what the area had to offer with some good friends of mine; from a drag queen act to a grime night, and a Sunday session thrown in for good measure.
Split your itinerary into solo and group activities
Although it is key to be comfortable in your own company, we have to accept that there are just some things we won't want to do on our own - whatever the reasons. For me, the aforementioned sightseeing bus tour, relaxing on Manly Beach, and visiting the Australia Museum were activities I was happy to do by myself. The museum was smaller than I anticipated, but well worth it, especially their Garrigarrang: Sea Country exhibition, which gave some good insight into the Aboriginal heritage of the country.
However, going to Taronga Zoo, and doing coastal walks between Coogee and Bondi and Manly and The Spit, were activities I preferred to do with company. I'm not sure why, as I'm pretty sure many people happily do these activities on their own, but hey! My prerogative (I love you, Britney).
To get to Taronga Zoo, you get the ferry from Circular Quay and head to the zoo's own little island. From there, you can get a cable car to the top and make your way through the zoo. It's a fabulous touch, as you can see the elephants and other animals from high above, pretty much as soon as you get to the zoo, as well an amazing view of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the CBD against the water when you look behind you. My buddy's favourite were the majestic tigers, but personally, I was in awe of the gorillas. They were just so human-like, I felt almost like I was spying on a family going about their daily life.
The coastal walks are a must-do in Sydney. Within half an hour from the main city, you can undertake recreational walks along kilometres and kilometres of gorgeous beaches, bays and cliffs (which were practically empty as I was visiting 'out of season' - though 27 degrees is defo the season for me). Now, I love walking through Richmond Park here in London, but as a sea lover, these walks win it, hands down. Bondi to Coogee takes over an hour or so, so we got a bus from Central to Bondi Junction, then another to the famous Bondi Beach to begin the picturesque walk. I did this with two girls I met on a group tour (more below), and we chatted about travels, our lives at home, and so much more, stopping every couple of yards to take photos. When we got to Coogee Beach, we sunbathed, went into the water and I actively stayed away from the only 2.3 spiders I saw on my WHOLE trip (thank you, God). I did the 10km Manly to The Spit walk a week later with a good friend of mine, catching up and having a few D&Ms. It was much more of a bush walk that the first, shorter one, but I loved it! Taking you through a hella lot of greenery, and offering stops where you can admire Aboriginal carvings, this walk offers so much different scenery - and photo ops! There is even a bit when you have to walk across a beach. Unlike other times my friend had done it, the tide was well in and, well, let's just say we were a bit off with our timing... *squelch squelch trainers*.
A great middle ground between the above two options is going as a solo traveller onto an organised group tour, like I did for the Blue Mountains. I very much recommend the Coast Warriors Travel Australia tours, as they are so laid-back and good value for money, yet offer an amazing experience and a wealth of knowledge. Aimed at backpackers, our tour was actually filled with way more variety than that. A small group, there were, of course, a few travelling youngsters, but also people like me - holiday folk - people visiting friends, and even a mother and daughter duo. Funnily enough, the first people I met on this tour were a trio who lived just down the road in Angel and, as the whole group hopped in the camper van filled with flags, stuffed toy kangaroos, and signs and stickers with some very choice words - I won't show Grandma that photo - the group got on really well. BREATHTAKING views were ample and, actually, the Three Sisters (which you get to touch as part of the tour... perv) were probably the most average view of the day, which says something. At one point, I was laying about two meters from a very high cliff edge, with the bluest skies above me and vast green valleys below - bliss. The tour included a BBQ lunch with the opportunity to try kangaroo meat, games, TimTams and more. It was a hilariously fun day out and, even just a couple hours in, I felt like I was on a big ol' Aussie road trip with a bunch of mates.
Be prepared and, even then, be prepared to get lost
My phone provider doesn't offer particularly favourable overseas rates once you venture out of Europe, so my usual Google Maps fall back had to be adapted slightly. Strangely, I would say CityMapper is better in Sydney than it is in London, so I citymapped a lot of my journeys at the beginning of the day then screenshotted them, so I could access them without internet later on. Google Maps also has an option to save maps you can use offline. It was helpful that all the friends I stayed with lived quite centrally, so it was fairly easy to maneuver between stations; it was any walks with more than one or two turns I struggled with - classic Tam! However, there are quite a few road signs for pedestrians about and, the transport staff are very helpful. They don't appear disgruntled when you ask them for help - even the bus drivers (which is particularly helpful, as the older buses don't indicate the upcoming stops with any signage or announcements while you're on them).
Grab an Opal card (the Sydney version of London's Oyster) from a corner shop or Woolworths, top up at the station and, with this, you can hop on any train, bus and even most ferries! On my first full day in Sydney, I got my first taste of solo travel; I grabbed the Opal pass my friend had kitted me out with and headed to Circular Quay. I hopped on the ferry to a virtually empty Manly Beach, sat on the soft sands, crinkling it between my toes, reading a book and hearing the sounds of the waves over the music in my ears. I felt so happy. I even managed to catch the sunset behind the Harbour Bridge on the ferry back, because I had stopped for chicken nuggets.
Worst comes to worst though, always have the option to turn on the internet, grab an Uber or phone a friend (yes, there were some cases I had to relent. Here's my dollar, *unnamed phone provider*).
Do once-in-a-lifetime things
Celebrate your 'I can do anything', powerful feels from doing your own thing by marking the occasion with something you'll remember forever. As a double celebration, on my birthday, I climbed the Harbour Bridge. Yes, that huge, f-off bridge that dominates the Sydney skyline. As someone who almost cried at Go Ape because I was scared of heights, this was probably my proudest moment of the whole trip. There were only two other people booked in to climb it in the same time slot, so we were able to ascend at our own pace, chatting along the way. I was surprised that, apart from a few bits which, yes, did feel like you were walking on water because the ground was grated and you could see straight through (*gulp*), for the majority of the climb you couldn't tell how high you were unless you properly looked down to your right. The BridgeClimb guide was really friendly and explained a lot of the bridge's history to us and, despite sweating profusely from fear and heat in the rather fetching grey bodysuit, I stepped off feeling such a huge sense of accomplishment.
Have people to share your day with that evening
Whether it be friends, strangers, phoning home, or a Facebook community (there are some great ones for solo travellers), have someone to relay your day to each evening. It's all well and good doing these kick-ass things, but you can feel lonely internalising them if you're used to the constant company back at home.
If you can organise a home-stay wherever you are, it is a really good chance to immerse yourself in the country's culture and experience normality. I guess I had five kind-of homestays during my time in Sydney: I got to stay in a variety of suburbs at four different friends' homes, and I even went up the coast to Newcastle to stay with my friend's family for a night. I loved Newcastle, and loved the idea of growing up here - it just had a good vibe. We chilled with family and friends, cooked, ate, played games, went for walks, even did some filming, and I revelled in how close everyone was.
When I first landed, a friend of mine had prepared her home, even her own bed, for me to crawl into after the hellish journey from London, despite being at work. She had made sure everything was as easy as possible for me to maneuver in the new city, which I am so grateful for. I woke up and found my way to Wynyard, of course managing to get lost on a three-minute walk on the way, before meeting one of my friends at his work. He led me on a (long) stroll ending at the Sydney Opera House (which he rather lovingly wouldn't let me see as we made our way around Circular Quay, so it was more of a surprise), where I was reunited with another friend - two of my best buddies, who I'd lived with in England (and travelled to Hvar and Milan with). It was all the more poignant as my aunt had got me a National Geographic game in my childhood where the Opera House was a trump card; it really honed in the fact that I was halfway across the world.
On this trip, I also got a lot closer to some friends who were part of larger friendship groups in London. Where I'd never really got the opportunity back at home, I was able to spend hours and hours with them, meeting other important people in their lives and, in some cases, getting to know them even better outside a work capacity. We ate, went to house viewings, explored suburbs and even went to sports games. On my birthday, my first spent completely away from my family, I was filled with so much love as I was taken to an incredible waterside bar, and a restaurant with the most incredible pork I've had in my life. We were all very surprised by a drum rendition of 'Happy Birthday', which made for some good laughs.
I ate so much amazing food while in Sydney and, as a breakfast lover, I've fallen hook line and sinker for how good brunch is out there. So much, in fact, that on one occasion, we ordered double the amount of food. I really rated 4 Ate 5 in Surry Hills and Flour Drum in Newtown, and to be honest, would happily just brunch my way around this town every weekend til the end of time. I had great gelato from Messina at 11pm one night, after a drinking and art session at Cork and Canvas (a birthday gift that was another must-do while you're in Sydney - I massively surprised myself at how great my painting came out), as well as popping into Mr Crackles (fried chicken or any pork dish is the way to my heart).
All in all, I don't feel like this is the last of with my dalliance with Sydney. Unlike my usual resolute to not visit a place more than once (because that money can go towards visiting a brand new place, instead!) I will defo be back!