Travelling solo across Switzerland over the summer, I discovered the beauty of alone time.
“It’s pure madness. I can’t do it! What if something terrible happens?” The spiral before my first solo trip was real. You’ve probably seen videos of travellers living it up, revealing their secret hacks and telling you their biggest mistakes. Watching from the safety of my comfy couch, I felt emboldened. Alright, let’s make 2023 my year of courage and change. I’ve always dreamt of solo travel. The idealistic adventurer in me relished the freedom of floating from place to place with nothing tying me down. But, imagining the dangers that lay in wait, I never took the step to start.
So when the invite landed in my inbox for a work trip to Switzerland, I had a light bulb moment. Extending it by more than a week (and working remotely for a bit) was a no-brainer.
One frantically feverish Google search later, I found out the country was one of the world’s safest. As fate dictated, Zurich was also on every list of the globe’s most expensive cities. But the seed was sown. The idea was planted and it only grew from there.
The thrill of the unknown
Flying solo isn’t new to me. I spent four university years in Indiana, in a tiny American town where I was one of just two Singaporeans in the entire school. One summer, I made my way alone to New York City for an internship program, where raging wild parties blanketed anything I gleaned from the job. Another semester was spent in Los Angeles – where I knew no one – studying film and frivolously chasing celebrity sightings.
After graduation, I spent a few months in Perth, Australia, flipping pizzas while finding my footing in life. For part two of my gap half-year, I volunteered at a non-profit in a little town outside Birmingham in the UK.
Safe to say I’m used to sitting in a plane alone, jetting off to a new destination where I don’t know a single soul. But I’ve never been dropped in a strange city and left to fend for myself because I eventually made friends from these long overseas experiences.
More than a decade later, I’ve gone from living with one “caretaker” to another. First, moving back home under my parents’ roof; after that, settling down with my husband whose love language is 100% acts of service. Every now and then, I’d feel an inkling of nostalgia for my independent adventures.
“But my free-spirited days are over,” I reasoned with myself. “I’m in my unshakeable era; my 30s are stable and safe.” Well, maybe it was time to shake things up.
Switzerland would be my first time travelling alone for the short term. I briefly tinkered with the idea of downloading a dating app to find friends, only to ditch it later to follow my own itinerary. Okay, I’d just go solo and make it up along the way. I had a vision of what I wanted, though the details were blurry. But hey, surprises are the fun part, right?
Warming up those cold feet
After weeks of planning and packing, my bank account was sufficiently drained. I landed in Zurich having survived a 13-hour flight next to a man who had the worst hacking cough. Miraculously, I remained in the pink of health.
I spent the next three days with a lovely group of Swiss people, Singaporeans and Malaysians exploring the beautiful alpine village of Andermatt. That was the work side of things. When it came time to part ways, my enthusiasm wavered a little. As I left the group and merged into the throngs heading to the train station, a tremor of nerves hit me. I sat down to steel myself, overwhelmed by the swarming weekend crowd.
Determined to embrace my adventure, I got it all figured out and finally made it to my boutique hotel. The modern-looking rooms were amazingly clean (surprising, by my standards) and the central location was perfect for day trips to other places around Switzerland with Zurich as my base. Yes, I was off to a great start!
Alone but not lonely
Pumped, I joined a “free” Zurich walking tour with a large group of tourists. (Technically, there’s no charge, but you can tip out of the goodness of your heart.) The guide was friendly and fantastic – 10/10 would recommend. He doled out interesting tidbits about the city, weaving intriguing tales of its history and architecture. At the end, he even gave out chocolates – because how can you talk about Switzerland’s famous treat without giving visitors a true taste?
Amidst the crowd, I spotted fellow solo travellers who chatted with strangers but seemed content to be on their own. A sweet older Jewish couple from the US made polite conversation with me – I told them about life in Singapore after they revealed they’d never been to Asia. Later on, I exchanged pleasantries with another American couple – two fresh-faced lovebirds on their honeymoon.
Besides a few other encounters with kind Swiss ladies on the train, that was the most interaction I had with strangers all trip long. I didn’t expect to love it, but every aspect of travelling alone turned out to be rather delightful. You’d think I’d be bored or feel antsy from the lack of genuine human conversation. However, as an introvert, I loved those nine days of solid alone time.
“Well done,” I mused, giving myself a pat on the back for being an independent woman Destiny’s Child would be proud of. Though I must admit: sometimes I wished my husband was around for a bit of cheer and chatter.
The freedom to choose your own adventure
Travelling solo may seem daunting, but it’s actually wonderfully freeing. Every day opened up endless possibilities with different train rides to new cities. Every moment was mine to relish. I spent countless hours at art, zoological, history and even chocolate museums without feeling the pressure of leaving early to humour someone else.
Surrounded by the buzz of tourists, I took things slow. Sometimes I just sat with myself, content with my own presence. I mapped out my perfect trip and, without anyone to ruffle my feathers, it was complete bliss.
Tip: if you’re doing day trips on the reg, the Swiss Travel Pass is extremely useful. Choose your duration, download the SBB app, and track all the train timings easily. You’ll also get free entry to a multitude of museums in different cities. It’s why I visited the world’s only Fifa Museum, despite having zero interest in soccer. The Asian in me just had to make my money’s worth.
In Lucerne, I uncovered the coolest attraction. Don’t be fooled by its austere name – The Swiss Museum of Transport – because it’s a total must-visit. I’ve never seen such unfiltered glee on kids’ faces. It’s also home to a planetarium, where I lounged to gaze at starry constellations and fell asleep to astronauts drifting around in the International Space Station.
My nature escapades took me to the bear pit in Bern, where creatures roamed in a fenced area by the river. Gazing at people floating down the waters with beers in hand, I found a picnic spot so idyllic, it was almost surreal. Oh, the serenity of it all. There was no obligation to make conversation or hightail it to the next stop. A leisurely stroll in the forested area followed, where I admired lush leaves and drank in the cool air.
The biggest evidence of Switzerland’s charm? Interlaken. It’s impossibly beautiful – almost picture-perfect. Those majestic mountains with paragliders soaring in the air. The quaint town centre that looks straight out of a storybook. The breathtaking scenery from above after you squeeze into the funicular with hordes of tourists riding up to the Harder Kulm viewpoint. I could stay for days just admiring the magnificence of nature.
Another pleasant escape from the city, the Rhine Falls welcomed me to its stunning waterfalls. Unfortunately, the beautiful scenery was ruined by an unexpectedly unpleasant encounter with a drunk dude on the train (at 11am on a Sunday!). That was the only time I felt unsafe. All my self-defence lessons deserted me at once. Thankfully, my stop arrived next and I quickly merged into a group of tourists.
Although that experience left me shaken, a rainbow I spotted at the falls brought me some comfort. One thing I learnt about travelling solo? Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts – if your gut says flee, you do that.
I’m single, don’t judge me
Have you ever gone to a restaurant alone? Eating out was absolutely the hardest part of solo travel for me. My weekend in Zurich happily coincided with Zuri Fascht, which only happens once every three years. It’s a street festival of epic proportions; everyone comes out to play. Carnival games, thrilling rides, music performances, bars pounding with DJ beats, and lively food stalls pop up along stretches of road.
Blending in with the masses, I never felt alone. It was easy to grab a crepe or a plate of raclette on bread to go. When it finally ended, I braced myself and walked over to a casual eatery before my nerves (and I) ran out. “Table for one, please.”
Thankfully, any awkwardness was only evident on my part as the server merrily ushered me to a seat. The city’s famously high prices almost made me flee to the nearest supermarket, but I did it. And again the next day at a communal-style restaurant serving giant portions of rosti and schnitzel.
Settling down in my seat, I read my e-book, turning pages in between bites to look occupied. The food wasn’t anything to rave about, but I was too busy congratulating myself on being self-sufficient to care.
Dining by yourself isn’t the most fun thing to do. But honestly, it was all in my head. No one is bothered about you – they’re busy chatting amongst themselves. And plenty of other solo travellers meant I wasn’t an uncommon sight. It felt strange at first, but I got over it.
Regrettably, I didn’t work up the courage to seek out a bar solo, so I can’t speak on the terrors of drinking alone. Maybe next time.
A story of self-love in Switzerland
By the end of the trip, it all felt like a dream. Did I want to leave? Not entirely. But did I miss my life and loved ones back home? Absolutely. I only took a short breather, but that absence was enough to make my heart grow fonder of Singapore. So, with my suitcase stuffed just within a hair’s breadth of exploding, I bade goodbye to Switzerland and buckled up for the flight.
Solo travel unlocked a jumble of emotions to unpack: the anticipation of a new adventure, initial apprehension that melted into elation, and gratitude for the spirit of independence it rekindled in me. Alone time, enveloped by the tranquillity of the great outdoors, did wonders for my mental health. I didn’t realise how much I craved a change of scenery away from the stressors of life.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the daily humdrum, in your role as someone’s child, partner, friend, or colleague – especially when you’re on familiar grounds where complacency breeds. But when you’re tossed into new territory, you learn to appreciate yourself and put your well-being first. You only have one person to count on and that’s incredibly frightening but also deeply empowering. Not to mention the satisfaction you feel doing it all on your own.
Apart from reconnecting with nature, I stared down my fears, leapt out of my comfort zone, did a mini digital detox and ventured off the beaten path. I didn’t have the chance to make amazing friends for life or speed through a whirlwind fairytale like the main character in a movie, but I did rediscover myself. My adventurous spirit and self-confidence reactivated, I returned home feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to tackle life.
Now that I’ve finally ticked solo travel off my bucket list, it feels like I’ve vanquished the fear of being alone in an unfamiliar place. There’s a sense of independence and pride in experiencing something that’s uniquely my own. No one else will have these exact memories that I now hold, and that’s what makes them so special. They’re mine to treasure: a token to represent my journey of self-love in Switzerland.