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“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” – Seth Godin
This quote resonates with me on so many levels. In fact, I’ve started to realize that the majority of the big decisions I’ve made in the last 6 months have scared the absolute crap out of me. Everything from quitting my job to traveling alone to pursuing my dream of moving to Spain.
But before I go on too much of a tangent, let’s get back to the real topic at hand. Traveling alone. Or more specifically, how to do it despite the fear that you’re going to end up in a prostitution ring without Liam Neeson to rescue you. Just kidding. Sort of.
If you’re absolutely cowering in fear, then my first suggestion is to start small. Book a short weekend getaway and see how you feel before taking a big trip. I just went ahead and took the plunge (fearfully of course), but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Without further ado, here are some tips to help you not only survive your first solo trip, but to have an awesome time while you’re at it!
Table of Contents
1. Research. A lot.
There are two main things you should know about traveling alone. The first is that it’s an exhilarating adventure and the best opportunity to be spontaneous during your travels. The second is that it will always be up to you, and you alone, to handle some of the not-so-fun spontaneous situations. Do yourself a favor, and do some research about where you’re going: tourist tricks to be wary of, unsafe areas, local customs, where to eat, the works. If you’re going to several cities, make sure that there is actual transportation between each place. In a foreign country, learn how to say a few key phrases: “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, and “do you speak English?” are key. If you have a dietary restriction, learning how to say “I can’t eat…” will take you far. Or you can resort to playing charades or Pictionary to get your point across – you’ll probably make some friends that way.
2. Book Accommodation
You know what always gives me peace of mind when I’m alone? Knowing that I have a place to stay for the night. When you’re armed with the knowledge that you won’t be lugging your backpack around at midnight looking for a bed, anything seems possible. I like to use Booking or Hostelworld. Booking lets you cancel free of charge (the number of days in advance depends on the hotel) and usually has an excellent variety of budget hotels. Hostelworld is for when I’m on a tighter budget and opt for a hostel, but I’ve also found some excellent budget hotels on there as well. Don’t forget Airbnb either! It’s an excellent accommodation option.
3. Make Some Friends
Sometimes, when you’re traveling alone, you actually want to BE alone. As in, you want to be by yourself with your thoughts and reflections. Other times, you’re more than ready to get out of the weird wonderland that is your thoughts, and socialize with some actual people. How do you do that? Well, I wrote an entire blog post about it here. But I’ll give you the TLDR version. You’re basically guaranteed to meet travelers by staying at hostels or Couchsurfing, but if that isn’t your style, that’s okay. Other options include volunteering, free walking tours, online communities/events, travel apps, volunteering, and ridesharing. All of these are addressed in detail in the other post, so check that out if you’re so inclined.
4. Share Your Itinerary
We all saw what happened to James Franco/Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. Tell your family/loved ones where you are so you don’t have to cut off your arm. I organize all my travel information with Tripit (if you don’t use it, download it right this second) and use it to send my family my flight and accommodation information. And good news: WiFi is often pretty accessible on the road (or you can bring some), so use it and keep people informed. If anything were to happen to you, God forbid, the last thing you would want is for your family to have to wonder which country or continent you’re on.
5. Make Good Choices
This goes out mostly to the ladies. Please, please don’t wander through an unknown city late at night alone. It’s almost always a bad idea. If you’re dying to go out, find some friends (see point #2), but stay alert and trust your gut! And don’t be flashy with your stuff, especially in a developing country. Know when it’s time to whip out your shiny iPhone for some photos, and when to tap into your photographic memory instead. Check out additional tips on how to stay safe while traveling solo here.
6. Have a Plan B
I get it. Sometimes stuff happens. Have a backup plan. Always know where the embassy is. Keep some emergency money stashed outside of your wallet. Keep copies of your passport handy. Buy some Skype credit before you leave. Have easy access to emergency numbers. I know it’s no fun to think of the bad things that could happen, but it never hurts to be prepared.
7. Embrace the Unknown
I’m so full of cheesy quotes in this post, but Helen Keller did say, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”. You get one life, and you should live it adventurously, even if you’re scared. When you travel alone, you have the opportunity do whatever you want, according to your own agenda. There’s something to be said for being in a place where nobody knows who you are. So get out of your comfort zone and do it! If you hate it, then at least you gave it a shot, right?
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller
Traveling alone isn’t for everyone, but I do think it’s worth trying at least once. Not only will you make new friends, but you will engage with locals in a way that only a solo traveler can. You’ll get some much-needed alone time (hardly anyone gets enough of that!) And you know what? You’ll learn to appreciate home and your loved ones even more.
There are so many places to discover. What are you waiting for?
Have you ever taken a solo trip? Do you have any tips to add to this list?