Tips for Solo Travel

by - Friday, December 23, 2016

I took my first international solo trip at 10. My mom dropped me off at the airport and alone I went to Panama. I stayed with a family there who we had just met on an earlier trip to Panama. I know a lot of people would think (and did think then) that my mother was crazy for sending me alone to another country to stay with people we barely knew. There is nothing in my upbringing I am more thankful for though than starting my solo travel at a young age. The next year I went to Australia alone to stay with my sisters and since then I have made many trips alone. I still sometimes get shocked responses both from people who think it's great and people who think it's terrible that I am traveling alone, but I have come to really value these trips. In the past couple years I have been to Bermuda, Barcelona, Fez, among other places alone. These trips have been so meaningful and I have learned so much about myself through them. I believe everyone should travel alone sometimes. I don't have all the answers for making the most of a solo trip but I have a few tips which you can find below!
  1. Book a tour: It's easy to feel like the place you are visiting is an absolute maze when you first get off the plane. It takes a while to get used to how the city is organized. I have found the best way to acclimate to a new place is to book a walking tour for my first day there. By walking with the group I get comfortable with how the city is organized and can find my way afterwards. If it looks difficult to get to the start of the tour I usually take a taxi. When I first got to Barcelona I spent a couple hours trying to find the start of the tour but suddenly after it I had no problem finding where I was staying and multiple other sights. Often you can find free or very cheap walking tours which I believe are often the best anyway. You will get accustomed to the area and even meet some other travelers.   
  2. Talk to people: Meeting people on tours brings me to my next suggestion- talk to people. Being alone isn't always lonely but sometimes it is. I have met some interesting people while traveling. When I was in Bermuda there was a family in my walking tour who was also having tea where I was. We ended up talking and it turned out they were from the next town over from my parents in Connecticut. It was such a sweet taste of home and familiarity abroad. 
  3. Ask people to take your photo (and then ask again if they don't come out well): My biggest travel regret is always not having more photos. I take a lot of photos myself but sometimes I don't get enough with me in them. I came back from my first trip to Paris for example with only one blurry photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower. From then on I vowed to always ask people to take a photo of me when seeing interesting or beautiful things. And if the photo doesn't come out right the first time I vowed to ask someone new.  
  4. Splurge on the internet abroad plan: internet, GPS, Yelp, phone service–it all helps make the trip smoother. If it isn't too much extra it is an expense that is totally worth it. I know I am always thankful that I paid for internet when I am lost in the middle of a windy street and just want to turn on the GPS. Also it means you don't have to waste time in internet cafes looking for a place to eat or texting your friends to tell them you are still alive. 
  5. Don't let being alone stop you from doing anything: Maybe everyone else is with their family or friends but don't let that closet any opportunities to you alone. In Bermuda I knew I wanted to have high tea at the Perfumery. Would I have preferred to have done it with someone? Yes, but by going alone I didn't miss out on a really special opportunity. By letting go of embarrassment or awkwardness at doing things alone I have been able to enjoy restaurants and have experiences both at home and abroad that I otherwise would have missed. 
  6. Reach out to others visiting the same place: Especially for long solo trips having dinner with that friend you took Spanish class with and have crazy different political views might actually be a highlight. 
  7. Be confident: This actually applies to all travel not just traveling alone but I believe it is especially important when traveling alone. This is the only safety type advice I'm giving here because I truly believe it is the most powerful way to protect yourself while traveling alone. No one will mess with you if you look like you know what you are doing. I see people in New York all the time grasping their bags to their chests and looking incredibly nervous. I know I have been guilty of doing that in other places but I try very hard to avoid it and to remind myself that confidence is key. Nothing makes you stick out more as a target than looking terrified. 
  8. Be easy on yourself: So you followed everyone's advice on traveling alone yet you find yourself crying on the colorful streets of Hamilton (Bermuda), feeling lost and confused as to why this is all so hard even though everyone speaks English. Suddenly even Times Square where you usually avoid at all costs seems organized and appealing. It's okay. Sometimes everything doesn't work easily but you try not to feel stupid. Think of your own town and how confused visitors get there doing things you do every single day. Try to breathe and give yourself a break to relax. Cry if you need to but then keep going. Not every moment will be amazing but it will all be worth it and these bad times might even be what you appreciate the most out of your trip later. You will make mistakes but that's okay because you are learning. The first day I was in Fez I was walking around the old city and trying to find the medina. I had a tour booked for the next day but had enough time that afternoon that I wanted to see something. I was lost and a man came up to me offering to guide me to the medina. He was sweet and I followed. There were people everywhere so I didn't feel nervous but I also realized I was doing exactly what the tour books told me happened in Fez. I was following a man who would show me around then demand payment for the tour I hadn't asked for. Lo and behold once he had guided me through the medina and to a rug factory he guided me straight to an ATM. His brother showed up and told me I had to pay the man for the tour. I felt so stupid. I used common sense and never allowed myself to be in a dangerous situation but I had still allowed myself to be taken advantage of. I had read that this happened yet still there I was stupidly handing money to the man. This is where that confidence would have helped. I could have said "no" and informed him I could find the way myself (even though I wasn't sure I could). In the end though I had to let it go. It was a little money but he had shown me around and I was safe and that is what is most important. Mistakes happen but in the end it will only be a small part of your fantastic trip.

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