Traveling alone. So much negative stigma is associated with it, especially when it comes to long-distance and extended-time travel. Embarking on my first solo trip in the summer of 2015 was completely spontaneous. After an atypical family vacation with my brother and his wife, I decided to stay and wander around the Balkans. A return ticket wasted — new memories and friends made. Since then, I’ve embarked on 7 trips alone and don’t feel like ever stopping. “Could you not find someone to go with you?!” — I could, but I didn’t want to. “Isn’t that dangerous? You’re a girl after all!” — Me being a girl does not mean I cannot defend myself. A little common sense goes a long way on the road. “Isn’t it boring to be alone all the time?” — you are the best company you’ll find, truly.
Here are my 7 tips and tricks to enhance your solo-traveling experience, and stay inspired for more adventures afterwards!
1. Pack lightly. I had a huge suitcase on my first trip (okay, it wasn’t THAT big — something around 70 pounds), and regretted it the first day of bus hopping. I had no choice, as my calm family vacation had transitioned into crazy bus hopping and hitchhiking throughout southeastern Europe, but, if I had the opportunity to correct my mistakes, this would have been the first thing to fix. Having a big suitcase is a gigantic burden, and you start feeling exhausted several days into the trip. So be smart, and only pack the necessities (clothes can be washed and you only need 1-2 pairs of shoes). A huge, sturdy backpack is better than most suitcases, especially when traveling through Europe’s tiny cobblestone streets.
2. Don’t stay in hotels unless it’s the absolute last resort. The best thing about traveling alone is meeting new people, because when you’re not surrounded by friends, you’re more open and likely to make connection with strangers. Hostels and Couchsurfing will save you a lot of money, and allow for interaction with other travelers or with locals (in the case of Couchsurfing). Who can better introduce you to a new country than the people who live there?
3. Keep your documents separate from money and credit cards in case your wallet gets stolen. Leaving the passport and cards in a safe or locker at your hostel, and taking just enough cash for the day is the best move. This also helps to limit expenses, when traveling on a budget. It’s a win-win — no stolen credit cards. No overspending. Yay!
4. Go with your gut. Don’t be afraid to adjust your itinerary or day plan a bit as you go. If you feel like making a day trip from Brussels to Ghent, do it. If wandering the streets of Hong Kong instead of going to that museum is what your heart wants, listen. There’s no one you can possibly piss off by changing your mind. That’s the largest benefit of solo-traveling. Freedom!
5. This one falls under #2: Get to know people around you. Be that crazy stranger that starts dancing to the street musicians’ beat. If you’re not that adventurous yet, start by doing simple things: talk to someone sitting next to you on a bench at a park, talk to local shop owners, introduce yourself to hostel roommates, come out to local couchsurfing meetings. They are usually held weekly in every major city. In short: be proactive and take take advantage of the atmosphere. I’ve heard some of the most incredible stories from the locals I’ve met. I’ve taken awesome day trips from my base city with other travelers. Don’t be afraid to take that extra step – it is well worth it.
6. Take in the atmosphere. Don’t feel like you have to constantly be doing something. No one will judge if you listen to the surrounding noises instead of music; no one will judge you for peeking out of a bus window instead of staring into a book. It is absolutely fine to go and dine at a restaurant alone; treat yourself to some delicious food and don’t shy away just because you’re afraid to “look like a loner.” Absorbing and enjoying the local atmosphere and culture is what one should travel for. There’s no need to miss out any of it just because you’re on your own.
7. Use caution and common sense. There’s never-ending kindness coming from people all around the world, but there’s also vice. Be mindful and don’t accidentally cause conflicts – reading about a culture’s/country’s norms, religion, and customs is very useful prior to the trip. While you may spend time with other travelers and locals, don’t give them a 100% of your trust from the get-go. Hold on to your valuables and wallet yourself. Don’t rush to come into someone’s house, especially if you need to drive to get there. Stick to populated/busy areas at night, and before doing Couchsurfing, check the person’s references, pictures, and possibly even their Facebook profile. When you do agree to stay with someone, let at least one family member or friend back home know, and, give them the name and address of the person you will be staying with.
I hope these tips were helpful and you will use them in your next adventure. For those of you who have never traveled alone before, I hope I’ve convinced you to consider traveling solo for your next trip!