“Wait, so you’re alone?”
The bewildered Londoner asked me this with an expression that was equal parts perplexed and amused. And her question was not uncommon.
I also received a similar inquiry from a waiter earlier that day, a young couple in Belgium the day before and the Canadian family I did a canal cruise with that afternoon. It’s what most people think when they see a 24-year-old, monolingual American girl wandering around eating meals alone and drinking wine with a book in her hands. I’m sure my gal pal that spent several weeks alone in Paris at the same time also received these questions on a few occasions.
It makes sense.
But traveling alone really is enlightening and incredible. Being on your own enables you to truly observe and soak up the atmosphere and culture surrounding you. It rips you out of your own little world and flings you solo into uncharted territory. It pries open your shelled heart to the phenomenal art, history and human encounters that you may have otherwise let slip through your fingers.
The most pristine and enchanting beauty can only be found outside of your comfort zone.
But with any kind of risk comes danger. When it comes to traveling alone the danger is not conceptual either, it’s real. It’s “I don’t want my dad to have to go Liam Neeson on some human-trafficking kidnappers this week” kinda real. And I get that. Being a young woman in a foreign country or even a foreign place is intimidating. I’ve heard the horror stories too. I know it’s scary, but you can’t let that keep you from feeding the hunger that is your own personal piece of wanderlust.
There are ways to feel much more comfortable and in control venturing out on your own. And to LOVE it at the same time, because your enjoyment should be an utmost priority in any kind of travel endeavor.
Below are the tips and tricks I have learned over the years, from domestic solo travel to foreign excursions, to give you a little added insight for your adventures as a LADY BOSS taking on the world.
1. Pick a destination you’re comfortable with.
This doesn’t mean you’d have to feel safe in the darkest alley in the roughest part of town in the middle of the night either. It just means select a destination where you know most of the items on your bucket list would feel perfectly safe and well-protected to carry out on your lonesome.
2. Make some plans, but not TOO many.
One of the best parts about traveling alone is flexibility. Want to spend 5 hours wandering around the city? Go for it. Want to do 3 back-to-back tours? You got it. Want to sleep in and get brunch on the plaza? Bon appetit.
You don’t have to over-schedule when there are no other interests to satisfy but your own, so enjoy that!
3. Mind your phone battery and charging solutions.
This seems silly, but it’s one of those safety-driven tips I mentioned earlier. Your phone is your lifeline when you’re alone, especially abroad if English isn’t the native tongue. It can be your map, communication tool, transportation planner, ticket holder, memory collector and home to all of your confirmation codes. You don’t want that thing to die on you while you’re lost somewhere or in need of your ticket’s QR code. Being alone means you don’t have anyone else (or their phones) to depend on.
Charge a few of those portable power cubes, and make sure you have all the right adapters for your various stops. Sometimes I like to search for coffee shops or charging stations at transportation hubs to take a beat and replenish my battery. Just be mindful of that little percentage and you’ll be OK.
4. Check out the free walking tours.
I use the word “free” lightly because at the end of any free walking tour you are asked to pay the amount you choose, but they’re awesome. Most major cities have several free walking tour options and they’re just a Google search away. All you do is sign up online for a time slot and find the group at the first stop.
It’s a great way to meet new people while you are out exploring the city and the tour guides usually give you recommendations for food, drinks and activities. Feel free to handle the tour however you prefer. Sometimes I have laid low and kept to myself, other times I’ve left the tour with a few new friends to go grab beers and share stories. It’s whatever you’d like it to be!
5. Bring a good book…or 3.
Laying in the park, sitting on a bench or sipping a coffee by yourself at a cafe, it’s nice to have the company of literature. It’s also super peaceful, entertaining and you don’t have to stare off into the abyss every time you eat a meal alone in public. (All though far be it for me to keep you from abyss-staring if that’s your preference)
6. Don’t tell anyone that you meet where you’re staying.
Keep your hotel/Air BnB/hostel on the DL, even to the friends you meet along the way that you think you can trust. Your place to stay is your sanctity and safety net when you’re traveling alone. You want to make sure it stays confidential to you. Even if someone SEEMS nice/normal/ like a super-cute European dude, you never know who may secretly want to cut your skin off and wear it to their birthday party. (Throwback Jenna Marbles quotes there, yall.)
Also, be careful giving out your contact information at all, even if he has an irresistible little twinkle in his eye.
Repeat after me: “Guys are weird.” “Guys are weird.” “Guys are weird.”
7. Stock up on your resources.
The more you know about the language, culture, and geography of where you are staying, the more confident you will be navigating the adventure on your own. Just because you don’t have another person to guide you, doesn’t mean you can’t rely on a good ole fashion travel book to do the same thing. Grab maps, bring books and download apps for added help and information.
8. Pack LIGHT.
You DO NOT want to be hauling around a giant suitcase alone. And honestly, you don’t need to. I used to be a big fan of packing way too much on trips until I took a few trips by myself and realized it was miserable and exhausting dragging my stuff around. I just brought a carry-on and a backpack for ten days and it was plenty. Pack layers, comfortable shoes and plenty of jackets. Then you can mix and match without over-doing it.
9. Take photos and journal about your experiences.
Because there is no one else there to remind you of the memories or snap videos for you, make sure you don’t forget them! Everything you take in is so special and unique to you, and you’ll want to catch those moments for the future.
10. Meet new people and be yourself.
It doesn’t have to be strange or uncomfortable that you are alone. You’ll learn pretty quickly that there are a lot of other loners out there doing the same thing. Talk to people. Learn about the travels of tourists, get tips from the locals and share your experiences too. The connections you make and conversations you have will really open your heart and mind to new horizons. I’ve met so many people traveling alone, from a train back home to a flight from Seattle to a tram in Amsterdam, they’re everywhere. And the people I’ve come in contact with have made an impressively lasting impact on my life. You just have to be open to them, cautiously, but kindly and with honest curiosity.
We are all just wandering around this world searching for answers, experiences that teach us and moments that make us feel alive. Deciding to encounter some of that on your own is brave and exhilarating. It will undoubtedly make you not only a stronger, more independent person, but someone who believes that you can accomplish all of your dreams on your own.
Goodluck, and may your wanderlust carry you to all of the magnificent corners of the unknown.