What to Know About Traveling Alone
I made it my mission to travel abroad solo before I turned 30 years old. England was an easy choice based on the language alone, although plenty of other countries speak enough English for an American tourist to function. I also had a friend living an hour or so (by train) outside of London and another inside the city proper.
In less than 60 days, I will be on my second solo excursion abroad. This time I’m visiting Iceland, Ireland, France, and Spain. A far cry from my initial trip. In the two years since England, my professional career as a freelance writer has blossomed into a freelance editor, which allows me the opportunity to reprise my wanderlust spirit and plan a three-month excursion to four European (and adjacent) countries by myself.
How safe is it to travel alone, especially as a woman?
Remaining safe while traveling is little different from staying sound while at home, particularly as a woman. Where you choose as a destination will obviously impact how much like home it is. Unless you plan on going to a war-torn country or one with special laws for women, you can stay reasonably safe by being aware of your surroundings, organized, and responsible.
Quick and dirty tips:
- Research the address and contact information for the local U.S. Embassy where you plan to visit. Additionally, translate and keep a copy (or memorize) emergency phrases like, “Help. I need a doctor.” or “Take me to _____.”
- Diversity where you keep valuables and keep photocopies of documents like your U.S. passport on a cloud. Also, separate your cash in different pockets so you will only expose a nominal amount when you make purchases.
- Watch your drinks, ladies! Sometimes vacation mode sets in and you cast caution to the wind and forget the basics like don’t take drinks from strangers and stay in public areas.
Take the same safety tactics you use when you go out in your hometown. Don’t be too flashy with cash, jewelry, and travel documents. Email your friends and family your location frequently.
How to Travel Solo Confidently
If you really want to feel secure (or enough to stop making other people worry), then do your research about the destination. Get maps on the area. Look up reviews of accommodations.
Keep locks for securing luggage in lockers when available. Purchase a theft-deterrent wallet that wraps around your thigh or calf to keep your passport and money on your person without risking it in easily captured bags and pick-pocket-able clothing.
As you tour the city, get your barrings and locate the police station and other emergency service providers. Similarly, consider purchasing travel health insurance. While U.S. health care costs encourage home remedies, the fee for a world traveler policy is significantly less. For my upcoming three-month trip overseas, my insurance quote is $150 for the entire duration.
I am a free spirit, I do not want to plan every detail of my trip.
I feel ya. Planning a vacation, especially one last minute, can feel like a packing an anchor. When I went to Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, I had a binder broken down by city and date with every detail that I thought I needed. It didn’t take long before I realize that I wanted to stay an extra day in some places while leaving others sooner than expected.
For my first solo trip abroad, I wanted a hybrid of my free-spirit backpacker and my super-planner control freak. I booked a two-week round-trip ticket to London and the first three nights at a hostel. And that is it. The rest of my trip was on a whim, selecting the next hostel the day before or day of.
Generally, keeping my plans open worked really well. I did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour the first two days to get a lay of the land, which helped me determine the most interesting areas of the city to stay in later. I was also able to meet up with my friend in Kent and stay with him for a few days when the opportunity presented itself.
One downfall was a last-minute booking at a hostel with four three-tiered bunk beds in a room without walking space. When I walked in, I was instantly ill-at-ease with the accommodations. Not only was I to be on the top of one of the triple bunk beds but it was the one next to the door and I would have to dedicate a portion of my mattress to store my bag. As I looked around at some of the other travelers who had engineered private forts in the lower bunks using towels and sweatshirts, I realized that this was not where I wanted to spend the night, much less my birthday (yas, gurl, it was my 30th!).
Luckily, I crashed with the friend who lived in the city that night.
Safely Traveling-Without-a-Plan Plan
I said what I said. While no plan is often the best plan, it’s not always the smart one. As I mentioned in Buying One-Way Tickets to Foreign Countries, foreign travelers need to have proof of onward travel to enter a country. So, as romantic of an idea to just grab the next flight to Italy sounds, the Italian officials may not let you in if you do not have a plan to leave within 90 days without a visa.
Like London, I booked accommodations in Reykjavik, Iceland for the first few nights I was in the country. Knowing how expensive Iceland is currently, I only wanted to do a week there and purchased a flight to Belfast where, again, secured an Airbnb for my two-day stay in the city. Since Londonderry has an epic Halloween festival, I also found a nice room near city-center for four days.
Having someplace to go to drop off your bags and wash your face is essential following a pan-ocean flight. Likewise, having your accommodations during an even booked well in advance can save you a lot of stress in a new place. However, a couple of days is sufficient to feel out an area, adjust goals, explore areas, and find reasonably affordable rooms.
Tip: Favorite some places you like in different areas you might visit. Then, when you are ready to commit to a location, you will already have a list of places that meet your needs and likes.