What to Know About Traveling Alone
Trips for singles have been popular since the popularity of Eat, Pray, Love book and movie. Solo vacations can bring clarity into one’s life and I personally believe that every person should travel alone at least once in their life. The best trips for singles over 30 are the ones with self-discovery.
Since taking several solo trips ranging from a few days to three months, many friends and family have asked me what my experiences have taught me. On this page, find out:
- How safe it is to travel alone.
- How to travel solo confidently.
- About making travel plans.
- About the “No-Plan” plan.
- How to travel solo without feeling alone.
- What traveling alone teaches you.
1) How safe is it to travel alone?
Remaining safe while traveling involves many of the same tactics you use at home. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t be too flashy with cash, jewelry, and travel documents.
When traveling, however, it’s always a good idea to notify trusted friends and family of your location. The best time to shoot an email or text is before and after getting on flights since most airports have internet access. Likewise, you can also wait until after checking into your accommodations and getting settled.
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 solo travel 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 _____.”
- Diversify 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.
Even seasoned travelers like myself need to keep an eye out. Check out these safety tips for women traveling alone.
2) How to Travel Solo Confidently
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.
Similarly, consider purchasing travel health insurance for long trips (a month or more). While U.S. health care costs encourage home remedies, the fee for a world traveler policy is significantly less. For my three-month European trip, my insurance quote is $150 for the entire duration.
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.
- As you tour the city, get your barrings and locate the police station and other emergency service providers.
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.
3) Travel Plan Beforehand
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.
Having someplace to go to drop off your bags and wash your face is essential following a pan-ocean flight. Likewise, having your accommodations 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.
4) Safely Traveling-Without-a-Plan Plan
“I am a free spirit, I do not want to plan every detail of my trip.”Wanderlust
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 solo trips abroad, I like a hybrid of free-spirit
- First Solo Trip: Book a round-trip ticket, where you are staying, and that is it. Let the rest of your trip be a whim.
- Experienced Solo Traveler: Buy a one-way ticket and accommodations for the first night or two.
- Solo Wanderlust: Pack super light and get on a plane. You’ll find a place when you get there. And if not, then there’s always late-night bars and friendly locals.
I do the hop-on-hop-off bus tour the first two days to get a lay of the land. It also helps me determine the most interesting areas of the city to stay in later.
Keeping plans open allows you to take advantage of opportunities presented.
Be Wary of Poor Planning
While no plan is often the best plan, it’s not always the smart one. One downfall to last-minute booking is availability. Popular travel areas in tourist season book up fast. So, you may end up paying way more or get subpar accommodations.
Once, I booked at a hostel with four three-tiered bunk beds in a room without walking space. I would have to dedicate a portion of my mattress to store my bag, which was particularly difficult being on the top tier.
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 (
5) Travel Solo Without Being Alone
Buying a SIM card for your mobile phone in another country is an affordable solution that will allow you to stay in contact with those at home. Having an internet connection with access to GPS will also prevent you from becoming lost in a new area.
One of the first things I do once I have the address of my accommodations is to favorite it in Apple maps. This way, I can always find my way back to my temporary home with ease and verify the direction I need to go before leaving any location.
I text or call my best friend and mother every day. Not only does this ward off feelings of loneliness buy it also ensures that someone who cares about me knows where I am and that I am safe.
While it does not work abroad, sharing your location (sorry, this is exclusively for Apple users) is another way for someone to verify your whereabouts in the event that something terrible happens. My best friend and I have been sharing our location with each other for years and inform the other of when and where we will be going on dates.
6) What Traveling Alone Teaches You
Solo travel is more than going to places by yourself. It’s an opportunity to test your independence and time of self-discovery. Here are five things I’ve learned while traveling:
1. Traveling abroad alone can feel like home once I make two friends.
Most people think that going on vacation alone means that you will lonely. Although I travel alone, I am far from isolated. I have yet to visit a place and not make at least one temporary friend — usually locals and sometimes fellow solo travelers.
Nice, France truly felt like a new home from the first night when I met and became friends with a Russian bartender named Ana and her English boyfriend. They took me to their favorite watering holes and introduced me to their friends. For my last night in the city, Ana introduced me to another English expatriate who I spend the night and Christmas Eve with.
2. Living abroad is a world-wide goal.
You would think that living in a European city like Dublin, London, or Barcelona would be the ultimate home goal. However, even a Parisian can get tired of seeing the Eiffel Tower. I’ve found that most people want to live somewhere else. Some imports I met included:
- A Madrid native living in Reykjavik.
- A Londoner living in Amsterdam.
- A Russian and a few Englishman living in Nice.
- An Englishman who wanted to move to Nashville, TN.
- An American and an Italian living in Madrid.
3. Travel is worth all my money.
Almost every dollar I earned while traveling has gone towards traveling and I will still be paying off this trip (and my next one) months after I come home.
Travel isn’t cheap and I haven’t exactly been frugal when it comes to my eating and drinking budget (or lack thereof). I estimate that by the time I return to Tennessee, I will have spent just more than $15k.
But I strongly believe that this is money well spent. Not only have I seen new places and experienced other cultures, but I have also realized a lot about myself. Namely:
- I am fiercely independent and like being alone.
- I can understand
contextwithout knowing the language.
- I need to get my drinking habits under control.
- I would be happier creating a book than a baby.
- My mom is my best friend.
- I want to do everything but I need to focus on what is important or I will end up with nothing.
4. I’m comfortable traveling alone but not in terrible accommodations.
Hotels, motels, hostel lodging, and bed and breakfasts must be welcoming, clean, and safe or I check out.
Being in my mid-thirties and a bit of a princess, staying in hostels is no longer an option for me. I’m too light of a sleeper to share a room with someone who snores.
Hotels are usually a treat since they’re pricey and I’m not a Rockefeller. Prices for Airbnb rooms and homes are more in my budget and are often very nice.
However, not all are good. Some of the problems I experienced with Airbnbs included:
- My second home in Reykjavik was too far from the major attractions. (poor planning on my part)
- The smell in one of the Belfast rentals was god-awful.
- The houseboat in Lyon had Wi-Fi issues.
- The room in Madrid was a windowless cave painted Pepto-Bismol Pink.
5. I can depend on myself exclusively.
Because I traveling alone, what I hear most from people is shock and awe. Women traveling alone shouldn’t be rare but it sadly is, as women face additional dangers when visiting foreign countries.
That being said, I am very proud of myself for handling an accommodation emergency in Dublin and the multiple transitions between seven countries and 15+ cities. It takes a certain type of person to be able to plan and adapt to long-term travel alone.
Best Places to Travel Solo
Section coming soon!