Put up your hand if you love to travel. Now, raise your other hand if you’re an independent woman. Yes to both? How can it not be? You’re a fierce collegiette—fearlessness practically runs in your blood, and you are so not the kind of girl to let a little thing like lack of a travel partner hold you back from a wild, frivolous, and occasionally illicit adventure.
That being said, travel is so much more than simply going. To travel solo the right way, you need to know how to go, and how to go about going. The fun part of mapping your journey is determining the what, when, and where—but being fully versed on the how will prepare you for what to expect when the ‘who’ is you, and you alone!
So whether you’re still in the dreaming process, or you’ve already booked your single ticket, or you have been there, done that, bought the kitschy souvenir shop t-shirt long ago, Her Campus has got you covered on how to fly solo (literally).
Find the right (-for-you) hostel
Contrary to what the mediocre 2005 Eli Roth horror film might have you believe, hostels do not, in most cases, feature a subterranean torture chamber. So while safety is obviously your number one priority while traveling alone, you shouldn’t let that cause you to fall into the belief that you’re better off just booking the Hilton. On a collegiette’s budget, staying in a hostel is often your best bet, and you’ll be able to find reviews for any that you’re considering online. Hostelz.com [www.hostelz.com] has an excellent comprehensive and uncensored review forum, so you can base your decision off the stories of those who’ve trekked before you. The website also features over 47,000 listings in more than 9,100 cities, including price comparison between places and each hostel’s contact information. Bookmark this database on your browser!
When comparing accommodations, though safety and price should always remain two pillars of your choice, Veronica, a freshman at McGill University, recommends booking hostels that also feature a communal area for guests. “Traveling alone, I found that the very best hostels were the ones that had bars or good common rooms. Obviously, it was nice to have it right there, but mostly, it’s the best place to meet people. With a common room or bar where people actually hang out, it’s so much easier to sit and chat with someone for a while, and then go out together!"
Before leaving for your trip, create a shortlist of three to five potential hostels to check into in each city you visit. Your first choice may not always be available due to full occupancy or temporary renovations, so it’s wise to have a couple back-ups in place. Also, just because a hostel markets itself nicely online doesn’t mean you should necessarily trust the rating over your instinct if the place looks questionable upon arrival. Veronica learned that while the safe choice may not be the economical one, it’s always the best to make. “Don’t be afraid to change up your accommodations if they’re sketchy! I lost maybe two nights’ worth of money by changing one of mine after checking in, but it just really wasn’t cool.”
Determine how you’re getting around
When we’re all wildly successful international business women, we’ll have black Lincoln Town Cars and chauffeurs idling outside the airport for us upon arrival and our business trip stipends will include the cost of Rent-A-Porsche. While you’re still on the rise to this status, however, you’ll need to procure another way of getting around. If you’re really lucky, an attractive and eager local boy will offer to carry you around bridal style wherever you request, but when Casanova gets tired, you’ll need to find a back-up mode of transpo.
In most cities you visit, you’ll have multiple options of public transportation all for comparatively minor fees. Depending on the length of your stay, it may be wise, if the option is there, to purchase a week pass for whichever public vehicle you decide on, be it the subway, the bus, or the tram. Laura, a sophomore at Carleton University, sees another benefit to forgoing the rental car or taxi. “I love paying a few dollars and hopping on a tram in a big European city and seeing where I end up! You can see so much of the city this way for a lot less than it would cost on a tour. I also love people-watching while on public transit. You can learn so much about a culture through its people!”
Overall, while most cities will provide you with myriad transportation options, arguably the best, (and fee-free), way to get around is simply hoofing it. And when it comes to powering your own way around the city with the ol’ 1, 2, Step, Veronica sees nothing but advantages. “Walking gives the huge benefit of having the freedom to get lost—(which is exciting), go at your own pace—(there's no stress), spontaneously change plans if you pass something interesting—(which you definitely will), and stay in shape—(after delicious filling meals, or all the nights out, depending on who you are).”
Consider a tour
So maybe you’ve decided to “go it alone”, but that doesn’t mean you have to remain alone constantly when you skip off to your destination du jour. Au contraire, if you’re dreaming about getting lost along the cobblestoned streets of Paris, but are a little intimidated by the thought of actually getting seriously lost and winding up so far from where you started, the people aren’t speaking French anymore, maybe a tour is the option for you! The great thing about a tour is that it allows you to enjoy all the fun parts of traveling without the headache of logistics like where you’re sleeping that night, how you’re supposed to meet people, and how you’re getting to that place everyone is telling you you positively haaaaave to go—(“Collegiette, meet the rest of your tour group. Tour group, fab collegiette.”)
Contiki, a Her Campus favorite and the leading youth travel company, offers hundreds of tour options specifically designed for 18-35’s so you can stop worrying about inadvertently signing up for that Senior-N-Single tour of the Riviera you mistakenly thought meant senior year. Close call. In addition, booking with a company like Contiki is great for the cash-strapped collegiette looking to travel solo, because there are zero mandatory single supplements—a nasty little fee many travel companies attach to single bookings to account for the partner you aren’t bringing along. It sounds ridiculous because it is. Why be penalized for going solo?
Michelle Murray, director of sales and marketing at Contiki Vacations, points out, “Tours make it really easy to meet and make friends with other like-minded people from around the world. You’re traveling together, sharing amazing experiences and bonding while having a fantastic time. Tours also take planning headaches out of the equation by taking care of accommodations, transportation and other details so travelers can enjoy the sights, activities, local foods, and amazing cultures without any worries.”
Have a contingency plan for emergencies
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The more you prepare ahead of time for the absolutely cataclysmic, the better off you will be in the moment if or when something does go wrong on the road, and you have no hand to grab onto but your own. Murray encourages collegiettes to “take it all in [because] traveling is a journey filled with unexpected moments, great adventures, and life lessons. Don’t let any of it go unappreciated.” But that being said, “Use your street smarts, be safe, and show respect for the local culture and people.” While you can’t prevent the unexpected, you can prepare for the chance of it ahead of time, so before leaving, make sure to:
- Make copies of your travel documents: As a precaution against loss or theft, leave copies of important travel documents with your family back home. If possible, scan all of your important travel documents and send them to yourself at an e-mail address that you can access abroad anywhere you go with internet.
- Organize travel insurance: Ensuring you have travel health insurance that covers all medical expenses for illness and injury is crucial before departing for another country. Your basic comprehensive plan will include loss or theft of valuables, damage to baggage, and flight cancellations or interruptions.
- Register with STEP: STEP, which stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service provided by the government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, another country. After creating an account with the program, you can enter all of the details regarding your upcoming trip so the Department of State can assist you better in the case of an emergency while abroad be it legal, medical, or financial. If you’re from outside of the U.S., your country will have a similar program, so do a little research to find out where to register.
- Carry an emergency contact card: Create a contact card to carry on your person at all times which includes the coordinates of the nearest American embassy or consulate in your destination country, in case you run into trouble. Also list two emergency contacts back home to be contacted should you be unable to make a call yourself. Keeping all of your emergency contacts in the same place is key to dealing with an emergency effectively and efficiently.