During Your Trip
Wherever you are in the world, be it Dublin or Da Nang, appearing confident while wandering the streets will help you stay safe while still getting the most out of your experiences. It’s a common mistake to think that advertising your tourist status will garner you assistance from accommodating locals. To the contrary, a displaced tourist is a prime target for crime, from pick-pocketing to something more serious, like identity fraud, or worse—(so keep a gorilla grip on your passport at all times!).
Kayla, a senior at University of Maine, remembers the experience of being alone at night in Paris and how she dealt with being lost. “I got a little lost on the way back from the Eiffel Tower at night, and though I speak a little French, it was scary. The metro stopped running and I ended up having to take a taxi back to my hotel, but if I’d looked as lost and freaked out as I was feeling, I would have been a major target. Criminals tend to prey on women, particularly those who look like they’re out of their element. Know where you’re going before you head out, and if/when you do get lost, play the part of a savvy city woman and walk with your head up and a strong stride.”
Take cues from the locals regarding local customs and manner of dress. No matter the dress code, keeping your valuables protected is always is always fashion, so opt for a crossbody bag instead of a shoulder bag, which can be snatched easily. That being said, wearing shorts, a fanny pack, and sneakers will highlight your tourist status in glaring fluorescence—not to mention the mortifying fact that you’ll be wearing a fanny pack and sneakers. Believe me, you’ll regret that duo when the photos are developed.
Tap into the international travel community
As soon as you lose your solo travel V-card, you’ll come to comprehend the enormous and dynamic international travel community. It’s both incredible and humbling to realize how many people like you have similarly embraced an instinctual urge to get up and go, regardless of whether anyone else goes with them. And just like you, these independents are going to want to experience all the joys and secrets of your chosen destination, and may be interested in some tandem touring.
Beyond the company, alone, hopping off the beaten path with somebody else can have its practical advantages, too. Perhaps you want to split the cost of a private boat tour around The Broads in Norfolk, England? Maybe you’d like to go halfsies with someone on that enormous empanada from a farmer’s market in Lisbon. Maybe you need another player for a game of pick-up cricket in New Delhi or else your team is definitely going to be at a disadvantage and wouldn’t that be the worst?
Several years ago, while lost in the Louvre with a friend, we stopped to check a museum map for a moment, and got chatting with some Norwegian students visiting Paris from a city just north of Oslo. Deciding that six heads were better than two, we embarked together in search of the elusive Venus de Milo, whom we found two hours and half the museum later, in all her armless glory. I’ve since kept in touch with several of them on Facebook and years later, I know that if I were ever to find myself on a Scandinavian tour, I could count on four friendly faces to show me around. Foster the friendships you make with the expatriates you meet on your travels because they’ll be ones to tap into in the future for companionship and couch-surfing when you’re on the road again!
As amazing as the experience of traveling is, it can sometimes be a bit of a sensory overload. So many experiences are packed into the numbered hours of each day’s itinerary, it may be overwhelming to take it on alone, however much fun you’re having. Make time each day to update a travel blog or scribble a quick entry in a travel journal. Veronica points out, “Not only does [journaling] give you something to do on train rides, but it is the best thing for the travel withdrawal you will have when you’re back home.” If you go the online route, Tumblr and Google’s weblog platform Blogger provide foolproof platforms for the amateur journalist, so you have no excuses not to get your blog on, girl.
Wear down the capture button on your camera. Take so many pictures you could put the stills together and practically make a film. While it’s important to document your journeys in writing, a picture really says a thousand words and when you’re tearing apart your vocabulary in attempts to describe to someone that je ne sais quoi of the view at the top of la tour Eiffel, you’ll be grateful you can just pull out a photo instead and be like, “See what I mean?!”
In addition, the art of taking a photo of yourself without cutting off part of your face or giving yourself maje’ double-chin is a skill to be mastered, pre-trip. When you’ve spent the last two hours hiking to the top of Mount Batur in Bali at four in the morning to watch the sunrise over Penelokan, taking a few selfies is not only forgivable, but necessary.
Embrace your newfound freedom
Whether you’re in Madrid or Marrakech, trekking on your own allows you to get chummier with the locals than if you were surrounded by a safety net of fellow travelers, so get to know some before you leave! Pretend for a moment that whichever city you’re visiting is a fabulous evening soirée and the locals of the destination guests at the party. If you’re traveling with a pack of fellow journeymen, just like if you go to a party with your entourage already in tow, you won’t meet new people like you would flying solo. Take advantage of your single status and mingle with the people who know your exotic locale best—the people who call it their hometown!
While linking up with other travelers is great, embrace the time you have to yourself in a foreign land as one of self-discovery! Alain de Botton, a travel writer and philosopher points out in his book The Art of Travel that “Our responses to the world are crucially molded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others... Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others.”
Laura admits that while some elements of solo travel may be foreign at first, ultimately you get used to the alone time and come to love it. “One thing I didn’t like at first was going to restaurants alone. But when you are traveling solo, this is pretty much a non-negotiable. I have grown to love eating alone though. I don’t focus on the fact that I don’t have anyone; instead, it gives me time to sit and think, plan my next excursion, or read the tourist pamphlets they give you at the hotel.”
Being alone gives you the opportunity to shed the comfortable shell of your identity and see what kind of girl appears when you’re not locked into the expectations of the people you know to be, react, and think a certain way. Traveling alone allows you to connect on a deeper level to the world around you, and it may be a surprise to find the face reflected back at you in the River Seine while wandering the Left Bank by dusk appears different than the one you remember practicing selfie pics in your bedroom vanity before departure.
Go to sleep when you want. Wake up when you want. Eat when you want. Chat up that golden-bodied Spaniard Javier on the Barceloneta beach for as long as you want. No compromises. Ever.
This is the joy of traveling by yourself.