I have always been obsessed with the idea of seeing the world and getting outside of my neighborhood.
My first solo trip was to Barcelona, Spain for my 19th birthday. I searched for cheap flights, stayed in a hostel, and had the time of my life. I think solo traveling is such a gratifying experience because it forces you to get uncomfortable and trust yourself. There's no one else to rely on, and you’ll feel independent. Solo travel is wonderful because you can take things at your own pace and navigate the day as you please. Although traveling alone can be intimidating, remember that your first trip does not have to be backpacking through Southeast Asia. You can start small based on your comfort zone and budget, and time. Try going to a new city in your state, or a new state in your country!
- Trust your instincts
My biggest tip for solo traveling is to use your instincts. Your instincts are so important in helping you stay safe because chances are, if something does not feel right, then it probably isn’t. You should absolutely get out of your comfort zone, but take precautions because you are in a new place. Don’t go out alone late at night, but if you absolutely have to, let someone know where you’re going (like the hotel staff) and what time you expect to return.
- Plan (but not too much)
Something extremely helpful when traveling alone is to plan out your trip, but leave room for spontaneity. There can be a million things that you want to see and do, but creating a strategic and time-friendly plan allows you to tackle activities without exhaustion. When I was in Barcelona, there were so many places on my sightseeing list, but I organized each activity by location so that I can easily walk between sights. Planning is an effective way of covering your ‘must see’ list, and it is a great way to see the city. Barcelona’s neighborhoods were small enough that after walking for about 15 minutes I was in the next one. I found many “mom-and-pop” shops, non-touristy restaurants, and scenic alleyways that were great for photos. Barcelona has a metro system with trains and buses that is simple to navigate once you get the hang of it, but I opted for walking to be adventurous and not be stuck underground in nice weather. If you must take public transportation, I would recommend getting a day pass because it’s cheaper. However not every city has the same walk-ability or transportation services, so if you are in a place like that then rent a car or call a taxi. If you use a taxi, make sure to negotiate the price before getting in, because some drivers will charge you a different price upon arrival.
- Immerse yourself in the culture
In addition, many travelers love using guided tours, like Get Your Guide, in order to find excursions, and feel a little less lonely in the place they’re in. This is a phenomenal way to meet new people, feel a little safer, and take some of the pressure off of yourself to find things to do. Airbnb has an “Experiences'' tab on its website, that allows you to experience the location hosted by locals. These activities include things like: cooking classes, pub crawls, art museums, and wine tasting. If you truly want a solo trip and want to take things at your own pace but you’re confused about what to see and do, you can simply search “Top things to do in __” and an array of blogs, videos, and websites will compile a list for you. You can research when is the best time to visit an attraction, and depending on its popularity, you may want to buy your tickets online in advance because it is cheaper, and you can avoid the wait in person. I did this when I wanted to visit La Sagrada Familia, because it is a must-see in Barcelona therefore it gets busy. Another tip is to travel with your student ID since many places offer discounts to students or free admission!
- Get a refund
Shopaholics, I have great news for you! I’m not sure how it works in all countries, but I know that many places in Europe, like Spain, will give you a tax-free refund when you go shopping abroad. This refund works in stores that offer the DIVA VAT refund like H&M, where you will need to show your passport and request a DIVA envelope. The items must be for personal use like clothing, makeup, or bedding, and taken with you to your home country. This is because the officials at the airport may ask for proof of purchase when you are going through customs. When you go to the airport to return home, you will present your envelope, receipts, passport, and ticket to officials. Your refund amount will depend on how expensive your items were. For more information on it, please visit https://www.innovataxfree.com/en/.
Solo traveling does not have to be scary if you prepare for it and have an open mind. Walk with confidence, don’t display personal items, and be alert. I recommend journaling and taking many photos, so you can document your experience and feelings in the moment. When traveling solo you don’t really have anyone to turn to talk about what you were seeing, so it is nice to record the memory for later. There are other little things to keep in mind like getting a sim card for service in the country, exchanging currency at home before traveling, and packing only essential items. Remember if you are going to a different country, learning a bit of the local language goes a long way because it shows respect and it is ignorant to think they will speak your language. All in all, have fun and don’t overthink it.
Disclaimer: Dazne James and HC Brooklyn are not affiliated with the links above.