Next week, I'll be going on my second solo travel trip overseas. Last January, I went to Bali, Indonesia for nine days. This year, I'm headed to the United Kingdom and Ireland for three weeks. Traveling has always been a true passion of mine, but there's something about solo travel that really kicks the heat up. Once you've had a taste, there's no going back.
Traveling to different countries by yourself can seem daunting, but taking the leap is so worth it! You create memories and experiences that give you a more broad perspective of your outlook on life. Now, it's safer than ever to travel alone because of all the technology we have to connect us. There are several apps, networks, and websites that make searching, booking, and confirming a breeze. Therefore, you can feel more confident about taking a flight, without anyone else, halfway across the world.
Here are some tips I learned before traveling solo for the first time, and some that I learned as I obsessively scrolled through travel articles and blogs (while the nerves of my second trip creep up to grab me by the head as the day of my departure draws near). There's no way to know every detail before a solo trip, but it does help put feelings at ease to be as prepared as possible.
1. Work Your Network
One of the most exciting parts of planning a solo trip is the moment after you purchase the flight and start telling people that you're going. Bringing it up in conversation can open a lot of doors to insight other people may have about the place you're visiting.
"Oh, my brother goes out to Dublin all the time! I'll ask him for some recommendations." I always love it when a person mentions a place I've heard of before or was already planning to go. It's like confirmation from the universe that I'm meant to go there.
2. Make Copies of Important Documents
It's always a good idea to have copies of your passport, social security or birth certificate while traveling solo, just in case anything happens; and anything could happen. The U.S. Embassy is there to be the parent you can run to if you ever need them. They'll have a hard time helping if you can't prove your citizenship. Also, keep written emergency contact info on you at all times. If your phone dies and you need to call someone who has access to your documents, you can.
3. Choose Your Destination Wisely
Do some deep research on a place before making it your ultimate destination. Read blogs written by people who've been to the place you want to go. Chances are you'll learn things you didn't factor in that could be deal makers or breakers for your plans.
Read up on the current events happening in your country of choice. Have there been any recent natural disasters? Find out if the citizens agree with the government, so you don't fly into a political uproar where shops are protesting and riots break out on the streets. You'd be surprised how often temperaments change in any given tour destination. Understand the culture, so it's not too much of a shock.
4. Pack Appropriately
Check the weather for the season you're planning to visit. It's better to arrive with the appropriate gear than to be forced to buy it when you get there. I'm visiting England in January, so I know to bring interchangeable layers of clothes, gloves, a hat, and a sturdy umbrella. When I get further up toward the Highlands in Scotland, I may need to adapt even more. For now, I get the gist. Pack for the ride and adjust to the journey.
5. Be selfish!
Solo travel is all about doing what you want to do. Wake up at the crack of dawn, sleep in till noon, book three museum tours in one day, it's your choice! Traveling by yourself gives you the freedom to create your own itinerary, so go crazy with it. I like to give myself one day in between doing group tours that have a planned schedule, to do things on my own time, at my own pace.
Have a plan of communication with a few people during your trip. Using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to send messages over wifi is a great way to stay in touch along the way. As tempting as it is to completely disconnect, a simple "I made it to the hotel! I'm okay" text is super courteous to those people back home praying that you don't get thrown into the back of a van never to be heard from again. Let them know that all is well, and everyone wins.
7. Go on Group Tours
Just because you're traveling solo doesn't mean you have to be alone. Booking day trips with a group will give you a chance to meet other travelers and experience the town with other people. A day tour is usually lead by a travel guide who will have much more to say than a pamphlet. Group tours are a great way to make new friends, and people in your group may have been to a place you're planning to visit. The more insight you get, the better.
8.. Ask Locals for Recommendations
Locals in your destination always have suggestions for restaurants, excursions that you won't find on major tour websites, which makes them that much more special. You could be pointed in the direction of a hidden gem that turns out to be the highlight of your trip. If it checks out in your gut and your intuition says yes, it's more than likely worth going for.
9.. Bring a book
Long train rides and faulty wifi can be triggers for major boredom and anxiety. It's okay to spend your time getting through a good book, especially when you're alone. I like to bring a book that I've always wanted to get through and make it a point to read it every chance I get during the trip. My goal is to finish it by the return flight, making it the cherry on top of a great trip.
10. Enjoy Solitude
There are times when the harsh reality of traveling by yourself will sink in and you realize how you're actually "alone" in a foreign country. Those feelings are perfectly normal and should be greeted with acceptance. Take a deep breath. It's all going to be okay. Remember the reasons you decided to travel solo in the first place and allow your thoughts to carry on. Keep a journal and write down what you discover. You'll be better, wiser, and stronger in the end.
There's no right or wrong way to travel on your own. This is the part where you create your own destiny. The feelings you've chased after, you get to go get them. The world is yours for the taking. All you have to do is book a flight.
Travel Tip References:
Why I'm Not Afraid to Travel Alone - A Dangerous Business
Seven Rules For Solo Travel - Conde Nast Traveler