How to Travel by Yourself (and What you Gain)
How to Travel by Yourself (and What you Gain)
A lot of my friends ask me how I could go on a trip by myself. Especially as a young female, it’s still this big taboo, despite how far western society has come on allowing women to have the same freedoms and opportunities as men. But regardless of gender, there is this fear about going somewhere alone. Yes, the unknown is scary, but I don’t think that’s what holds most people back. My peers are terrified of being alone. Think about this. Really ask yourself: why is it scary to be alone? You don’t like yourself? You don’t know what you want? You just don’t know how to be alone. We pity people that are by themselves. But being alone is not the same as being lonely (I know, cliché and all that). If you’re afraid of being alone, you are going to miss out on so many opportunities.
Why travel alone?
Five words: you get to be selfish. Travelling by yourself is the ultimate indulgence. No one is around to take that weekend trip to Dublin? It’s on sale, so get your butt over there. Feeling like going to that “dorky” Doctor Who museum? Go. No one is around to not be interested or make you feel guilty if you go. Feeling like eating Italian? Do it. No one is around to say they don’t want to eat a bunch of carbs. Get that extra glass of wine too. You deserve it. Want to hike around a mountain side? Go get your nature time on. No one is around to hold you back; no one is tired, no one is hangry (hungry+angry: I’m so guilty of this), no one is annoyed you’re taking a hundred photographs every five minutes. Hey it’s a really pretty insect on this flower, okay? Not feeling like doing much? Go see a movie. Read. Draw. Be as social or antisocial as you want. Travelling alone is YOUR trip. You see and do what YOU want. From Parks and Recreation: treat yo self.
Pack light, but make sure you have important documents and medications
First of all, pack as light as you can. See my blog post about packing efficiently here. No one is around to carry your bag for you (looking at you, ladies), and you’ll be hauling it around a lot more than you realize. Especially travelling around Europe, you need to be able to chuck that bag above your head on the tiny luggage rack, and haul it up and down subway stairs (no escalator or elevator in sight. Oh, and it’s always a million degrees. What’s a vacation without a little sweat?). Be willing to lose packing space on the really important things: important documents (make copies of your passport and ID, print out your train/bus/museum/event/etc tickets) and medications. Having a mini emergency pack is one of the smartest things you could have when you only have yourself to rely on.
A side note: the contents of my personal emergency pack
Mine has my prescription medication, Advil/ibuprofen/etc, anti-diarrheal (omg she talked about poop! Thank me later, and CAREFUL what water you drink), anti-nausea (bus rides, boat trips, you know), Band-Aids (blisters will ruin your life), floss, toothbrush (overnight train rides), tampons (it will strike when you least expect it, except for you men – be grateful), Swiss army knife (I’m German, okay. But careful taking it as carry-on on airlines), eye drops (have extra contacts, fellow blind people. You will scratch/rip/destroy the one single pair you brought), snacks (aforementioned hangry times), tissues, and probably ten more things I’m forgetting. But you get the point. Imagine worst case scenarios so that you can be prepared for them.
Logistics: to plan or not to plan
I am a planning FREAK. I mean, I’m all for just seeing what happens and going with my whims and all that, but I am also annoyingly efficient (again, those German genes). If I have one weekend in London, you better believe I will see ALL of the major sights, and then all the random ones I wanted to see too. I only have to worry about myself, so I can New York walk miles and miles without running my friends into the ground. I usually make a list of the things I want to see, have a map to hit up all the sights close together, and I know what public transit will get me there, and will get me back to my hostel. But even if you aren’t big on planning, do at least some general research on the area to get the gist of what you might want, what it might be like, and what cultural differences there might be (to tip or not, looking at you, aggressively tipping Americans, if places are closed because everyone takes a siesta, if places are closed on Sundays or religious holidays, etc). It’s also polite and a nice gesture to at least attempt to learn some key phrases in the local language. Remember, you are in the home of the locals and it’s not their responsibility to know your language (if they do, be grateful!). Finally, you will be safer if you know how you are getting back to your hostel when its dark, and you can save money getting to the airport if you find the exact bus you need and where it stops instead of spending big bucks on a taxi (double check the bus times and the length of the journey!).
Yes safety is an issue, but don’t let it hold you back
Check in with someone close to you a LOT. Even if it’s just to say you had a nice day and what you did. People at home like that sort of thing anyway. Have someone know where you are going to be, where you are staying, and how he or she can contact you. I said it before and I’ll say it again: make copies of your passport and ID. Email them to a close friend or family member in case anything goes wrong. That being said, keep an eye on your stuff ALL THE TIME. It takes two seconds to snag your bag from the chair next to you while you look the other way. There are some impressively talented pickpockets and thieves out there. Keep your pockets empty, pay attention to your surroundings, and keep your stuff in eyesight, if not in close touching distance. Ladies, I shouldn’t have to say it, and it’s not fair, but please do be careful where you walk and who you trust. When you look foreign and confused, a lot of people will take advantage of you. Sad but true. Be smart, and be a little more alert.
Find a buddy at your destination
If you are still nervous about being on your own, find a friend on the road. Sign up for tours, do daytrips with travel companies, strike up a conversation with your hostel mates, chat with locals you meet. You can be as social as you want, and people are generally friendly. Be cautious in tourist zones where you might be taken advantage of, but be open to meeting new people.
You learn and experience more culture when you have no one else around
When you are alone, you have no one to fall back on. You don’t have the safety net of someone to talk to. You can keep yourself on the periphery, or you can integrate yourself more fully into the local culture as you try to meet new people and try new things.
You will learn how to fend for yourself, deal with adversity, and deal with yourself
Yay for personal growth! On a side note, this looks great on your CV… When your future employer asks you how you deal with adversity, tell her/him about the time your backpack was stolen with all your credit cards and passport. Tell him/her about the time you were sick in the middle of nowhere in Italy and you only know ten words of Italian. Travelling in general and especially by yourself will open your eyes up to so many new things, and you will grow tremendously. Cue more generic “why you should travel” tidbits. But seriously that stuff is all true. Moreover, learning to be on your own and be your own person is one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself, and you will be more independent, and more importantly, you will be happier.
You get the ultimate freedom to do and see whatever you want
‘Nuff said on this. Go enjoy yourself!