10 Tips You Need When Traveling Alone
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel regularly throughout my life (my first plane ride was when I was just a few months old) and have recently had the opportunity to travel more alone. Solo travel can be and is immensely rewarding, but it can also be jarring if you’ve never done it before. So keep reading to see what I’ve learned throughout my solo journeys this year.
Save your money.
Honestly, I despise the blogs whose major advice to you is to “cut back on those $5 coffees each day” or “cut your shopping budget” because let’s be real, a lot of us aren’t buying those frivolous things anyway. Most of us have student loans, phone bills, insurance to pay for, rent, utilities, and more. We’re not dropping $5 every day on a non-essential item. Maybe you’re having it as a treat a couple times a month, but definitely not every day.
So my real tip is just save money however you can. I know some people who take any loose change in their wallet at the end of the day and drop it in a cup or piggy bank. The app Acorns rounds up each purchase to the next whole dollar amount and sets aside the difference into a savings account. So if you spend $1.75, the swipe will read as $2, and the $.25 difference will go right into savings. (The app does charge a $1 fee each month.) If you’re a Bank of America customer, you can go directly through their “Keep the Change” program to do the same thing.
Do your research.
My biggest tip for traveling alone is definitely do your research and plan wisely. If you’re going to a new city or country, post on Facebook to see if anyone in your network has gone. (I got some great tips for my Dublin trip by doing this.) Even just a simple “things to do in XYZ” search on Pinterest or Google will help you immensely. (We also have quite a few cities in our own archives in the U.S. and Europe 😛 .) And chances are that in your searching, you’ll stumble across a bunch of posts with “Free Things to Do” which again, saves you money!
Doing your research will help you learn a few things about the places you’re interested in traveling to. The first being what exactly is it that you are interested in doing there – seeing art, hearing local music, exploring nature, or sampling local foods. The second being how much all those things cost. This will help you determine how much you need to save to pay for your trip and all the things that you want to do. The third thing that you’ll learn is the confirmation that you still want to go to that place!
Yes, you read that right. Sometimes travel research leads you to the realization that a place you idolized in your head is not a place you feel the need to visit ASAP in reality. Yes, you read an article or blog post spotlighting a cute shopping street or restaurant, but does seeing those one or two places warrant going there just for that?
Know your location.
My biggest secret to traveling alone is using something I bet you already use all the time. You ready for it? Google Maps. That’s right. Download the app on your phone if you don’t have it already. Once it’s open, click the menu bar at the top left – the one with the three horizontal lines. Then select “Offline areas” and select Custom area. You can now zoom in on any place on Google maps and download a section that is saved to your phone that you can use regardless of your phone signal. This is extremely useful when you’re traveling outside the country. You can now get driving or walking directions anywhere within that downloaded portion of your map.
My next tip: when you’ve decided all the things you want to see in that city, save them on Google maps by searching the address and selecting the save button (or star). Now, you can see all the places on your saved map. You can do this from your phone or laptop as long as you’re logged into the same google account. I did this when I went to Dublin in January and it was so helpful when I was walking around by myself.
Unfortunately the one thing this won’t do is give you public transport routes. For that option, you’ll have to plan more ahead and figure out what to do each day. Which brings me to my next tip…
Plan your days.
Now hold your horses my type B, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants friends. I don’t mean you need to plan on spending exactly 1 hour 42 minutes at the Art Museum followed by a 38 minute lunch at Cafe Z and so on. I mean that by planning your days, you can wake up each morning with a purpose and know you’re going to see some beautiful sights. I’ve taken some trips where I didn’t plan anything, only to feel aimless and overwhelmed at options. And then I got home and learned about things happening in that location and I missed out because I hadn’t done my research ahead of time.
My philosophy when traveling is to find one thing to do in the morning, and two in the afternoon. I liked to leave my evenings free in case I wanted to go out or just relax at my hostel. And by using your saved Google map, you can also go to the things that are in the same neighborhood on the same day. By doing this, you are also saving money on public transport. I spend 5 days in Dublin and I only spent money on the airport shuttle, and three bus rides. I saved a lot of money that I could spend on a nice meal or going to another site I wanted to visit.
Skip what you’re not interested in.
This can be a hard one. If you don’t like art or walking around museums in your home town, why would you like doing it while away? Just because some blog or magazine says a certain thing is a “must-see” doesn’t mean it’s a must see for YOU. If you like sports, see if there is a local sporting match. If you like music, look on Yelp to see which bars and clubs have the best local bands. If you like nature and hiking, look some half day or day trips away from the city. I’ve wasted hours wandering around museums that I wasn’t interested in in the first place just because I thought I had to visit it.
When you’re traveling alone, you don’t have anyone there to help roll your heavy suitcase or load it onto a bus. You’re on your own. You also don’t need to pack seven separate outfits and five pairs of shoes for a five day trip. First of all, laundry exists. If you’re staying in a place without laundry facilities, find a nearby laundromat with a drop off service if you’re on an extremely long trip. If you’re on a shorter trip, skip the laundry and plan to wear all your outerwear at least twice. Pack a fresh pair of underwear and socks for each day, and deal with having to wear your leggings and t-shirts for second time. The best part of traveling alone is that you don’t have anyone there to notice anyway! I love packing in my eBags packing cubes no matter how long or short my trip is. Packing in the cubes makes it easy to unpack and also pack more in my suitcase! You can also find some knockoffs at TJ Maxx, but be wary. I bought some in prep to move to the Netherlands, and one of them ripped when packing. I’ve had some of my eBags for going on 6 years and haven’t had a problem with any of them.
Keep an open mind.
I know I just told you to plan your days, but keep an open mind about switching it up. If somebody in your hostel asks you to go on a walking tour with them and you had planned to go to a museum – say yes! If you find out about a free concert in a park and you had planned to go out to dinner – go to the park! Don’t be so set in your daily schedule that you close yourself off to opportunities that come up. But that also leads me to the next one…
Be aware of your surroundings.
No matter where you go, safety is an issue when traveling alone anywhere from Denver to Portland to Stockholm to Dublin. As much as we’d like to think we can trust everyone we meet, the truth is you can’t. So if you go out with people you meet at a hostel or on a meetup group, be aware of your drink at all times. Some of you may love to go out drinking and partying really late. If that’s you – that’s fine. You do you. But traveling alone (especially in a foreign country) is not the place for you to do that. I know some of you may be rolling your eyes or even chiming in with a “I spent all night out in XYZ and was totally fine!” Call me paranoid, but I value my safety far more than the chance to say I got wasted in Wales.
If you’re walking back alone at night, keep your head up and walk like you know exactly where you’re going. If you’re lost, find a well lit doorway or open shop and duck inside. Use your saved map to guide you back to where you need to be. I also advise against wearing headphones and listening to music at night if you don’t know where you are. When listening to music, you’re distracted and can easily be caught off guard. However, if you don’t want to be bothered during the day, wear them! That obvious white cord is a signal to most people to back off.
One of my favorite things it taking photos of all the things I find interesting each day. Sometimes it’s a landscape shot of a bridge. Sometimes it’s of graffiti on a wall. And a lot of times it’s of a cat walking down the street. Take photos of things you like, make you happy, that you think is weird, and of anything that’s going to remind you of your trip.
Live in the moment.
Enjoy each place you’re in at the time you’re in it. Relish the history museum, savor your lunch, be present at the walking tour, and have fun drinking at the bar. Solo travel is one of the best ways to clear your head of all your stresses back home. So just be in peace in the exact moment you’re in.
Have you ever planned a trip by yourself? Where’s your favorite place you’ve been to? Tag is in some travel pics on Instagram!
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