I never thought I would ever travel alone. As a woman who’s super into true crime and has ultra-paranoid parents, I always grew up hearing stories of abducted female travelers and Taken-esque kidnappings, and the idea of solo travel terrified me. Not only did I worry about being kidnapped or otherwise assaulted, but there were also fears of social awkwardness — could I really eat at restaurants by myself? Ask strangers to take pictures of me at the popular sites? Confidently navigate foreign cities on my own?
Eventually, I realized that life is too short to wait on my friends to be ready to travel with me. So I decided to take the world by storm (kind of) and dip my toes into the solo-female-travel world by going to Prague and Amsterdam by myself. The experience was incredibly liberating and life changing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world — though there are some things I wish I expected beforehand. Here are 10 tips I wish I’d been given before I traveled solo. I hope they inspire you to live your solo travel dreams!
1..Always Be Early
My first solo travel tip is to always. Be. Early. To literally everything. I have anxiety and whenever I travel I worry that anything that can go wrong will go wrong — whether that means missed flights, lost passports, or a late train. To help keep my anxiety at bay, I learned that it’s helpful to be at least a little bit early everywhere you go. Foreign airports may have different layouts and structure than you’re used to — give yourself a little extra wiggle room to navigate that. If you’re supposed to hop a train in Italy, be early, since Italian trains frequently run off schedule. This will help keep your travel anxiety at bay and will ensure you hit all those activities without a hitch.
2. Nobody’s Judging You
Seriously, they’re not. Go eat at that fancy restaurant by yourself — nobody cares. One of my best times in Prague took place in a restaurant I was at alone, where I ordered a couple glasses of wine, beef stew, and dessert, and chowed down while reading a book. My favorite time in the Netherlands was when I went alone to a bar that used to be in an old church. Behind the bar were pipe organs and massive floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows, and I sat there by myself for hours. It’s serene, peaceful, nobody cares, and even if they do, you’ll literally never see them again. So just do it!
3. Walk Confidently
This is a safety tip more than anything else. If you want to make it less likely that you’ll receive unwanted advances (which I hate that I even have to say, but alas…), walk around like you own the place. Hold your head high and have a firm grip on your purse (which is preferably on a cross-body strap), and walk swiftly. Avoid looking down at a map or at your phone. When I needed my phone out for directions, I would either glance down at it every once in a while or keep it in my hand but close to my body so no passersby could see there was a map pulled up on it. The goal is to make people think you live there — blend in enough that nobody will want to mess with you.
4. Learn the Language
Not only is this a sign of respect toward the culture you’re visiting, but learning some of the local language is also a safety tip. Learn how to say simple things like “No, thank you,” “I’m waiting for my friend,” or “I’m calling the police” in the local language. I can’t count how many times I had to whip out a No, grazie when men tried to shove roses in my hands in Rome. Don’t worry about being polite and don’t play along if someone tries to start a conversation. Your safety comes first.
5. Smell the Roses
You’re by yourself in a new country — I don’t know of anything sweeter. Be leisurely, please! Don’t rush your trip. You are beholden to nobody but yourself during this time. If you’re walking through a park and want to linger, linger. Bring a book with you everywhere so you can sit and read when you find a place that you just want to be in for a bit longer. Smell the flowers, listen to the street music, and make this a time to dig into the life of the neighborhood/city you’re in.
6. Be Spontaneous
Be spontaneous! Don’t plan every single second of your day. If you pass a cool shop, go in. If you pass a theater, go see a show. Give yourself enough leisurely walking-around time so you can do the little things you see. When I was walking around Amsterdam one day, I walked into a tattoo shop and left with a tattoo of an airplane on my arm (pictured above). Now, I’m not saying you have to get a spur-of-the-moment tat, but you get the picture — be spontaneous! (Side note, that tattoo is now my favorite!)
7. Do the Weird Stuff
In Amsterdam? Go to the sex museum. In Reykjavik? Go to the penis museum. No, not all of your weird activities have to be sex-related, but be sure to do some research on your destination and search for the most unusual things to do in that city. I guarantee you’ll find some options that are not available in your home town, and even if it’s not right up your alley, do it anyway — you’ll likely have an experience you’ll never forget!
8. Make Temporary Travel Friends
If you’re younger, hostels are the way to go here (I say “younger” only because many hostels have age restrictions); otherwise, consider looking for shared-space Airbnb rentals. Travel friendships are some of my favorite friendships because they’re so fleeting and impermanent. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out — fleeting friendships are liberating. You can just kind of be, without any pressure to perform. You don’t have the baggage of a long-term friendship, but you still have people to go out with at night (or during the day if you want) and have lighthearted fun with. No, these will likely not be the deepest friendships you’ll ever cultivate, but I think there’s a certain beauty in getting to know someone for a brief period of time and then letting go.
9. Ask These People to Take Your Picture
Ask these people: moms (if they don’t have their hands full), young adult women, other tourists, restaurant/shop owners, and tour guides. Don’t ask single men or groups of men. Don’t ask older people or older couples — not for safety reasons, but because they’re less likely to get a good picture. If you want to find someone to get a genuinely good picture of you, pay attention to how they’re taking their own photos — are they taking photos of someone else and telling them how to stand better? Are they taking photos from multiple angles? Find someone who at least seems like they know what they’re doing, and you’re more likely to get some great snapshots of your time.
10. You’ll Become Your Own Best Friend
Finally, I wish I knew how much I would come to love being with myself when I traveled solo. I got very much in tune with my emotions, my wants, and my thoughts. I did so much journaling and just had so much headspace, where my only priority was myself. I got to go with the flow of my own schedule and do what I wanted when I wanted. When I sprained my ankle (yes, that happened overseas and it was not a picnic), I easily modified my travels to accommodate my body. I ate when I was hungry and took naps when I was tired. Solo travel is one of precious few times when you’re with yourself, and only yourself, for an extended period of time — grow in love for yourself!
Have you solo traveled before? What did you wish you knew before you went? Let us know in the comments below!
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