Point blank: most people are afraid to be alone. Add in a foreign place to the mix, and traveling alone can seem utterly terrifying. That is…until you give it a try yourself. Getting into solo travel is a slow and steady process. You first have to dip your toes in the water and test it out before you’re ready to completely submerge yourself into the ocean of wonderment and possibility.
My journey with traveling alone began by going through these motions—starting in small doses, gaining confidence each time. It all began with a two-day excursion to a little beachside town in Portugal. I was doing a homestay program in Spain, and left all my friends behind to explore a new country solo. Getting on that bus as a bright-eyed, naïve 19-year-old was very intimidating; I took on the challenge well, basking in the sun and dining alone with ease. After my short but memorable time in Portugal, I knew I had to keep doing this. It was exhilarating.
Over the years, I attempted more and more solo trips, building up my tolerance. This year I was able to embark on my most ambitious trip yet: a week by myself, in a foreign country, without knowing a single soul there. I had been dreaming about going to Iceland for a long time, and had no one to do it with. Little did I know it would be a life-changing adventure. The sheer beauty of the country is nearly indescribable, and my experience was heightened by the fact that I was there on my own. I came back and everyone had remarked on how amazing it looked; how happy I had seemed; how inspiring it was that I did it solo.
Travel not only helps better you as a person, it can have cathartic effects on your brain. And because of this, I will always prioritize travel, especially as a young adult. As a travel addict, I make any excuse to get on a plane, train, or bus and go somewhere new—even if that means being alone—because I know this experience will benefit me for the long-term. Blame it on me being a Sagittarius (the sign that’s most inclined to travel), or take it that anyone can learn to do this—you just have to give it a chance. So if you’re hesitant about making the leap, check out my tips below, plus advice from some of the top travel influencers in the business:
It’s 2018, and solo travel has literally never been easier. First off, if you’re traveling alone and still want a dope Instagram picture of yourself, don’t knock the self-timer. I have no problem propping my DSLR (or even an iPhone) up on a tripod and going at it. Half of the time, my friends back home didn’t even realize I took all the photos of myself, rather than asking a stranger to do it for me.
Second, if you’re getting a little lonely on your trip, there are a number of apps/websites you can use to connect with locals and fellow travelers alike. I’ve heard great things about sites like EatWith or apps like Backpackr, and I’ve even connected with people on Tinder in foreign countries. Obviously, you should take measures to protect yourself when meeting up with a stranger abroad—check out my last tip for more on that—but if you do it in a safe way, you could end up with an awesome, new friend.
Third, modern map technology like Google Maps, Waze, and iPhone Maps are clearly lifesavers. Unless you’re in a remote location, you probably won’t be getting lost nowadays. But one app that I’m adding to my list? Foursquare.
Travel pro Nastasia Yakoub of Nastasia’s Passport and Dame Traveler agrees. “That cute cafe you found on Instagram? Download the Foursquare app and add it to your customized list. I use the app to plan all of my trips. You can customize and curate lists for every destination you visit. It organizes the saved places on the map so when you arrive [to your destination], it’ll show you the places closest to your location. That way you’ll almost always know the best places to go! Check out mine here.”
Have An Itinerary, But Don’t Plan Too Much
I’m very much a Type A person and I love scheduling myself down to the very minute. But after traveling a bit (by myself and with others), I’ve realized the most magical moments aren’t planned. It’s all about stumbling into a random art gallery, or getting lost in narrow city streets. So in my recent travels, I’ve made an effort to plan less and just enjoy the time I’m at said location. Take the Chillhouse-approved approach to travel: always be DTC (down to chill)! Whether that means sleeping in a luxurious extra hour, pampering yourself at a local spa, or sitting on a beach all day, vacations are meant to be relaxing. Overall, I like to mix in the tourist/cultural sites in with a little good, old-fashioned wandering. Stop and smell the roses!
Book Excursions or Group Tours
I used to think group tours were cheesy, but my most recent trip to Iceland changed my mind. While it can be a major bummer to be corralled around tourist sites with a busload of people, it can be a perfect way to meet other travelers. Plus, they can be super informative! You will not only learn much more about the place you’re visiting, but you can bond with your tour mates and/or tour guide. If you don’t know how to book them, you can book in almost any country via Viator.
Get Immersed In The Local Culture
This is something I cannot. Stress. Enough. My least favorite thing about traveling abroad? Having to combat the “ignorant American tourist” stereotype. No, it isn’t fair that we get a bad rep, but sometimes, it’s accurate. If you’re going to a new place, try to experience it as a local would, as much as possible. That means checking out spots off-the-beaten-path and trying new cuisines. Ivanna Martinez, who runs social media for Coveteur, echoes this sentiment:
“I recently traveled to Paris alone! I love that traveling solo gives you the luxury of planning where you want to go and when to do it. I used Airbnb’s new “Experience” feature and got to tour the city without ever feeling alone! I learned how to bake croissants with a local baker and bike around the city with a local student as my tour guide. The more locally immersed you are, the more you get out of your solo trip.”
Strike Up a Conversation
It may seem really hard, but try to strike up conversations everywhere you go. A shopkeeper might end up telling you about a locals-only restaurant, or a special scenic outlook. One of the simplest ways to attempt this is to sit at a bar alone. It might seem agonizing at first, but eventually, you’ll get the courage to strike up a conversation.
Whenever I sit at a bar alone, I take some time to settle in with my drink, and then I check out my surroundings. Make small observations, because even the littlest thing can get a chat started. If they seem like a tourist just like you, try asking, “What brings you to (insert city)?” or “Where are you traveling from?” If you’re chatting up a local, ask for recommendations around town. And if you literally can’t think of anything to say to a stranger, always remember compliments are key. Tell someone they have a killer outfit, and the conversation will definitely start flowing.
But Remember You Can Say “No”
So what happens if you DO meet an awesome girl-gang abroad, and you’re going crazy with their constant antics and “go go go” attitude? According to Taylor Taverna of Taverna Travels, keep in mind that while it’s fun to have friends, you are on vacation for YOU, and only you:
“My biggest tip for solo travel is to remember that you are doing it for you! Despite the misconception, that traveling solo is extremely lonely, I often found that I’m surrounded by people all the time. While this can be absolutely wonderful, it can also be a bit overwhelming at times. Staying in hostels I often found that there is a bit of social pressure to be going out every night, drinking every night, etc. It’s important to remember that you can say no! The best part of traveling alone is that you all of the shots, so it’s super important to keep that in mind while you’re on the road.”
Pack A Few Books
I’m a major bookworm, and always pack one (or two…or three…) with me when I go somewhere. Not only does reading flex your brain muscles, but packing a book means you’ll never run out of entertainment when there’s limited or zero cell service. And if it’s hard for you to fall asleep on those frigid plane/train/automobile rides? A book can wind you down. Dylan Grace Essertier, a travel and lifestyle writer, especially recommends it for solo trips:
“One thing I love about solo travel is when you’re on the road alone you can read voraciously. I especially love reading books that relate to the place I’m visiting. For example, during a recent solo trip to Rajasthan, I brought along the memoir of Gayatri Devi, the widow of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It was incredible to be sightseeing during the day and reading her story at night, and made me feel even more connected to the culture, essence, and history of the city.”
Plus, Confidence Is Key
“As a woman going out [by herself], the key is confidence—you need to look like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going even if you don’t. I usually pack a book or a journal and go out to a restaurant, cafe, or bar alone. Odds are someone will ask me what I’m reading or writing, and the conversation turns into a great travel story. Worst case scenario, no one reaches out and you still entertained yourself with a good book.”
Lastly, Take Precautions
There’s no denying it: the world can be a scary place sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you need to live your life in fear, or be scared of finally booking that solo trip. However, you do have to take some precautions to ensure your well-being and safety. The general rules I follow are:
1) Always be aware of your surroundings, and especially watch your back late at night. Staying hyper-focused on the sights and sounds around you is SO important; be sure not to wear headphones in while walking!
2) Be careful of who you disclose being alone to. This is a tricky one, because sometimes meeting strangers is great! I’ve done it and have plenty of international pals at this point. But…it’s better to err on the side of caution. Often, I’ll lie and tell people that “I’m traveling with a friend who’s sick/wants to stay in that night” instead of openly admitting I’m traveling by myself. If you want to give a little trust and admit you’re solo, at least stay mysterious about where you’re accommodation is. Protect yourself at all costs!
3) Be in constant communication with your loved ones back home, just in case. I’ll always update my friends/family about my whereabouts so they’ll have a peace of mind. And god forbid if anything were to happen, they will be in the loop. Making guidelines like this will ensure that you stay safe and sound, because traveling by yourself—especially as a woman—can be, unfortunately, challenging and dangerous. However, the rewards pretty much always beat the risks. Don’t let this stop you!
Feature image via Vanessa Granda