So far this year, I’ve taken two international solo trips – which is two more than I expected to take, well, EVER. Back in January, I traveled to Paris, then Barcelona in May; and, I’m happy to report I had no major hiccups during either trip, nor did I feel uncomfortable traveling alone. (Guys, I was born for solo travel.)
Out of curiosity, I reflected back on my trips to determine just why they went so smoothly. (I’m suuuuper analytical.) And, here’s what I came up with – five essential things I did that made my solo travels so successful.
Even if you have zero plans – or desire – to travel alone, keep reading! These tips are easily applicable to any international excursion.
Whether you’re a natural-born planner (like me!) or live for spontaneity, research prior to a trip can save you gobs of hassle. Yes, gobs.
- Download city and metro maps to your phone for offline access.
- Make a list of your must-dos and plot them out on Google Maps. I’m not suggesting you create a detailed itinerary (like mine). Just take advantage of Google’s ‘Your Places’ feature and create a Saved list.
- Check the hours for any attractions you want to visit. How bummed would you be showing up to the Louvre on a Tuesday (when it’s closed!!)??
- Use your phone’s notes app to jot down any key tips or facts you want to remember.
- Have a plan for emergencies. What if you become ill? Or you lose your phone – or worse, your passport?! Write down your emergency contact numbers. (Because, who actually has phone numbers memorized nowadays??) Make a copy of your passport and ID. Heaven forbid you experience a crisis situation; but, being prepared will make it much less painful if you do.
- Consider your phone options. Weigh the cost of an international plan vs. relying on Wi-Fi. Will you even have access to Wi-Fi where you’re headed? Whether you want to Snap your friends the entire time, check in with your mom once or twice, or go completely off the grid, knowing that you’ll have some means of communicating is important – even if it’s just part of your emergency plan.
STAY IN TOUCH
Let at least one friend or family member know where you’ll be. You don’t have to share your full itinerary, or tag your location in ever Facebook post for everyone to see – unless you want to! But, privately sharing your flight schedule and address to your Airbnb or hotel… that’s just plain smart from a safety standpoint.
And, if your mom is anything like mine, she’ll appreciate a quick “I’m still alive”-type message now and then.
To avoid being a target for pickpockets – or anyone who might want to take advantage – try not to draw attention to yourself. Clothing, guidebooks, and even where you stay can be a tip off that you’re an outsider. Whenever possible, eat, drink, dress, shop, and even speak like a local.
- If you pull out a map or bulky guidebook, you basically have a flashing, neon ‘I’m a tourist’ sign above your head. Instead, utilize those downloaded maps and notes you saved on your cell. You won’t get lost, and you’ll look like everyone else who can’t stay off Insta or Snapchat.
- Learn a few key phases in the native language. You can’t hide your accent, but you certainly won’t be mistaken for a total travel novice.
- Avoid those super touristy areas. They’re rife with pickpockets. And, honestly, don’t you want a more authentic experience anyway? Look for shops and eateries filled with locals, or ask a local for recommendations. Maybe even get your food to go (aka. take away) and eat in a nearby park. Ultimately, you’ll blend in better and likely have a more authentic experience. (And, if you simply must have one of those kitschy souvenirs… well… who am I to judge? I am the proud owner of a few trinkets blatantly naming the places I’ve been.)
- Consider Airbnb vs. a hotel room. Hotels = obvious tourists. Plus, staying in an apartment will make you feel more like a local, too. And don’t be afraid to ask your Airbnb host for tips and suggestions to enhance that cultural experience.
- Act confident. If you do find yourself confused or lost, take a seat on a bench to regain your bearings. Or, find a trustworthy person (who speaks your native tongue!) and calmly ask for help.
The lighter the better. Toting multiple pieces of luggage to and from the airport is a major inconvenience – even more so when you’re doing the heavy lifting all by your lonesome. Crowded metro cars, flights of stairs, not to mention the whole looking like a tourist thing… less is definitely more. Limit yourself to one bag – two max – and if you bring a suitcase, it’d better be a carry-on-sized wheely one! When packing, stick to the essentials and a few versatile outfits. You’re traveling solo. No one will notice if you wear the same thing twice. I promise.
PROOF THAT YOU WERE HERE
Naturally, you’ll want photographic evidence of yourself with famous landmarks, or enjoying a view. So, how strong is your selfie game? If you use a selfie stick you WILL look like a tourist. But, if the photo is important to you… #yolo. I actually did ask a few strangers to snap photos for me, in places where it would’ve been difficult for them to bolt with my phone. And, I’m oh so thankful I did! Sometimes a selfie just won’t do.
ENJOY THE FREEDOM!
Seriously. Take full advantage of the fact that you can spend your time however YOU please. There’s no trying to accommodate multiple agendas, no making compromises, or quibbling about where to eat, or even sharing a bathroom! You make all the calls and you don’t even have to feel selfish about it. This doesn’t happen often in life, so fully embrace the opportunity to figure out exactly what makes you happy. Then, do it!
If you’ve ever considered traveling abroad alone, I encourage you to make it happen! Your future self will thank you, and so will your friends when you pass along your own expert tips.