“Who are you going with?”
“You’re going BY YOURSELF!??”
This is a conversation with which I am well acquainted at this point in my life. Whether it be going to see a movie or taking a weekend retreat, I’ve never been one to mind doing things on my own. Yes, I love great company as much as the next person, however, I have too many things that I want to experience to just be constantly waiting for someone else to join. Recently, this has also included some of my bigger travels. When I have talked to people about this, I have gotten several responses, but the biggest is one of doubt and caution:
“Are you sure you want to do that as a solo female?”
If I am being totally honest, when going to study abroad at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen and not knowing anyone going into the program, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ because I knew it wouldn’t be hard to make friends with the other incoming, international students who would be just as new and potentially clueless. However, by the time Easter break rolled around and many of the friends I had made were wanting to travel different locations than I had chosen, I had to put a bit more thought into that question. Did I want to change my dream travel plans in order to suit the rest of the group and feel a bit more comfortable or take a risk and go off on my own? I had the typical negative thoughts go through my mind due to how films and the news portray traveling solo, especially as a female. However, after some research and talking to others about solo traveling, in the end, I decided that I could not let fear win out—I would be making the treks through parts of Ireland and also to Santorini, Greece alone.
While the trips I took with some of my friends from Uni (like to London and Paris) were an absolute blast and lead to some incredible memories, the trips I decided to go solo on were actually some of my favorites due to the freedom to explore on my own schedule, making new friends along the way, and learning a TON of helpful things for my future travels.
With that being said, I wanted to share some of the tips I have acquired for those who have been contemplating solo travel for awhile and are still a bit unsure of whether or not to take the leap. I can say, personally, it was 100% worth it!
While I have compiled this list in order to ease the minds of solo travelers, really, these are just sound tips for traveling in general, and I hope you find them helpful:
- Research your destination (especially area DON’TS). While many people research the DO’s of a destination in order to find the best restaurants and tourist attractions, often people fail to lookup the DON’TS (AKA: areas to avoid). Researching and reading reviews on where your hostel, Airbnb, or hotel is located or locations to avoid at night can be one of the easiest ways to avoid dangerous or uncomfortable situations.
- Don’t believe everything you’re told. As with anything, a bit of common sense and trusting your gut goes a long way when traveling—especially in countries in which you are not a speaker of the native language. Not all people obviously, but some are quick to take advantage of tourists if they think they can make a quick buck. Use caution if you are being approached with an offer rather than the other way around. For example (based on experience): if you’re approached by someone at an airport asking if you need a taxi when you haven’t ordered one, the best option is to decline and find the booth for official taxis, lookup a specific number for a taxi company or an uber, or even opt for the public transportation system like bus or metro. While these situations may not be dangerous, these “taxi companies” are likely to charge you much more than the official companies due to the fact that they know you are a tourist and assume you won’t know the difference.
- Try to blend in and keep valuables tucked away safely. While this seems like a no-brainer, often as tourists, we have a known tendency to stick out in the midst of traveling, as well as, to stick things quickly in our back pockets for convenience. This is not recommended. In busy cities and tourist areas, the main thing you really need to guard against is pick-pocketing. Because of this, if you can try to blend in as much as possible while walking along the streets, it will help to deter anyone from taking advantage of you. Also, for those who opt for a purse, I recommend a cross-body bag with a sturdy strap that is easy to zip and keep a hand firmly on while walking.
Other sound options include using the inside pockets (rather than the outside pockets) of a good backpack or a jacket zipped/buttoned with inside pockets that also close firmly.
- Delay Posting on Social Media. I realize in the age of constant communication and access to the lives of others, this is not going to be a popular tip, but I stand by it. I recommend not posting and tagging yourself in a location while you’re currently still in said location, especially if you have your account set to public. I never post publicly on my Instagram that I am currently in a location, I will wait until a bit later to share. I feel this is an added layer of safety, as well as, a way to help me to fully enjoy the moment. If I see things that I want to capture, of course I’ll go ahead and take the photos while I am there, but then I try to put my phone away so that I can take in the beauty and culture of the place rather than immediately trying to post and update.
- Invest in a few important devices. Without question, the two most helpful devices I bought for my travels were a portable cell phone charger and an international plug adapter. With our phones often being used not only to communicate anymore, but also as our map and our camera, it is important to plan ahead for those moments in which you may be away from a charge point for the entire day. I kept my portable charger in my bag and it kept me in good shape until getting back to my hostel in the evenings. I found an adapter that works for many different countries rather than just one (which would have saved me from buying adapters specifically for the UK if I would have realized ahead of time). I bought both of these relatively cheaply on Amazon and have linked them for your convenience (although I did purchase within the UK, so some browsing may be required depending upon where you are shipping). While I am sure there are varying qualities and prices available, I was on a student budget and have not had any issues with these choices.
- Water. This is a two-fold tip. Number One: Make sure to check to see if it is safe to drink the tap water in your location! Caveland hostel in Santorini was quick to inform me that it was best not to drink the tap water on the island and had extra bottles of water available to purchase at reception. However, some locations may not inform you, so it never hurts to research ahead of time to save yourself potential health issues later. Number Two: If tap water is safe to drink in your location, I recommend packing a re-useable water bottle in your luggage in order to refill rather than constantly purchasing bottles out . . . this will save you money and is better for the environment! #winwin
- Be a friend to make a friend. I know everyone has their own schedule and style while traveling, but I have found that often solo travelers want to make friends along the way. Part of the appeal of not coming with your whole posse, is getting to make connections all over the world and cause your own cultural bubble to expand a little bit more each time. Specifically, in hostels, it is easy to make friends if you are willing to be social and put yourself out there a bit. Often hostels host event nights or have connections with local tours. Just keep an eye out or ask reception about signups upon arrival. In Ireland, through the Kinlay Hostel Galway, I was able to make a friend by signing up for a tour of the Cliffs of Moher and we ended up having dinner together and exploring a bit when we got back to Galway that evening. In Santorini, Caveland hosted a family-style dinner and a movie night at the hostel in which those who signed up got to partake in traditional Greek fare and watch a film that was set on the Island. I ended up making several friends in this amazing hostel, one of which had rented a car and invited me to ride along with her and explore the island the next day! Many of the females I met on this trip were also traveling solo and said throughout the majority of their travels, they had not felt in danger and agreed that traveling alone allowed for making new friends everywhere.
- Don’t be afraid to ask! Whether it be asking a fellow tourist to take your photo or asking a local shopkeeper for directions, you won’t know until you ask! When you are by yourself you don’t have the luxury of having a “built-in support group” to figure things out alongside you, so sometimes you may have to be willing to talk to some strangers in order to get the most out of your travels. I’ve found that some of my favorite moments throughout my journeys began by just starting a conversation.
- Try the food! This is not really a tip . . . more of a pleading request from a food-lover. There are simply too many amazing cuisines out there to only order chicken fingers, my friends! haha
- Embrace the misadventures. Sometimes, your schedule will get messed up, the heavy rain will pour, a bird might poop on you, you might get sick, or you may have to run to catch your bus (yes, I have experienced all of these things) . . . but it’s all part of the journey. Sometimes the misadventures lead to the funniest stories or the meeting of the nicest people—it’s worth it to not let your whole trip be ruined by unexpected circumstances (which will inevitably arise at some point).
I hope these tips will be useful as you plan your next adventure. Also, whether it’s hitting that matinee showing to the movie no one else around you wants to see or hopping on a plane to Italy, I hope you know that going by yourself can be an amazing experience and it doesn’t have to be scary. Also, for the record, you are never really alone 😉 :
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
Where my adventurers at!? Drop a comment below to let me know what I missed or what your next destination looks like!