For some, travelling is a way of life, and is as second nature as riding a bike or driving a car. But for others, especially those with limited travel experience, going on a solo adventure (especially as a female) can seem incredibly daunting and quite scary.
I remember this feeling: I was 18 and was about to embark on my first trip alone, to visit a friend in Montréal. I’d been on trips before, but mostly with school, or with multiple people. Although I had someone I trusted to stay with at my destination, the very idea of getting myself to the airport and on a plane, only to end up in a big city I’d never been before was enough to induce some serious anxiety. Although my friend did a great job of showing me around, I was often left to my own devices due to her work schedule. I learned how to use the metro (which is something I’ve grown to really appreciate about bigger cities), but more importantly, how to enjoy my own company and not feel awkward about travelling solo.
That trip began a passionate love affair between travelling and I. I got back and immediately started daydreaming about the next city I wanted to visit. Most of the money I made went straight into a travel fund. I read loads of travel blogs and perused the Instagrams of other young women travelling the world, and made a vow to myself that I would follow in their footsteps, whatever it took.
I’m 25 now and have 12 countries, 40+ cities and an overseas move under my belt, with no sign of stopping anytime soon. I’ve travelled across the world to live with strangers. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people that I consider lifelong friends. I’ve seen many of the world’s most incredible sights. It didn’t always come easy: I worked hard to be able to afford to travel, and during my adventures I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable experiences. But don’t fret – the crazy fun, breathtaking, “I can’t believe I did that!” experiences vastly outweigh the bad ones.
I’ve learned some important lessons in my years of travelling, often the hard way. I’ve gathered the ones that have proved most useful to me to share with you. I hope they can shed some light on what solo travel is really about, and put any worries you might have about doing it yourself at bay.
Research Your Destination
This is probably the most important factor to consider when planning a solo trip. We’d all love to believe everyone in the world is good and means well, but the reality of it is, a lot of places are safe, but some are not. Do some research on your desired destination and see what cities / areas are safer than others to visit within it, especially for women.
Remember that, while it’s unfortunate, women are treated differently in different parts of the world. A quick Google search will bring up loads of insights from fellow travellers about their experiences that can help guide your decision. This all said, keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid of certain places because of pre-conceived notions you might have. Just educate yourself, and make an informed choice.
I’ve learned this one the hard way, time and time again. It’s taken me 7 years to learn how to pack sensibly and I’m still trying to master it. I can assure you, you don’t need that many pairs of shoes, or pants, or bras, or hair tools. There’s nothing worse than having to lug a big heavy suitcase around on your travels (if you can get away with just a carry-on, DO IT).
Remember that you can do laundry and buy things like shampoo and body wash in most places you’ll visit. Think about what items in your closet you go for on a day-to-day basis, and apply that to what you pack. Plan out your outfits if necessary. Of course, take things like climate and activities into account, but seriously – that dress you never wear because it fits funny isn’t going to fit you any better in Italy. Leave it behind!
Stay in Hostels
Though they’ve never been my bag, hostels are cheap as chips and a great way to meet people, especially other solo travellers. They’re specifically designed for people who are in the exact same boat as you are, and often organize group outings or events that will help you make friends that you’ll keep for the duration of your trip and beyond. Don’t be shy. Strike up a conversation with your fellow hostel mates – you might just meet your new best friend!
Talk to Strangers
This goes against everything we were taught as kids, but it’s really the best way to meet people when you’re in a new city and don’t know anyone. Some of my best nights out during my travels involved me striking up a conversation with people sitting at the bar. There’s a common misconception that travelling solo is really lonely. It certainly can be, if you choose to isolate yourself and not talk to anyone. But you’ll be surprised how friendly people are, and how many of them will be willing to invite you to their table and offer you some great local tips.
Have Fun, But Stay in Control
On the heels of the last point, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to getting out and meeting new people, but it’s equally important to keep your wits about you and stay in control of your situation. This means not getting blackout on a night out potentially putting yourself at risk, especially if you’re alone. By all means enjoy yourself, but know your limits, always have an escape plan, and if something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and get outta there. Also, never leave your drink unattended, but that goes without saying.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Stuff
I’ll admit, I always chuckle to myself when I see people wearing their backpack on the front of their body, but I understand their intentions. Unfortunately, especially in big popular cities, with swaths of tourists comes swaths of pickpocketers. For this reason, I almost always travel with either a knapsack or a crossbody bag, and never keep anything in pockets that can easily be reached into.
Be extra cautious in places like the metro or crowded monuments, as these areas are often targeted the most. Keep a small padlock on your luggage and lock it up before you leave for the day. And if any of the places you’re staying in offer a safe, store valuables like your passport and cash for extra peace of mind.
Nobody Gives a Shit That You’re By Yourself
Seriously. I know it may feel like everybody’s watching you going, “oh, poor her, she’s all alone,” but I can assure you this isn’t the case. Nobody cares. So go to the fancy restaurant, take in a show, get lost in the colourful streets, sights, and sounds, all in your own amazing company. Embrace the freedom of being able to do what you want on your own schedule. Most importantly: have the time of your life, boo!