There is a particularly thrilling feeling I get when I arrive at an airport or a train station alone. Every time I head on a journey, a mixture of excitement, curiosity and eagerness fuels my body and mind, but when I’m traveling solo, all the sensations become even greater. It’s like I have the whole world at my feet and no-one can stop me from breaking into the unknown. You are probably familiar with this feeling, and if you’re not, you’re truly missing out.
Solo travel shouldn’t be seen as an act of rebellion or a radical idea, but unfortunately, quite often it is, especially if you are a girl. The truth is, traveling alone can bring a whole new perspective of self knowledge and help you create memories for a lifetime, so there’s absolutely no reason to avoid it.
As a girl travelling alone around Italy, South America and the U.S., I have had some unforgettable adventures but also endured some rough situations due to inexperience. I learned my lessons and, to save you the hassle, I have put together a list of useful tips that you should consider next time you dive deep into a solo adventure.
1. Become familiar with your destination
It is important to plan ahead. And by planning ahead, I don’t mean just looking up the best eateries for a late night grub, the coolest pastry shops and hippest neighborhoods. I also mean getting familiar with the local traditions and culture. Find out what’s cool and what’s uncool behavior, if they speak a different language, and learn some basics: how to order food and what the Uber/taxi situation is.
Also, make sure you learn about the local transit system and living cost. It’s always good to know how much things cost so that you are not overcharged for being a visitor (absurd, I know, but it happens!).
2. Keep a journal with directions & important phone numbers
In this day and age, we’re truly dependent on our phones, and yes, those are quite useful when we travel. However, it’s smart to have another travel tool, maybe one less flashy than an iPhone 6s or maybe one that’s not battery powered or wi-fi dependent.
When I travel, I always take a small journal with me. I mostly jot down notes about my favorite cafes and stores, but I also use it to write down crucial information like the address where I’m staying, the phone numbers of any friends in the city and basic information about public transportation (what bus takes me to the hotel, how to get to the bus station, what time the last train that brings me home leaves, etc.).
3. Use your phone wisely and keep it CHARGED
Unless you’re going rafting on a river, canopying 900 feet above the ground, rock climbing or practicing any other adventure sports, it’s important to keep your phone with you at all times during your journey. This time, it’s not about the Instagrammable beauties you might encounter along the way. It’s about safety and keeping in touch.
We touch our phones dozens, sometimes hundreds of times a day and, in most cases, we use them for leisure and not out of necessity. When you’re traveling solo, I recommend you conserve your phone’s battery life to keep in touch with your family every once in awhile (that “Mom, I’m fine” text is really worth it!) and to call someone in the unlikely scenario that there is an emergency (you fall down and hurt yourself, you lose your wallet, you don’t know where you are, etc.).
I also recommend getting an external portable battery charger in case your phone dies. You can get some really small, fairly cheap ones at any electronics shop or department store. Simply charge it at night and the little gadget will revive your phone at any time.
4. Pack efficiently and dress comfortably
One of my usual mistakes when traveling solo is overpacking. Especially if you’re traveling in the summer, you certainly don’t need many layers to feel comfortable. When planning your outfits, choose a few tops, even fewer pants or shorts, a light sweater, a hoodie or a jacket (just one of the three), maybe a dress, maybe one wrap (one).
Bring things that are light, dry quickly and do not take up a lot of space. The most important things you should pack, especially for a summer adventure, are comfortable shoes and sunglasses. Everything else you can live without.
5. Get to know local people and follow your instincts
Even though you are traveling solo, that doesn’t mean you want to remain alone during the entire journey. If you put yourself out there, you will have tons of opportunities to meet people and make friends. They might be people you run into at a bus station, at your hostel, during your hike at a national park or while simply sipping a latte at a local cafe.
Knowing people will certainly be beneficial for you when you want to venture out and explore the nightlife. It’s not like you shouldn’t go out alone at night (you totally can!) but if you’re going dancing, drinking or partying, it will not only be more fun, but it will definitely be safer if you have someone with you.
6. Eat and drink responsibly
There is literally nothing less fun than being sick while you travel by yourself with no-one to bring you that miracle-making chicken noodle soup. While you’re on the road, make sure you live it up, but always act responsibly. If you go out drinking, think about how you are going to feel in the morning before you order that third margarita. Always be a little more careful than you would be at a bar at home – enjoy the night, dance, have a drink or two and never leave your glass out of your sight.
When it comes to food, think before you eat. For me, trying new exotic dishes is one of the highlights of traveling and, while I recommend savoring the local delicacies, I also encourage you to educate yourself before you have any meals. If you are allergic to something, make sure you ask about the ingredients and, if you know spicy food upsets your stomach, maybe skip it.
7. Don’t be paranoid
Yes, it is important to be alert and take the necessary precautions when traveling alone. Some of the basics for everyone, not only girls, include not going into dark alleys, keeping your money in a safe place, and carrying a copy of your passport, but don’t be paranoid.
If you over worry and think there is danger everywhere, you will be nervous and anxious and that will keep you from making friends, exploring new places freely and absorbing knowledge from the location you are at. Worrying too much is just as bad (or even worse) as being careless because 100% of the time, it will keep you from enjoying the experience.
As you can see, anyone, no matter what other people tell you, can give in to wanderlust and take the world by a storm! Just remember to be a smart traveler, pack efficiently, move and explore at your own pace, and stay alert at all times but don’t be paranoid. Enjoy the ride, gals!