Traveling is difficult with many people in consideration. But traveling takes on a whole other list of difficulties when alone.
As a single girl wanting to see new places and meet new faces, I love to travel. It’s one of the things I am most passionate about. I am constantly looking for the next adventure, constantly restless. I have always seemed to have this voice inside me telling me not to waste my days staying in one place. I feel like you can learn a lot by seeing more of the world and that’s what I want to do. God has created this magnificent, beautiful world and I want to see it!
The trouble has always been, however, traveling alone, as a single girl can be challenging and at times, even dangerous. But I'm here to tell you it can be done, if done right. Singleness and riding "solo" should not be a reason to say no to your aspirations and dreams. In fact, singleness and solo travel can actually be better in a lot of ways if you think about it: less opinions to consider, time to spend how you please, and the exhilarating feeling of freedom! After a semester abroad traveling through Europe (England, Wales, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Greece, and Spain), I have come up with a lot of “do’s” and “don't’s” when traveling solo. These will hopefully prove to all the other single ladies out there that it can be done safely and inspire you to pursue travel to the places you’ve always dreamed of going with renewed confidence.
Act and walk confident. Even when you’re not, confidence will give people around you the impression that you know what you’re doing. Trust me, this is seriously a game changer. Once in London, I had to catch a ride on The Tube, the infamous, crazy crowded, and confusing underground metro railway, back to Oxford. I had only ridden The Tube one time before and I was all by my lonesome to figure out my way home... at night. Simply put, I was terrified. But I quickly gathered up enough courage to walk to the wall map of The Tube (which looked a lot like a tangled ball of different colored yarn) and stand there for as long as I needed to figure out a plan, while swarms of people scurried around me. I walked confidently to my line, waited for my train, stepped on, found a seat, listened for my stop, and made a successful exit back to the familiar streets of Oxford, safe and without taking unnecessary detours. If I over-thought it at any point I most definitely would've made a misstep. To this day, I requite that success to the confidence I managed to muster in that situation.
Do research prior. It’s great to leave time for spontaneity, but you also don’t want to waste time trying to figure out what to do once you get there! Have a short list or plan of sites to see or things to do so that you go with some ideas. Also, do some research on what traveling services they offer there and download the apps while you have secure WiFi. Example: Uber, mytaxi, etc.
Try to speak their language. This is not only a tip for being friendly, but also for your safety. Once I was in Austria and had to get a ride to the airport at 6 a.m. with an older, GIANT, male taxi driver that only spoke German. I was nervous because it was still dark outside (I was catching an early flight) and the man looked quite unhappy (but then again who doesn't at 6 a.m.!?). I was replaying all of the scenes from Taken in my head and was imagining it would be easy for him to call up his friend, share of an evil plan in German right in front of me, and kidnap me without anyone knowing for awhile! Luckily, I had the reassurance that some of my friends were aware of where I was going, the way I was traveling, and my estimated time of arrival. Also, it came in VERY handy that I knew the German word for "airport" and when I read it on a street sign we passed, I had peace knowing we were headed in the right direction. On the other hand, learning some of a foreign language of the country you are visiting is the quickest way for you to make friends. Attempting to speak their native language shows effort and politeness. Even if you’re terrible or only know a few words, it’s more than not trying and they will appreciate it.
Meet new people. By asking questions, respecting/researching certain customs, and attempting to speak their language, you can open the doorway to new cross-cultural friendships. This is so important in learning about a new place. You can’t truly get to know a new place until you’ve gotten to know its people. People make up a place. I promise you that the friendships you make and the people you meet along the way of your travel will become some of the most memorable moments. Just remember to take time to stop, look around, and make conversation and connections.
Spend the extra money on good walking shoes. If you are going to be walking around a lot sightseeing, don’t cheap-out on your shoes. Take it from me, who left an 18-mile walking day in London with bleeding ankles because I got the cheapest knock-off snow boots from Amazon. It’s definitely worth the few extra dollars to spend on a good comfortable pair of shoes. If you are doing a lot of walking and sightseeing (which I did to stay ballin' on a budget!), this is the one and only time I would recommend to go with comfort over fashion.
Be cautious of your surroundings. As a single girl traveling alone, safety is probably one of the biggest concerns. Especially nowadays. It is important to continuously be aware of your surroundings and your personal things. When I would walk in the train station or at the airport, I would put my backpack on my front and keep my suitcase close. There are many new security additions you can buy to make sure yourself and your belongings are safe throughout your travel. Example: suitcase locks, secret travel pouch, portable phone charger, iPhone location finder, etc. One of the best things to do before traveling alone is to make sure your phone battery is charged all the way and keep someone else updated along your journey. That way someone will know when you are traveling, when you are supposed to arrive, and can keep tabs on you from a distance.
Stay in crowded areas and have a go-to recharge location. As much as possible, try to remain in public places with lots of people around and make sure your phone is always charged. If my phone ever started dying in an unfamiliar place, instead of trying to look up and research the nearest coffee shop with WiFi, it was always a safe bet to find the nearest McDonald’s. I could go there, find an outlet to charge my phone, and connect to WiFi to plan my next move.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to not be afraid of asking for help. It saves a lot of time and potential mistakes. Find a local coffee shop worker or convenience store clerk to help you with tips, directions, or advice. Always talk to people in crowded places with lots of people nearby. People will not be mad at you for asking for help if you are polite, respectful, and gracious. Practicing this can be the make or break of your travel experience!
Don’t be too trusting of strangers. I made this mistake once and I will never make it again. It was my first day in London and I had just stepped off the bus. A stranger came up to me rather quickly and asked me to take his picture in front of a restaurant for a scavenger hunt. I thought it was odd, but I didn’t mind helping. When I started to take the picture, he insisted I be in the picture as well and he asked where I was planning to go that night. After he left, I was very shaken up. I realized that now this man had a photo of me and an idea of where I was going to be that night. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid! I had been too trusting of a complete stranger’s intentions. Sometimes for your safety, you have to be selfish and think of yourself before someone else. Take time to pause, think of the possible outcomes, and then respond.
Don’t overplan. Sometimes overplanning can lead to let down expectations. It’s good to plan a little, but be careful not to go overboard. Leave room for spontaneity. Give yourself room to go off the beaten path and explore new places you may stumble across, try hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and take a walk down a bustling street. You never know what unmarked treasure you might find.
Don’t panic. If things don’t go exactly as planned, don’t panic. Stay confident in yourself and your abilities to problem solve. Take things one step at a time and enjoy each moment. Find the lesson in each experience whether good or bad. Once I completely lost my group in Windermere, England. We were supposed to go on a hike, but when I came back from a quick trip to the bathroom they were nowhere to be found and I had no idea which direction they had gone. All I knew was the pickup location and time. I decided to walk down to the nearby town called Grasmere and made an enjoyable day for myself. I followed the crowds into cozy bookstores, found a nature park, waited in line at a historic gingerbread bakery, bought some souvenirs, and journaled in a coffee shop. It wasn’t what I had expected at all, but in the end, it was better.