11 Nov Solo Travel Like a Pro - Tips for the Girl on the Go
Fellow females - we’re young. We’re bold. Now is the time for adventure.
What’s that you say? Are your friends unavailable or uninterested in this trip of a lifetime? Well, good news! You are a strong, independent woman and you can travel by yourself.
But you have some hesitations about flying solo? Sure, that’s natural. But never fear; when done correctly, the experience is safe, social, and incredibly rewarding.
Three Reasons Why Solo Travel is the Best
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You will never find yourself stuck for hours, placating your military-loving amigo at a niche exhibit about the history of bullets when you’d rather be admiring impressionist art. Whilst traveling alone, there is no need to compromise or bend plans to suit others. One of the greatest benefits of a solo experience: do what you want when you want!
2. Meeting the Locals
If you roll into a pub with six of your BFF’s, chances are you will stand in a circle all night chattering loudly and the locals will avoid you like the plague. With a pack mentality, it is difficult to appreciate local culture, and after all, isn’t that one of the greatest joys of vacationing? (Hint: yes, yes it is).
Yet, you will find that more opportunities often present themselves to a party of one. Many cultures are protective and often inviting towards solitary female explorers. Locals will be eager to engage in conversation and invite you to events.
In fact, as I am writing this article in a small, Madrileño cafe, the adorable, seventy-year-old owner and I are chatting and we are fast on our way to becoming BFF’s - an experience I may have missed had I been in a large group!
3. Opportunities for Personal Growth
The bad news: during your trip, you will run into small problems or disappointments. Perhaps you miss your train, discover the tickets are sold out, or (God forbid) lose your wallet.
The good news: you WILL find a solution to any and all woes, and in the meantime, the process will transform you into a stronger, more confident, independent woman.
Traveling is a great way to build soft skills for your resume. And most importantly, it allows for ample time for self-reflection.
Do not worry about being lonely! Travel bloggers, such as Kiersten from The Blonde Abroad, offer a wide-range of advice for dealing with the ups and downs of adventuring. Often, frequent travelers report that they experience the same frequency of loneliness abroad as they do at home, and furthermore, traveling offers excellent opportunities to practice strategies for mood-management.
5 Tips for Maximizing Fun and Minimizing Risk
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1. Plan Ahead
In my opinion, formulating some sort of plan ahead of time is always a good idea. Fellow Type-A sisters understand the joys of pre-departure list-making and color-coding. But, if you are more of a free spirit, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl, more power to you.
Regardless of your traveling preferences, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Always book accommodations for your first night. This will help to ease stress on the other end and ensure that you avoid the homeless-chic lifestyle. If you travel to a popular vacation location during high season, advanced booking for the entirety of your trip is a wise move.
- Familiarize yourself with local customs, particularly those regarding dress and modesty. For example, in many locations, bare knees and shoulders are too sexy for sacred sites. Bring a scarf to satisfy covering requirements.
- Review tourist attractions and make a list of must-sees. Note that certain museums may be closed on certain days- the more you know, the higher the chance of avoiding disappointments!
- Overwhelmed with the plethora of information on the internet? Buy a guidebook and rip out the relevant cities to reduce the weight. (As a student of literature, ripping books apart makes me cringe, but the resulting pamphlets definitely increase portability and convenience.) Use these suggestions as a basis for exploration and discard after you depart said city.
- Bring your college ID and always ask for a student discount, even if it has expired. Half the time, the workers do not even bother to check and will wave you through.
2. Embrace Youth Hostels
If you are looking to make friends with fellow adventurers, stay in a hostel close to the city center. International hostels are widespread and (most) are magical places of youthful enthusiasm teeming with interesting and open individuals. I. Love. Hostels.
But, not all hostels are created equal. Make sure you look at reviews from sites such as Hostelworld.com to gauge safety, cleanliness, and the general social experience before you book.
- Positive reviews
- Storage lockers for suitcases and belongings
- Luggage storage pre- and post- accommodation
- Dorm-style rooms and/or common room and/or hostel bar
- Sheets or linens
- 24-hour check-in, (if arriving in the evening)
Almost everyone in a youth hostel will be in their 20s, just like you. So don’t be shy. Turn to your neighbor and introduce yourself. The conversation may go something like this:
- So what do you have planned for today? Mm-hmm. That sounds cool, mind if I tag along? (Bam, new friend).
- Today, I am thinking of doing x, y, and z. Are you interested in joining? (Bam, new friend).
- Would you like to go grab lunch beforehand? (Bam, new friend).
Seriously, in all my years of hosteling, I have never had anyone reject my invitation, and occasionally, I forge life-long connections. (Shout out to Kelly and the crew from Charleston 2016!)
Pro tip: sometimes chaos ensues; it is all a part of the fun, but you may want to invest in a sleeping mask and earplugs just in case.
3. Use Social Media
Before you set off on your adventure, join some social media groups in those cities and browse potential social opportunities. In Spain, for example, I use the Madrid Expat Facebook group and Meetup to find intercambios, or language exchanges at bars filled with expats, travelers, and locals interested in practicing conversational skills. I often arrive at these events by myself, and I always have a great time.
Also, girl, dating apps are at your service. No dinner plans? Swipe right. It’s incredibly easy. Just be sure to clarify your expectations beforehand. Many locals are happy to meet under platonic circumstances to practice English or to learn more about your culture. Plus, the guys have an inside scoop of all the best local digs. Nom nom nom. If safety is a concern, leave your information and location with the hostel receptionist or a trusted confidant and follow your gut. No pasa nada.
4. Book Tours or Group Activities
Many major cities offer free, or cheap, walking tours. Book for day one; it is a great way to orient yourself in your new environment. Again, strike up a conversation and you may find a potential buddy for later adventures. But if the other group members aren’t your speed, hey, at least you learned some fun facts along the way.
5. Observe Safety Measures
Tourists are always targets for petty thievery or loss of property regardless of gender, so make sure you follow basic security protocols:
- Before you go, make copies of your passport, license, and credit cards. Leave one with a family member and take the others with you.
- Distribute credit cards and cash in separate compartments in your luggage or on your person.
- Leave your itinerary with family members or friends as well. Check in regularly - they will be curious (and super jelly) about your experience!
- Always bring a lock to secure your suitcase and belongings.
- Never keep your phone in your pocket or leave your purse hanging on a chair in public. Those pickpockets are pros, believe me.
Alas, ladies, we are all acutely aware of the extra risks for females living in a man’s world, but please, do NOT let that hold you back. If you seek extra security, you may want to buy a product such as personal alarm, since mace and pepper spray are often illegal overseas. And remember to always pay for the Uber or cab instead of walking home alone at night.
And when you do walk alone, during the day, walk with confidence!
Just do it!
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All in all, when you explore alone: have a plan, talk to strangers (even though you were instructed otherwise as a girl), be aware of your surroundings, and enjoy. It will be okay. No- actually, it will be incredible!
Take a chance. Grab that passport. Explore.
You won’t regret it.
-Contributed by Kaitlyn Schmit
Kaitlyn graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A.T. in secondary education. After teaching high school for four years in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C., she relocated to Madrid with hopes of improving her Spanish and satisfying her wanderlust.