Tips and Advice: 10 Tips for Traveling Solo

By Carmen Liberatore

Take a deep breath. Just walk outside, it’s not that hard. You’ve done it a million times.

I was in Paris, on my very first day alone.

Gathering my courage, I pulled open the front door. Just before I stepped outside, I caught a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. I looked very young and very grown up, all at once. I hardly recognized myself. I stared at the girl in the mirror. She stared back and gave me a small smile. Onward, I thought, and walked out the front door into a strange and wonderful world.

It was the fall of 2015, and I had just begun my gap year of traveling alone. Those first few weeks were some of the hardest on my nine-month journey, and I thought of giving up and returning home many times. Traveling alone is one of the most intimidating, yet rewarding things you’ll ever experience. To help other solo travelers, here are some lessons I learned to help myself feel safe, prepared, and ready to take on the world.

1.       Pretend you’re an undercover spy
 Seriously, this works. Every time I felt nervous or scared, I pretended I was an undercover spy. I still do this sometimes before job interviews. I stand straight, look people in the eye, notice my surroundings, and walk like I mean business. Any catcalls or creepy comments are completely ignored. I’m on a mission. Don’t mess with me.

2.      Pay attention to your surroundings
This also works while pretending you’re a spy. Sometimes I play a game with myself to notice as many things about my surroundings. I note how the people around me dress and act, architectural details on buildings, and the smallest details, like a bug on the sidewalk. It is very important for all travelers (but women especially!) to blend in with the surroundings.

Are the local women dressed in short shorts and tank tops? Then wear what you want! Are they covering their knees (important in parts of Africa) or shoulders? You might want to cover up too. It’s no fun to attract too many stares while you’re out and about and trying to enjoy yourself. And under any circumstances, you should never drink too much. As a spy, you can have a few drinks with friends, but you must be alert at all times.

3.       Keep track of your stuff
This applies to everyone. Don’t spread your stuff everywhere like you do at home, especially in hostels or homestays. Keeping everything tidy makes it easier for you to find everything when you’re packing. If you’re traveling with a wallet, passport, phone, laptop, camera, or anything valuable, think of it as your baby.

Know where your baby is at all times. Every ten minutes or so, do a mental and physical check of where they are. Laptop locked up at the hostel? Check. Phone, wallet, camera, passport still with you? Good to go. Many hostels have lockers in the rooms or at the front desk where you can stash some of your valuables. Not all of them have locks, so it’s nice to carry a padlock with you, just in case.

4.       Downsize and step back
Big bags are targets for thieves and pickpockets. When I was in Italy, my hostel roommate got her big, beautiful, fashionable bag snatched by a passing motorcyclist while she was waiting to cross a street. When waiting to cross a street, take a step back from the curb to stay out of reach of passersby. Also, I’d advise you to take a smaller purse that closes securely. I usually use one only slightly bigger than an average smartphone that allowed me to tuck it inside my coat if I needed to.

5.       That time of the month?
If you (like me) are picky about your feminine hygiene products, then it’s a good idea to stock up on your preferred products. For example, tampons with applicators are pretty uncommon in Europe, so pretty much every time I found some, I’d buy them.

Before I went to Africa for two months, I had a box of travel-sized mini tampons in my backpack. Menstrual cups are also very useful, as they are small, lightweight, and easy to use. I also carried Tylenol and emergency chocolate for whenever that time of the month arrived. And if I felt too terrible to go out, I just stayed in my hostel and had a movie day. It’s okay to take a day off from sightseeing.

6.       Stick to daylight
I know it sounds old-fashioned, but especially when you are a woman traveling alone, it is best to arrive at your destination in daylight and have an escort home after dark. But if your bus or train is delayed, and you just can’t find someone you trust to walk with you, keep a secret weapon in your pocket, just like you do at home. Keys, pens, whatever you have. If you want to carry a small pocket knife or some keychain pepper spray, then you should check the local laws to see if that’s okay. Don’t be scared

7.      Prepare, prepare, prepare
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I always stick a little extra money in different places, just in case (money belts under your clothes also work great). In one of my shoes, in my coat pocket, and in a secret pocket in my backpack. I even carry photocopies of my passport, credit card, and health insurance card in case my purse is ever stolen. Luckily, I have never had to use them (knock on wood!), except once I had to use a 20 euro note I had stashed in my shoe when my debit card wasn’t working.

8.      You are fearless
Despite all this scary advice, don’t be afraid! Yes, there are bad people out there, but I believe that the majority of people are good. I have met some overwhelmingly kind and helpful people who I never would have met if I had stayed at home. We shared views on politics, religion, philosophy, and even some excellent cooking tips. I understand so many things now that I never would have discovered if I stayed in my circle of friends at home. And thanks to a friendly person in a hostel kitchen, I know how to make proper Italian carbonara.

9.       Be lonely–it builds character
Yes, traveling solo gets lonely sometimes. There are times when you feel so lost and so alone, you’d do anything to stop being lonely. But just remember that good times will always follow the bad. I remember during my first month of traveling alone, I was so homesick, I started seriously contemplating how much it would cost to fly home. But just a few weeks after that, I had met wonderful people and was having the time of my life.

Just remember that your friends and family back home are there for you—and they’re only a message or Skype call away. A few things worked really well for me whenever I started to feel lonely: I’d either write in my journal, watch a movie, or push aside my loneliness and strike up a conversation with someone. The distractions always helped me feel better. And believe me, it does get better. The first week is always the hardest, but it gets easier as you go. Your journey will be worth it.

10.       Remember you’re the boss
This is the truly beautiful thing about traveling solo. You can do whatever you want. Want to spend all day in a museum? Cool, do that! Want to sleep till noon and party all night? Awesome, let’s go! Want to just wander aimlessly and take photos? Great! You’re in charge, you call the shots. Change your plans at the last minute, stay an extra day in that city because it’s so beautiful. There’s absolutely nothing holding you back.

So, whether you’re planning your first go-alone trip, or looking to brush up on tips and tricks, I hope these will help you on your own adventure. Travel safe, travel well, and have fun!

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