I love to travel. I enjoy experiencing different cultures and meeting new people. For the most part, I’ve traveled with family or friends, and I truly enjoy sharing the experience with them. However, there have been occasions when I really needed a vacation but the timing just didn’t work with other people’s schedule or finances. This left me with two options; wait for a friend to be able to go with me, or head out on my own.
From time to time I’ve opted to fly solo. Sure, at first I was a bit nervous, but once I got going, I found the experience quite liberating; I’ve even made a few new friends along the way. If you ever find yourself about to embark on a solo adventure, here are a few tips on making the most of traveling alone.
1. Speak the language. If traveling out of the country by yourself you might want to choose a country where you speak the language. This will help eliminate some of the culture shock. On my first truly solo trip out of the country, I chose the UK because it’s an English-speaking country, and I wanted to make things as easy on myself as possible.
2. Know where you are going. Make hotel reservations in advance and at a hotel that is easily accessible, i.e., near a train station or other public transportation. Map out your transportation in advance, so you do not feel completely out of sorts upon arrival. I made my hotel reservations for the first few nights at the Paddington Hilton Hotel because there are trains directly from the airport to the hotel (the Hilton actually sits right on top of the Paddington Train Station); also from this station I could get to most of the London attractions via the Tube.
3. Safety First. Before you depart for your trip leave a photocopy of your passport and itinerary, along with a list of your Travelers Cheques serial numbers with a family member or close friend. While traveling, always be aware of your surroundings and if anything or anyone makes you feel ill at ease immediately walk into a store or restaurant and strike up a conversation with the shopkeeper until the issue has passed. If you feel you are in real danger, ask the shopkeeper to phone the police. For more tips on travel safety, visit the Travel.State.Gov website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html In addition, touch base with love ones back home via email or a phone call on a regular basis; this will help them feel more comfortable with your travels, and assure them that you are safe.
4. Always carry some cash. Be financially prepared by stopping at the bank or a currency exchange shop prior to leaving for your trip. Plan to have something comparable to US$100 in the local currency for your arrival and any incidentals that you may incur before you make it to your hotel. It’s also a good idea to use Travelers Cheques when traveling aboard as they are insured in case they are lost or stolen. Once you are settled into your hotel, you can exchange some of your Travelers Cheques for more local currency. You may also use your ATM at various kiosks around the city and pull out local currency as you need it. Be sure to advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling aboard, so there are no issues using your cards.
5. Stay connected. Temporarily change your cell phone to an international plan or purchase a prepaid local cell phone when you arrive and email your new phone number to friends and family. There are cyber cafes in most large cities, and these are usually very economical to use. I’ve been in some cyber cafes where computer use was complimentary if you purchased a drink or pastry. Email makes it very easy to stay in touch with the people back home while you are away.
6. Plan out the first few days in advance. It makes traveling solo a little less daunting if you know what you would like to see, and how you will get to those destinations. Most travel guidebooks have maps of the area and include public transportation schedules and maps. Use a highlighter pen and map out your journey.
7. Take a guided city tour. Taking a guided city tour, especially on one of those hop on/hop off tour buses, is a great way to familiarize yourself with the city before heading off on my own.
8. Don’t dine alone. I find that if I sit at the restaurant counter or a community table instead of taking a table by myself that I meet new people and end up having a lot of fun. I have met locals as well as people who are on holiday. The other important part in this is – don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and start a conversation with others sitting at the table. People are generally friendly in these situations, and you might even get some great “locals” tips and recommendations. In addition, if you frequent a cafe or restaurant near your hotel a few times while in town, you are sure to meet some of the same people again and again. You can strike up a conversation and soon you may have a few new friends.
9. Leave some space in your itinerary for options. I find that once I have met some locals or people who have been traveling, and I ask for their recommendations on must see attractions or locations, that there are some great things to see or do that I didn’t know about or plan for. So I leave a couple of days in my itinerary unplanned, so that I can fit in these treasures.
10. Friends of Friends. Before you leave for your trip, ask your family and friends if they know anyone who lives in the cities where you will traveling; and if so, ask if they will make an introduction via email or telephone. Many times these friends of friends will welcome you to their city by sharing a meal with you or taking you sightseeing one afternoon. They may even introduce you to other locals while you are visiting. Don’t wear out your welcome by asking for too much of their time; and be sure to return the hospitality by inviting them to visit you in your city.
11. Take lots of pictures! You will want to document your trip by taking photographs of the sights you see and the people you meet along the way. After returning home, follow-up with the people you met on your journey by sending them a note or email and include a few snapshots from the trip that has both you and the other person in the shot. When traveling alone it’s nice if your camera has a timer, that way you can prop it up on something, aim it at the scene you are trying to capture, set the timer and have enough time so that you can be in the shot. Of course, you can also ask a bystander if they would take the picture with your camera so you can be in the photo.