I ended up traveling on my own while in Europe, which was not something I had planned on doing. After successfully making it home in one piece, here are some observations and tips for anyone looking to solo travel!
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Before You Leave
Do your research. Knowledge is power. Make sure you know what areas to avoid, where you’re likely to be pickpocketed, etc. so you know when to be on high alert. On the same token, know what areas are safe and full of young people to go out and be social, if that’s your thing.
Hotels > hostels. If you have a friend with you, hostels are fine, but for safety reasons, I think having a lockable door is important when you are alone. Be mindful of this while booking your accommodations.
See if you can find a place that has breakfast included. This will end up saving you money on meals.
Make sure you have data. Yes, there is probably WiFi at cafes and restaurants, but if you are in a sketchy situation, you will not want to have to fumble and get a WiFi connection. I got a $60 international data package that gave me 1 GB. Data was turned on while I was out and about, and was mindful not to check Instagram or my emails while on it. It was strictly for maps and texting.
Be respectful of the culture you are visiting when packing. I really am a “wear what makes you happy” kind of girl, but if you are going to tours to churches, temples, government buildings, etc. you should be in conservative clothing. Certain cultures require you to cover your hair, shoulders, ankles, or other body parts, so make sure you research this. If you go against the cultural standard, you are more likely to get into trouble abroad. I had a friend who went to Morocco who wore long sleeve shirts and maxi skirts every day even though it was hotter than heck, but she had to do so in order to fit in and be respectful.
Figure out what you want to do. There’s no one else to set the itinerary for you. Pinterest is a great help for this – simply type in your city of choice and watch as the suggestions roll in.
Set a budget for yourself. Make sure to add in an extra $100-200 for emergencies, too.
Once You Arrive
Be careful at baggage claim. While I was waiting for my Uber at Heathrow, a worker told me he sees tourists waiting along the baggage carousel get pickpocketed daily.
If you have to ask for help, ask a woman, or a man with children. I know some people advise to approach “well-dressed” people, but dressing well doesn’t automatically make them safe. I always try to go to a woman first, and if there isn’t one around, I try to find a man who has children with him.
Take out cash. You never know if your bank may flag your account for being abroad and block you from using your cards. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are alone without funds.
Lock your passport in your room safe. It is incredibly hard to get a new passport while abroad, so better safe than sorry.
Carry a crossbody purse. Make sure it has multiple zippers to prevent pickpocketing. Always carry it on the front of you so you can see it. If you must carry a tote or a backpack, try to avoid large groups of people.
Uber works in most places, but not all. Prices seemed to be the same as in the US, but “Pool” is not an option. This is generally easier than calling a cab because you don’t need to communicate with the driver as much. The address is inputted and your card is automatically being charged. I have had many an issue with foreign cab drivers dropping me off at the wrong place, so this solves that problem. Also – if you have any Uber credits in the US, it will NOT apply overseas. Lesson learned the hard way for me!
Bus tours are dorky but a great way to get around. Bus tours run on loops through the cities, so if you get a day ticket, you can hop on and hop off for 24h. This is generally cheaper than cabs & Ubers in the long run, and easier than navigating public transit as the bus has stops by major tourist destinations. I also enjoyed hearing the history of cities in recorded English through headsets!
Walking is the cheapest option you have. LFWAs long as it is not after dark and I don’t feel where I am is sketchy, walking is my preferred method of transportation. I walked home after one show during which was probably around 9 PM, but since it was a very safe area, I still felt comfortable. However, there were some areas that I didn’t feel safe walking alone even during the day.
Most public transit is doable. The London Tube is the easiest because you can Apple Pay your way, plus it’s in English. The Paris Metro is the worst subway system I have been on and even that was rather easy to navigate, albeit gross. Vienna’s Underground was very efficient and clean. Make sure your maps is working with the data you got 😉 to be able to navigate around. Apple Maps are really great with subways now!
Tell someone your plans for the day BEFORE you leave in the morning. Even if it’s a friend back home who’s fast asleep, it’s better that your general itinerary is known in case something were to happen.
Look for free tours. A lot of cities have free walking tours to introduce you to other paid offerings that travel companies have for tourists, but as long as you factor in a tip for your guide, it’s a cheap way to see a city and learn about its history.
Check to see if you need to buy a ticket online. Lots of things I wanted to do were impossible to get into at the door, you had to buy a ticket weeks in advance, especially if it is a big tourist attraction.
Safety first. There were a few things I wanted to do but because it got dark, was in a weird area, etc. I chose not to. At the end of the day, if you have a gut feeling that it’s unsafe, don’t do it.
If you took my advice, breakfast should be free. This is a major plus. Eat as much as you can and take advantage of it. I usually don’t eat a lot for breakfast, but I intentionally had large breakfasts while abroad to make sure I was ready to go for the day and getting as much nutritional value in. Stock up on what you can – if there are any individually packaged items like muffins, bars, etc. grab some and throw it in your purse.
Street vendors are likely your best bet for cheap food. Now you see why you need to eat big and healthy breakfasts, right?? If you’re traveling on a budget, street food is going to be your lifesaver. I had many a street dish and I honestly preferred some of those meals to my sit down dinners. However, be careful, because this can turn into you just eating carbs and sugar very quickly.
Some cities require reservations for dinner. I didn’t know London was like NYC in that you have to book rezzies weeks in advance at some spots, so be mindful of this if you want to have any sit downs.
Making Friends… If You Want To
Sign up for a pub crawl. A lot of cities in Europe have the same travel company that organizes pub crawls every weekend night. I did one with my friend Melanie in Edinburgh and we met so many fun young people. I would definitely recommend doing this if you want to go out but want a squad to do it with!
Post in sorority/college alumni groups. See if there is anyone living near where you are traveling. Meet up for coffee or dinner!
Just say hi. If you are traveling for work, you will likely be around people with things in common to you since, duh, you’re in the same industry. Say hi to someone! This is how I met my friend Sophie at a London Fashion Week show. I think I complimented her sunglasses as she was sitting next to me, and thank goodness I did! She was my PIC the rest of fashion week.
OVERALL… trust your gut. If you feel like something’s wrong, get TF out of there.
Solo travel may seem daunting, but I genuinely urge you to give it a try. It’s freeing, being all alone in a strange place. It’s a feeling I hope to feel again some day.