7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling Solo
I was terrified when I boarded my first international flight without a friendly face in sight. I didn’t bite off a small task — I was flying to Istanbul, Turkey from Minneapolis, Minnesota, a nine-hour journey with a very quick transfer in Frankfort, Germany. I was panicked, sweaty and completely unable to sleep on the overnight flight. But I did it. I got off that plane and stepped into the beginning of the best adventure of my life.
A dozen solo-traveled countries later, I’m deeply addicted to globetrotting alone. But I get it — it’s f***ing scary to embark all by yourself. Here’s what I wish I’d known before traveling solo (and what you should know before giving it a try, too).
1. You won’t be truly alone.
Sometimes people mix up “solo travel” with hermit-like aloneness. Now, not knocking the hermit life – if that’s your deal, more power to you – but with so many fellow travelers out there exploring, you’ll likely to run into them everywhere you go. I’ve met new friends in cafes, on hiking trails and, of course, in hostels. You can, too! Almost every traveler will be willing to talk to you for a minute, or a day, about their journey. Ask about people’s favorite destination and you’re off.
2. There will be times you feel lonely.
Before you meet new friends in each location, you will have some true alone time. And for every empowering moment, you might have a minute where you wish for a buddy by your side. That’s totally fair. But it will pass, and you’ll return to embracing the solo wanders in no time.
3. You can (and should) ask for help.
Lost? Ask a local. Want a recommendation for dinner? Ask a local. Need to find an emergency pharmacy? Ask a local. I can vouch for all three of these scenarios. When approached respectfully, people are happy to help you. And while your fellow travelers probably found some pretty great spots, residents will lead you to the real (dare I say “authentic”) corners of a destination.
4. Taking a break is completely acceptable.
You don’t have to be in go-go-go mode all the time. Yes, there’s always something you could be doing. There’s always a group of hostel-friends going out for a drink and one more photo to be taken and one last site you could squeeze in. But you don’t have to. Especially when you’re on a long-term trek, breaks for self-care are essential. It’s okay if you skip a night out to watch Netflix in bed. You’ll need the energy for more exploring the next day.
5. It’s okay to ask someone to take your photo.
This doesn’t mean you’re vain, annoying or pathetic. It’s better to suck it up and ask for the favor than to return home with no photos of yourself in the fantastic destinations you visited. And you know the best thing about living in the Instagram age? People are much better at taking photos these days. If you’re dreaming of a posed “candid,” you can even ask your volunteer photographer to help you out. (I have actually asked strangers to do this for me.) Just make sure to ask a tourist with a big ol’ DSLR camera or a fellow young millennial. It helps if they are also plotting out a great shot for themselves — you can do a photo swap.
6. You don’t have to be an expert before you go.
Going solo rounds out all the rough edges in your travel skills. When you’re traveling alone, it’s just you. You’re the one looking at the map, you’re the one deciding how early to get to the airport or train station, and you’re the one choosing whether or not you want to stop for ice cream (the answer is probably yes). But you don’t have to memorize every map before leaving home. Every new subway system you ride makes you more comfortable on the next one. And while you will definitely get lost, you will also eventually find your way. (I mean, you have to — there is literally no one else to do it for you.)
7. You’re capable of so much more than you think.
Being alone means you’re also left to fill one more role: Self Cheerleader. If you’re scared of heights, there is no one around to boost your confidence except yourself. No one is going to force you to hike up to the top of that hill – I learned that the hard way halfway through a trek in 100-degree heat. It’s all on you, friend. However, as a heights-phobic, non-marathon-runner gal myself, I’m pretty sure that if I can do it, you can do it. So get out there and go solo!