The most important lesson I’ve learned during my travels is understanding that to travel alone doesn’t mean in solitude. It requires a lot of bravery and strength to travel alone, to learn how to be by yourself, and why this is a great virtue that only a few people conquer. But once you do it, you’ll discover the amazing feeling that comes with it, and why the more you travel the easier it gets. The more you learn, you grow, and you see how gratifying it is.
I’ve been traveling by myself for almost 10 years now: from big cities across the United States, to small towns all over Italy, Israel and many other wonderful places.
From girl to girl, I would like to share some of the inside knowledge I’ve gathered along my way to help you improve your traveling experience and make it more enjoyable!
Don’t tell me you’ve never felt self-conscious and a bit embarrassed when opening a giant city map in the middle of a street? Even though you are a stranger in a city, you want to fool everyone that you are a local, that’s why apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp and interactive maps are so handy when you are trying to find the best and fastest rout, a good place to eat or even that monument that is around the corner but you just can’t find! Pro tip, always carry a portable charger with you!
Regardless of the time spent in a place, usually the time is never enough to do all you want to, and that’s why you should always plan your day ahead of time; routs and transportation methods, places to visit, eat and even time and places to rest. Creating a schedule will make your day much more productive, organized and you will lose less time planning on the go and even avoid getting lost.
Rules are made to be broken and maps are meant to be ignored. A tourist map can indicate general and very useful guidelines on how and where to move in a certain place, but it also indicates the places everyone goes and the ”typical” things people do. So, don’t be afraid to explore what’s outside that square paper you have in your hands. Have an adventure and follow your own footsteps, maybe the best part of your trip lies somewhere outside the main route.
The best way to really know a place is not by visiting museums or by taking a picture in the most famous landscapes.
The best, fastest and more meaningful connection you make with a place is when you interact with the people living there.
Local people can tell you stories beyond the tourist guide scripts, as they have the city engraved in themselves. They can tell you their favorite places to visit, eat and things to do. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to relate with them, you never know the amazing people you may meet and what story they have to tell you.
You can know a place based of their cuisine since it also has a story to tell you, and who doesn’t love food? Local food is the best kind when you are in a foreign place. Fresh, traditional delicious food. Try it! Have an edible new experience tasting the flavor of the place where you are and learn its culture while you get your stomach full. You can’t get more traditional food as the one you eat where it originates.
Cultural shock is a very common expression used by people who travel, usually with a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It just means that something happens in your life that is eye opening and has an impact, and that is a good thing! After all we travel to live more and conquer fears, so my advice is this: Have an open mind. Be humble, patient and allow for other people’s culture and traditions. Accept and try to understand their ways. You’ll be surprised all that you can learn if you tear your stiff cultural barriers down.
Keep your guard up
Something you have to do at all times is to take care of yourself. You know the situation where you feel uncomfortable and uneasy, so avoid them. Planning your day will ensure you are in a safe area during the day and you can avoid drifting so you don’t stay out when its dark if you don’t want to. Avoid getting lost and going to maybe not so safe neighborhoods. Always have the full information of where you are staying and having the city’s emergency numbers with you won’t hurt either.
Having confidence is key when you are traveling by yourself.
No matter what you are doing, even if you are going through a difficult situation you have to believe in yourself and that you can get through it! You can get to that train if you are running a bit late, you can find the way back home, you can communicate with people regardless of the language barrier, you can do it! Just be positive and creative in finding a solution to a situation. This is your trip, your experience, live it to the fullest and own it… you got this!
The people that say that being alone is boring or worthless, clearly have never been truly alone. As I traveled, I got to know myself more and more. When you are in a different place, surrounded by complete strangers, living in situations you never thought you would, life pushes you to the limit of yourself, to the confines of your personality, your true self. So, have fun with it. Challenge yourself, try new things, do things you never thought you would, you never know what aspect of yourself you might discover, and maybe you’ll like this new you more than the old one.
For your eyes only
A common thing I’ve realized while traveling no matter where, is that the real culture and nature of a place can be discovered in the streets. That’s where the bare essence of a place lies. You can learn a lot by just wondering around and observing the people, their mannerisms, their ways, what they do and how they do it, how they relate with each other. Observe. Don’t look everything through the lens of a camera. As great it is to snap beautiful pictures for your Instagram, there’s nothing as really grasping a moment with your naked eyes. Experiences, feelings and thoughts cannot even be captured in pictures.
Be a storyteller
The best way to keep any travel alive long after it’s over is to share it. And I mean sharing it beyond posting pictures for everyone to see, it’s about telling your story and experiences you’ve lived with words. New ways of doing things, describing the taste of the local food you tried, the feeling of being in a certain place and mostly, sharing the person you are now and how your journey changed you.
I believe that no journey is complete until you find out the main reason of why you are doing it.
No matter what it is: to escape, just for fun, to know a certain place, to learn that places’ language, perhaps out of boredom, spare time, to visit someone or a very famous landmark, to prove yourself something… Whatever it is, try to find its meaning. And that knowledge can come before, during or even long after, but that is just another amazing thing about traveling. The experience stays with you and changes you. Allow that change, allow that introspection to discover the real meaning and impact of your journey in your life and not just to be a pointless monotonous trip.
When you go for the first time somewhere, packing is so confusing since you don’t know what the weather is going to be like, what exactly you are going to be doing, the cultural rules or appropriate dress code… that on top of being a girl where packing is already hard as it is! So, try to research prior to your departure so you can pack smart and don’t end up with a giant bag full of clothes you won’t even use. Also, your everyday backpack should contain the essentials for the day out. I always bring with me a good pair of walking shoes, a sweater, appropriate electronic chargers, a book, my camera, good music and my journal.
Be one of them
Try to blend in! It may feel that because you are alone you will drag the wrong type of attention, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Walk with confidence, sense where and when is right to go to a certain place and ask for help when needed. Take care of yourself and your belongings and know that you can always disengage an unwanted conversation with a simple “no, thank you”. Believe that you are always in control of the situation and you will be!
I was here
Communication is key, and as much as I like to really disconnect from to world during my travels to fully live the experience, it is important to let someone know your whereabouts. I like to share something on social media every day or two, that way my friends and family are aware of my location, so they can have peace of mind and I know they are keeping an eye on me from afar.
Late night watch
You are not a kid to be afraid of the dark, but you should have your precautions. It is best to reach your destination during the daytime. Also try not to wander around when its dark, as well as not having a little too much of a fun night out drinking. Always be in control of the situation since you are the only one who is taking care of yourself. Avoid situations that may put you at risk.