What do you think of when you hear those words? What do you feel?
To be honest, travelling alone is a double-edged sword. It’s amazingly freeing and fun, because the world is essentially yours: you can go where you like when you like, and you don’t have to worry about what effect you might be having on your travelling buddies. Travelling alone is also quite lonely at times for the same reasons: you don’t have anyone else to share in your adventures or to create memories with. In this age of social media, though, keeping touch was simple—even while I was almost halfway across the world from a good portion of my friends and family. I’m always struck by the enormity of what my ancestors did by travelling not only across the UK and Europe, but by coming all the way over the Atlantic to settle in North America. They might never have heard from family and friends ever again. I am so grateful to be just a voice call away from almost everyone I care about.
Now, back to travelling by yourself. I have… Well, I was going to say “compiled a list of traits for you to practice: number one is dancing,” but that’s a Lilo & Stitch quote. Let’s say, I’ve made a list of tips for travelling alone.
- Safety First
Of course, safety is your number one job even in everyday life, but it’s especially important to keep in mind while you’re running around on your adventure. Be sure to give at least one other person your itinerary and any contact information you might have while you’re abroad. Keep in fairly regular contact with this/these person(s). That way, if an emergency arises, you’ll have someone who’ll notice if something has gone wrong and can help you out.
A light packer I am not. Even a weekend trip is rife with: “Do I need this? What will the weather be like? Should I pack an extra sweater? Extra shoes? Better do two extra, just to be certain I have what I need.” For me, making a list is the best way to stay sane while I whittle down to the essentials—or as close to just the essentials as I can get. Remember the law of packing: your luggage will probably double in size, partly due to not being able to pack everything quite as nicely and partly due to the souvenirs you might accrue. (Will definitely accrue, in my case. I just love little shops!)
Right. You’ve decided where you’re going, you’ve told someone your plan, and you’ve started packing. What next? Be sure to keep a list of your plan for yourself in an easy-to-find location. That way, you’ll be sure to see and do exactly what you always hoped, and you’ll have fewer regrets knowing that you didn’t accidentally forget something important. Having said that, leave a little wiggle-room—give yourself a few things that are of paramount importance and do those first—and leave room for surprises.
I’m also not exactly the best budgeter. I tend to forget just how many places I’ll be going and emotionally attach myself to little things in shops. These days, I’ve become aware of my spending shortcomings and learned to combat certain false urges to buy, buy, buy. If you’re not careful, before you know it, your spending money is gone and you can’t think of how it went so quickly. This applies even if you aren’t a shopper. Food and drink costs can add up just as fast. Keep a handle on your spending so you can have the same quality and enjoyment from beginning to end of your trip.
- Forgetting to Pack Things
Of course, even if you make a list of what to bring and where to go or what to buy, you’ll inevitably forget something. Don’t stress about it. For example, when packing for my November trip to Scotland, I totally forgot to pack a scarf. How? Somehow it was overlooked and didn’t get on the list. No problem. It gave me a good excuse to buy myself a cashmere scarf in Edinburgh. So toasty warm…
- Check Everywhere
Since you’re by yourself, you have to be double-aware of your things. Double- or even triple-check when you move from one hotel/inn/hostel to another, or even give a glance around your spot in a restaurant to be sure you’ve not left behind something important.
- Be Aware
Checking everywhere also applies to your surroundings. Be sure you’re aware of other people: think the best of them, but prepare for the worst. Pickpockets do exist, even in areas you might not think of. Don’t be afraid, but do be aware. Don’t go into dark alleyways or tell strangers that you’re travelling by yourself, even if you’re getting on famously in the pub. Always know where your exits are and be sure to alert the proper authorities if you see someone shifty around your hotel, your car, or if you think someone’s following you. Again: don’t be afraid, but be aware.
- Take Pictures
Living in the moment is important, but pictures help keep those memories fresh. They also help your friends and family go on an imaginative journey along with you. Every time you show the photos and talk about your experiences, the more cemented in your mind they’ll become.
- Stay Hydrated and Fed
While it might be tempting to skimp on the food budget to be able to pad out the experience or shopping budget, don’t do it. If you’re not fueling your body, you won’t have energy to fuel your trip. Drinking enough water is easy enough to forget even at home, but it’s important. I’m one of those people who carry around a bottle of water and a small protein-rich snack; I usually go for either a Nut Bar or a Payday candy bar in a pinch. This habit comes from way too many years of experience of being the one to feel sick or faint because I didn’t take care of myself. Neither of those things are what you want any time, especially when all you have to lean on is yourself.
This ties into the last one about taking care of your body. Getting rest, as much as you can, on a busy trip by yourself is absolutely essential. Your mind needs the time to be renewed and your body needs it to help heal any scrapes or sore muscles you might have accumulated during the day. In order to both be safe and make fun memories for yourself, you need to be alert. Caffeine only does so much. Sleep helps you make and retain your memories. And if you’re like me, enough lack of sleep can make your stomach upset to the point where you can’t abide by the “Stay Hydrated and Fed” rule. If you’re out of it, you might forget an item somewhere or not be as aware of your surroundings as you ought to be. Don’t make jetlag’s job easier. Get enough sleep, and your body and mind will thank you.
Having a lot of fun is, of course, the point of being a lone traveller, so it’s not on the list. But don’t forget to have fun and don’t worry about too many little things. Stay safe, hydrated, and rested. Most things will take care of themselves after that.