10 things I wish I'd known before I traveled alone for the first time
A few weeks ago, I went on my first solo vacation and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. For most of my life, I’ve considered myself to be a decent traveler. When I first left the country at six to visit cousins in Ireland, I became hooked on using my passport. While I’d been out of the country a half dozen times or so by the time I reached eighteen, most of my travels have been in the safeguard of family and tour programs, so I’d never really had to branch out on my own.
Having moved back home after graduating from college, I was restless for my next adventure. With my little sister studying abroad in Italy, I decided last summer that I would begin saving for a trip to go visit her and also jumped at the opportunity to go to Ireland again with my mother and sisters for my little sister’s birthday.
When I started planning my trip, I didn’t know I was going to be alone. I was supposed to go with my cousin and a friend of mine, who were both in Europe at the time — but after scheduling conflicts caused their plans to fall through, I decided to embark on the trip myself.
While I was super nervous going alone on a trip to Europe, it was an incredible experience and something I would ~definitely~ do again. BUT, taking a trip alone requires a lot of mental preparation and while people love traveling alone, there are definitely things to keep in mind before you plan your solo adventure. Without further ado…
1. If the idea of traveling alone makes you nervous, start small.
I planned my solo adventure around a larger trip I was already in the midst planning. My mother, sisters, and I had decided last fall that we would take another trip to Ireland to celebrate my sister’s birthday (as well as visit some family). Knowing that I was already about to spend a week in Ireland, I decided to embark on my solo mission beforehand so I would have something to look forward to in case I got lonely while traveling alone. Luckily, I didn’t ever get lonely, but was still excited to see Ireland and my family again.
2. Pick somewhere you think you’d feel comfortable alone.
Whether it’s a city a few states away or a whole continent away, it’s important to feel comfortable when you’re traveling alone, especially if, like me, you’re a newbie. I had decided to go to London when my cousin was still planning on joining me but it was the perfect place for me to travel by myself since it was a city I already knew well. In college, I studied abroad in London, so I was used to wandering around the city by myself, which I definitely think helped ease the nerves.
3. Use this as an opportunity to try new things.
I think traveling alone is the perfect opportunity to try new things and break out of old habits. In addition to having never traveled alone, I realized I’d never eaten at a sit-down restaurant alone. Sure, I’ve been to Panera alone while writing a paper or studying for a test, but I’d never asked a host for a table of one before. Since I was going to be spending a lot of time alone, I decided that I would go to a restaurant by myself instead of hiding at a Pret-A-Manger every night. I’d forgotten about Valentine’s Day so I did give myself one pass to eat at Pret during the romantic holiday (but it was full of single people so I stand by my decision).
4. You’ll be nervous.
I was very nervous to be in London by myself, not because of the city itself, but because I’m an incredibly awkward person. The idea of being a tourist alone was weird to me and I didn’t know how I’d feel taking selfies or asking people to take pictures of my alone. I think I confided about my nerves to my sister a dozen times or so before I left and didn’t quite believe her when she said she thought I’d enjoy the freedom of traveling alone. It turns out, she was right.
5. Ask friends or family if they have friends in the city you’re going to.
If the idea of being alone the whole time is stressful for you, find people to hang out with. My older sister had friends living in the Greater London area whom I reached out to and luckily, they agreed to hang out with me. Having people to hang out with, especially locals, is fun because not only do they bring a great time, chances are you’ll go somewhere cool and not full of tourists.
6. Staying in hostels with strangers isn’t that bad.
Before my solo trip, I’d never stayed in a hostel room with strangers, having generally traveled with enough people to require our own room. Since I was just a solo traveler, it made ~so~ much more sense to stay in a shared room at a hostel. Not only were the other people I shared a room with super cool, they were all only staying in London for the long weekend so I got the room to myself for two nights anyway, while still paying the shared room rates.
TIP: Just remember a lock to keep your stuff locked up during the day so you don’t have to worry.
7. Traveling solo tends to be cheaper.
Everything about this trip was about me, so I didn’t have to cave at all price-wise. I had an idea in mind of what I wanted to spend and it was pretty easy to stay within that price range, since I didn’t have to cater to anyone else’s needs.
8. Wandering around the city can bring you to the best sights.
I’d spent four months in London before my trip, so I didn’t quite feel like a regular tourist. Regardless, I still wanted to revisit some of my favorite tourists spots. I was pretty familiar with getting around in London, so I felt okay just wandering around and stumbling upon things to do. Chances are, you’ll wander into something cool! BUT, just in case, bring a map.
9. Look for helpful apps.
In many large cities, there are a lot of helpful resources to get you around the city. Apps like Citymapper help you figure out how to get to different places via public transportation, walking, and car. Looking for public transportation resources like a tube or metro map app will help you figure out how to use public transportation without looking too much like a tourist.
10. You’ll want to travel alone forever.
I love traveling with people. I really do. But, I’ve never felt so creative or free as when I was wandering around London by myself. It was amazing to be in a city I love by myself, free to just do whatever I wanted to do. It was the perfect first solo trip and I definitely can’t wait for another me-myself-and-I adventure!