5 Secrets to Confident Solo Travel
I recently returned from a three-month solo journey traveling through Europe and Eurasia. While on the road, I (a 23-year old petite single female) was continuously praised for being so brave to travel alone. I realized that while for some of us a post-grad backpacking trip is a rite of passage, others find it intimidating and almost impossible to travel on their own. I am always trying to convince my friends and family that there are no superpowers required; anyone can do this. I experience the same levels of discomfort and embarrassment that my friends give me as an excuse not to travel. The only difference is that I have taught myself to embrace the uncomfortable and scary, rather than avoiding it.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me become a more confident solo traveler:
1. Trust your gut
I mean this both literally and figuratively. Your gut (instinct) knows what is good for you and what is not, you just need to listen to it. Have a bad feeling about that traditional pork shuarma? Don’t eat it. Feel as if the ticket lady was simply too lazy to change your ticket? Go to a different ticket window and try again. It’s not logical, but it is often right. Risking a few eye rolls or having people tell you you’re crazy is worth it if it means getting the bus you actually wanted or preventing a bad case of food poisoning.
2. Laugh it off
Who are you really embarrassing yourself in front of? The answer is strangers whom you will probably never see again. So what if you mess up the greeting? Laugh it off. What if you get on the wrong train? Well, you might accidentally take the RER all the way to Charles de Gaulle airport and back because you weren’t paying attention when you boarded the train… True story, I did that. And I speak French. Now that is embarrassing.
But then what? You can either throw a fit and tell yourself you’re never leaving home again because it is too scary and stressful, or you can laugh it off (or cry it off, depending on how bad it was), and then move on to the next adventure. There is much humor to be found in the mistakes we make on the road.
3. Have an umbrella,
even especially when it is not supposed to rain
One of the best things you can know about traveling is that things will not always go as planned. In fact, things will rarely go as planned. Buses will be late, phones will die at inopportune times, it will start pouring rain without a moment’s notice, you will end up on the wrong side of the island, and the wifi won’t work when you need it most. The best thing you can do for yourself is prepare to be unprepared. Have a backup paper map (yes, those still exist and they are usually free at tourist information centers), always have snacks and a charger with you, and ladies, you should always bring a scarf/shawl with you for changing temperatures or in case you need to cover up. It doesn’t take much to think of these sorts of little things ahead of time, and you will be so thankful that you did.
4. Laundry will always be confusing
The simplest things become the most confusing when you travel. Crossing the street in India, for example. Or laundry, pretty much anywhere you go. The cycles, temperatures, and directions will not be in English and it will always be a toss up on what you will need to actually pay for your laundry. In my hostel in Barcelona, I needed tokens from the front desk, but in Paris I could use bills (a tenner or under) OR coins (any above €0.05). In Vienna, I could only use€0.50 pieces, and in Zagreb I could only use coins (which I got at the bar next door to the laundromat) and I didn’t need detergent because it was automatically released in the machine.
Also, don’t trust the dryers. They’re mostly there for show. I have yet to meet a European dryer that actually dries clothes. You should plan on line drying your clothes, which will take anywhere from 30 minutes in hot sunny Nice to several days in cold rainy London.
5. No one is actually a confident solo traveler
Every time I open my mouth in a country whose language is not my own, I feel the sting of embarrassment at my obviously-not-from-here accent. Every time I meet someone new I panic and think, how do we greet each other? Is it a hug or a handshake? Or a kiss? How many kisses? And every time I have to navigate a new metro system, a little voice in my head starts crying while the rational outer me says things like, “You can do this. It’s just the metro.” I embarrass myself constantly while I’m traveling, but all of that embarrassment is worth it to me when I am finally able to successfully negotiate a good price on a scarf at the bazaar or when I realize I understand an old man’s directions even though neither of us speak the same language.
The point is, we are all human. Those of us who travel on our own do not hold some secret code unavailable to those who are more hesitant or afraid to do so. We have simply mastered a few key lessons: laugh at yourself, practice confidence as much as any other skill, and, most importantly, just go out and do it.
Bonus Tip: Plan on getting really good at charades. Talking with your hands, drawing pictures, and acting things out are great skills to have when you encounter a language barrier.
What do you think? Have you spent a lot of time traveling on your own? What are your tips for confident solo travel? Let me know in the comments below!