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Traveling Solo, Tips and Tales (Part 3 of 3): Tips! May 21, 2009

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, Secret Lives of the Happily Single, single and happy, Singles Resource, solo travel.
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Hi everyone,

After spending the past two posts enumerating some of the best and worst aspects of traveling alone, I figure it’s about time for some practical advice. So, to stoke your trip-planning imaginings, I am happy to present Part 3 of this three-part series:

Lisa’s Essential Tips for Traveling Solo:

  1. DO make a copy of your passport, and keep it separate from your wallet/purse/pocket/bag — wherever you keep your actual passport. As you all know from my story of the stolen wallet, the copy I had in a separate bag made things very, very simple at the U.S. Embassy when I had to go get a replacement.
  2. Likewise, DO keep an extra credit or debit card separate from your other valuables, as well as at least $100 in traveler’s checks. Be sure, finally, to have a list of names, phone numbers, addresses, and other pertinent information for your bank/credit card companies, as well as emergency contacts (I felt really stupid when I realized that I didn’t have my bank’s information on hand to losing the wallet — at least I have my account number memorized!).
  3. DO give someone at home (friends or family) your itinerary, as well as a copy of your passport. When you get to your destination and have a contact number (like a temporary cell phone), take the time to email that number to that person. You never know what will happen, and traveling alone doesn’t mean it should be easy to become a missing person!
  4. DO come equipped with a sly way of concealing your valuables. Our reader, Bobby, suggested carrying a fanny pack; I have another friend who sews pockets into the inside of her pants, shirts, even underwear; and when I lost my passport and was left with only my traveler’s checks, a backup credit card, and my temporary/replacement passport, I kept the passport locked in a bag separate from my other valuables, and I kept the credit card in one pocket, some of my cash in another pocket, and then other cash/stuff in yet a third pocket. I would not necessarily call this a “genius” plan, but I figured that if someone pickpocketed me, then I would still be left with something, and I at least wouldn’t lose my identification.
  5. DO force yourself out of your hostel/hotel room/etc. when you are alone — even when you aren’t “in the mood” (unless not being “in the mood” means you’re genuinely sick or tired — in that case, curl up in bed and chill out!). As regular reader Singlutionary noted in response to an earlier post, you’ll be glad you got out, and you’ll get comfortable being alone if you aren’t already. During this last trip, I rarely, if ever, truly felt alone (in a negative sense). Although I have always in the past felt self-conscious about dining alone in the U.S., being alone and having no choice about it in the UK meant that I became quite accustomed to dining alone, and after doing it once or twice, I actually began enjoying it.
  6. DON’T get drunk if you’re alone! As I’m sure many of our readers do, I like to drink, but only when I know my surroundings well and/or when there’s someone I know (not someone I just met!) to make sure I am safe. Being female, of course, only accentuates the safety risks involved with drinking too much with strangers, or walking back to a hostel/hotel drunk. Just don’t do it.
  7. DO try to limit your luggage. I think I did pretty well with my pack, considering this was my first time truly “backpacking” internationally — but by the time I finished the trip, I found that I hadn’t used several items of clothing, and I would have been just fine with half of the clothes if I had just planned to do a load of laundry. I shared an elevator at Heathrow with a couple who had been gone for the same amount of time (2 weeks) and had backpacked through the UK and France (more places than me, from the sound of it), and they were each only carrying one school-size backpack. I was SO jealous, since I had a traveler’s backpack plus a small backpack, and also another small bag all for myself. Next time, I’m going to try to reduce my luggage with them in mind.
  8. DO treat yourself. By that I mean, although you’ll certainly want to buy souveniers for friends and family, don’t forget to do the same for yourself — after all, it’s YOUR trip! And be sure to treat yourself to a nice dinner (or a nice… whatever) the evening before you leave to celebrate.
  9. DO make friends, especially if you’re feeling lonely. Some tips on what worked for me: If you’re in an English-speaking country, listen for American accents (assuming you’re American – you get the point). If you’re in a non-English-speaking country, I imagine it’s even easier to hear your own language! If you’re lost, listen for others who are lost as well, or just start talking to people around you. When I was on the Isle of Man and got off the train at the stop where I was supposed to find a castle, I wandered around a bit, not sure which way to turn, before realizing that a small British family at the train station was also looking for the castle. I asked if they knew where they were going, and they sort of did — so they invited me to get lost with them! It was very nice, and they turned out to be excellent companions during the tour of the castle (and PS — Don’t make fun! I really couldn’t see the castle at first — even though it turned out to be an obvious landmark!).
  10. DO invest in an MP3 player. I would not have thought of this before (I’m not technologically savvy), but the day before I left, I happened to be at Best Buy purchasing power converters and decided to splurge on a tiny MP3 player ($60). I filled it up with music provided by a friend who has a TON of music on her computer, and it was by far the best decision I made in preparation for the trip. The music drowns out all kinds of annoying sounds and voices, and when you can’t get away, like when you’re in a public place or on public transportation, it kept me sane and gave me an excuse not to talk to strangers. It also gave me something else to think about when I may otherwise have been consumed by anxiety (like during the long flights, and during a particularly bumpy ferry ride across the Irish Sea).
  11. Most importantly, DO have fun! Remember, that’s the point of the trip. If you become stressed or overwhelmed, take a breather. And I mean that literally — allow yourself to breathe. It’ll be okay. It’s easy to get caught up with safety concerns and to get worn down by sensory overload, but try to always remember, the point is to explore and have fun!

Readers? Any other practical tips or concerns that I’ve missed and/or neglected?

— L


1. Anita - May 22, 2009

I actually disagree on 10 – maybe a case of YMMV? Carry earphones, but leave off the MP3 player unless you have to. Wearing earphones, even if the cord is just tucked in your pocket, unattached, gives you distance if you need it, but blocking out your trip may mean you miss awesome stuff, like eavesdropping on strangers on trains.

Look for opportunities to do things with locals – I know some of the best places I ended up going was with a group of vacationing locals, rather than vacationing foreigners. Look for opportunities to eat, drink, and hang with locals.

Do some research before you go. Be aware of general weather patterns. You don’t have to bring an umbrella, but you should know if one might be necessary.

A tremendous amount of communication can be accomplished with props, a smile, “please”, and “thank you.” Have these two words down well before you land, and use them a lot.

onely - May 22, 2009

Excellent additions, Anita, especially on the last one! (useful tip: in Britain, they say “cheers” for thank you). I think my joy about the MP3 player has to do with the fact that I get incredibly distracted and easily annoyed by the noises (soft sounds like chewing and lip-smacking are my pet peeves) and conversations of strangers. Plus, some noises are just plain annoying — like the kid who ran up and down aisles screaming on a three-hour ferry ride between Isle of Man and Belfast. BUT this may simply be my personal preference — and I couldn’t agree with you more about looking for local spots! — Lisa

2. Onely - May 23, 2009

I carry a huge pair of Bose earphones with me. Granted, not while backpacking, but on every other trip I have those things with me.

Separately, I think fanny packs are great for carrying snacks and innocuous items, but they are not very sly for hiding valuables.


3. Singlutionary - May 23, 2009

Wow. This is such a great post and is totally inspiring to me. Once I get my life to a point where I can travel again, I think I might just go on some international voyage–even to a country where nobody speaks English!

I’m not sure that there is anything that I can add. Except you must bring a sense of confidence and faith in the experience. If you’re too uptight, traveling and new experiences in general are going to be a problem. You have to take it day by day and sometimes moment by moment.

Give yourself ample time to do what you want to do and don’t try to fit too much in. There is no sense in rushing around trying to see everything when you’re missing the whole experience in all that rushing around. The best things happen spontaniously. I always try to do too much on a trip and end up getting stressed or giving up and just doing what I want.

4. anna marie - May 30, 2009

Discover! You never know how far you can go as to travelling alone. I think people who do this have a very strong self esteem. They are the one’s who grew up well, who does not live in the shadow of their friends. For all you onely people out there, I salute you!

5. Onelers devenons comme fous: Lisa fait Paris (avec la maman!) « Onely: Single and Happy - January 13, 2010

[…] the luckiest daughter in the world! I traveled alone to the UK in May (see my posts here, here, and here on the experience) and have now begun exploring Europe (it’s not just my mom’s dream!). […]

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