A Girl’s Guide To Solo Travel – Advice From A Girl Who’s Done It
The following was written by Ariel Weihl, a blogger and student currently studying at ESSEC in Paris, France. Originally from the USA, Ariel is studying marketing, French and international business. When she isn’t eating and shopping her way across Europe she attends the University of Louisville. Ariel’s blog, Young and Broke in Paris focuses on studying abroad while on a budget.
Hi, my name is Ariel and I have a travel addiction.
I’m always looking up new places to go and things to do and oftentimes I find myself planning my next trip on the plane or train back home from the last one. Basically, I can never wait for my next adventure to start.
The thing is, not everyone has the travel bug and even among those who do, your schedule isn’t always going to synch up with your friends’. Or you have money to travel and your friends don’t. Or you see a last minute deal on a flight with one seat left… that’s just the way it is! So what do you do in those scenarios? Hold off on traveling?
HECK NO! You go by yourself. I’m a huge advocate of solo travel for many reasons, ranging from me wanting to do my own thing to proving to myself just how far I’ve come in my life. I’ve traveled with tour groups and friends, but there’s just something about traveling solo that I love.
Solo travel is intimidating, especially as a woman. The beautiful thing about it though is once you get over the fear and nervousness there is SO MUCH reward and growth to be found. Here are five questions I would like to share with ANYONE who would like to get out there and try traveling on their own for the first time:
What is one fear you’ve had to overcome in order to feel confident traveling solo?
Definitely my fear of not being in control. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge control freak. I always like to have plans and lists for everything.
Unfortunately for the control freak in me when you’re traveling solo, you have to learn to adapt. Maybe you miss the train you needed to get to the attraction that you had planned to spend all day at. Maybe you misunderstand someone’s directions and end up getting lost. Maybe your shoe sole suddenly comes partway off and there’s rain in the forecast that afternoon.
All of these have happened to me. There’s always things that can go wrong when traveling, but it’s harder when you’re alone. You can’t afford to panic, you have to just take a deep breath, remind yourself that there’s always a backup plan to be found, and go about finding said backup plan.
I prefer already having all my plans in place beforehand, but sometimes life happens. Traveling solo has definitely forced me to overcome my fear of not being in control all the time. It’s taught me that I might not be able to control the world around me, but I can always control how I react to it. As long as I’m willing to adapt to new situations, I can count on having a fun, safe journey.
What’s your exit strategy if things go south?
To be honest, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all exit strategy. So, I’m going to discuss what I would do in the event of three different situations: being followed by a stranger and being mugged.
If I think I’m being followed, I do the same thing I would back home. If at all possible, I go to a crowded, well-lit area or duck inside a shop or restaurant. If for some reason this isn’t an option (hint: it should be, because you should stay in well lit, well trafficked areas whenever possible), then pretend that you’re talking to someone on the phone. Keep walking calmly until you reach an open restaurant or a public square, with more public places being best. Also, never head to your residence. You don’t want this creep to know where you’re staying.
If you get mugged, again, do the same thing as you would back home. Call the police and file a report, which your insurance company will likely require. Then call your bank and local consulate, to cancel your cards and request a new passport, respectively. Then, if needed, contact someone who can send you money to tide you over for the next few days.
At the end of the day, I basically just use the same strategies as I would back home. The biggest difference is that when you’re traveling solo, you’re the only person you can count on to ensure your mental and physical safety. As a girl, I also have to make sure that I take extra precautions, like not going out and drinking by myself. This isn’t a big problem for me personally, but I still keep it as a rule. My first priority is always my safety. Everything else comes second.
What’s a good way to socialize with people if you’re not that good at approaching them?
Many hostels will have pub crawls and other events for their guests. This a great way to meet other travelers, some of whom will be solo traveling as well. I did a cheese and wine tasting at a hostel in Paris and ended up making friends with some travelers from Ohio. Free walking tours are another great way to meet people, since you’ll already have stuff to talk about.
I also try to make plans to meet up with people in the cities I’m visiting. For example, when I visited Prague I met up with a friend from my home university who is currently studying there. For girls, I also recommend a Facebook group called Girls LOVE Travel. It’s a great way to meet travel-minded girls, some of whom might be in the same city at the same time as you. You can grab coffee or a meal, and you might even walk away with a new friend!
How do you fit in in a place where you don’t know the language?
This happened to me in Prague. I don’t speak a word of Czech or German, which many Czech people know as a second language. I “fit in” through dressing like a European and just acting confident, but I quickly grew lonely and felt isolated.
To cope with this feeling I took a couple of walking tours that I knew would be in English. Not only could I understand my guide, but I could also talk with the people around me.
Eating out was probably the hardest part. I usually stuck to places that had English menus and while I typically tell people to stay away from those kinds of places (since they’re usually overpriced) Prague is so cheap that I didn’t. When all else fails, use charades. It can be more fun that way sometimes.
How do you get to try all the food if you don’t have a partner in crime to share plates with?
Simple: just eat it all yourself!
Those are my main pieces of advice for people who want to travel solo, but aren’t sure they want to make the leap. Trust your instincts; try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and meet new people; and don’t be afraid to try new things. You’ll be able to stay safe and have fun at the same time. And the best part? All of your friends back home will be so jealous. Trust me.