WELP! A lot has change in the world since I originally published this post over a year ago. I moved to London in January during full-on lockdown, made some amazing friends there, and am already traveling home today to visit Boston for a bit. And also … travel is coming back!! Within the US this has been a reality for a while now, and it’s looking like vaccinated travel from America to the EU is getting closer and closer. Since I’ll be making plans to travel around solo soon (and I hope you will to) so I decided to update this post in preparation.
Whether you’ve finally booked your dream trip solo trip, are on a business trip and staying by yourself, or worry about going on such trips without friends or family, you know that there are anxieties that come with traveling alone. Not only that, getting there is only half the battle. It’s easy to get intimidated by a new language or culture, and let that keep you cooped up in your hostel, AirBnB or hotel room. This confidence traveling solo comes natural to some people, but for most of us it’s a skill.
A memory which sticks out the most to me that really shifted my confidence in both traveling and exploring solo is a business trip to Gothenburg, Sweden. I had arranged my flights so I’d arrive on a Saturday with one weekend night to explore before the upcoming work week. I didn’t know the local language, I had no idea of the city layout, and was totally on my own. I was so terrified that I would go out and look out of place, that I was just going to sit and watch Netflix in my room all night. I knew I was wasting precious time. I mean … isn’t this what I’d be doing on a lame night back home? I was willing to chalk the night up to a loss until my sister called me, gave me a serious pep talk, and we ended the call with something along the lines of “get your ass out there!” I ended up going to a pub across the street, ordering a caesar salad since it was the only thing I could kind of read off the menu, and meeting a group of awesome ex pats that night from all over the world, in that very small bar, and going on a bar crawl with them across the city!
It was this trip that inspired all of my solo trips, which would have never happened without that small pep talk that gave me the confidence to get out and explore. If you’re anything like me, you’ll do your best to plan a trip but it’s those little details like, ~how will I actually get from the airport to my hostel~ that always seem to happen on the fly. If you’re not like me, I worship you. That being said I’ve learned a lot from being both on my own and, being in a jam forced to think on my feet. Nothing compares to traveling with friends and loved ones, but unfortunately we’re so busy that coordinating a time to travel together often becomes near impossible. This is where having the confidence to travel solo has made all the difference to me. In this post I provide some simple yet personally tested tricks you can use to quiet the anxiety that comes with going somewhere new all by yourself, and the confidence to explore fearlessly once you arrive!
1. Foreign Language and Language Barrier: Not The Same
Touchdown in a new city! Of course not all solo trips are to a foreign city with an unfamiliar language, but for the sake of the tips, let’s assume you are. You’re looking around trying not to show the confusion on your face, but that big backpack gives it away and everyone knows you’re feeling disoriented. At this point you have to embrace it and ask for help, but not knowing the local language is often very intimidating. You’re in luck because there are several free translating apps out there ready to help you! I prefer Google Translate because you can download languages ahead of time, so no cellular data or wifi needed! Now that you know this tip, I hope you’ll do this ahead of time. This way if time permits you can look up simple phrases while you’re in transit without using the internet. This simple trick has empowered me ask for help or engage in simple multilingual conversation so many times. Now, you may be thinking, ‘I don’t have enough storage on my phone for this’, but I did a little experiment for you and downloaded Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Icelandic, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish on my phone and it’s not even taking up as much storage as my banking app -_- (less than .25 GB for the techies). Doing this simple trick can transform the mood of an entire trip not only because it will tear down the insecurity of a language barrier, but it can also save your ass.
2. Pack Light
I know I knowwww you wanna bring all your cutest clothes and jackets and sneakers and sandals with you on your vacation, but trust me you really don’t need them all. I only ever travel with only carry-on luggage — just a backpack and an international carry-on-sized roller board suitcase — with VERY few exceptions, and I never regret it. When you’re traveling, especially solo, you want to make sure you can be flexible. Consider these two scenarios that I’ve been in on more than one occasion.
The first: You have a connecting flight with a very long layover. There’s an earlier flight in between and you ask to be listed standby in case you get on the earlier flight. If you’re only traveling with carry-on bags, there’s no need to worry about your bags catching up with you and being rerouted to match your new plans. The second: You have an international connecting flight with a teeny layover, like 30 minutes, and you need to re-check your bags before you can check in and run to your next flight. Instead of pacing around the carousel waiting for your bags to come out then rushing to the counter to re-check them, if you only have carry-on bags you can breeze right past the carousel and run to the gate before your flight leaves without you.
Not only does traveling light allow for a much smoother airport experience, it also gives you the freedom to get around where you’re going so much easier. You’ll thank me when you’re able to store them, fit them with you on the bus and subway, and not have to lug them up several flights of stairs. If you’re still not convinced, maybe my next tip will bring you on board. And if you are convinced, check out this article to ensure your luggage is the right size and do some shopping.
3. Drop Those Bags
Great job! You confidently asked for directions and are arriving where you’ll be resting your head for the next few days, but you’re about 5 hours too early for check-in. Choosing flights that arrive at inconvenient times can be the result of several things: ticket prices, plans, last minute changes, partying through your flight, the list goes on. Just because you don’t always land right when your room is ready, you don’t need to waste a whole day of your trip. If you’ve ever pulled your rolling luggage behind you on cobblestone streets, you know traveling with all your luggage A) Makes you stand out like a sore thumb, B) Can actually hinder you from going places like museums, and C) is annoying as hell. Whether you’re staying at a hostel, a five star hotel, or one of the many options in between, most places will let you leave your bags with them securely until your room is ready. This looks different depending on where you stay, for example lockers you rent by the hour at a hostel or the hotel concierge labeling and setting aside your bags under their watch. Before handing over your bags, make sure you get all of your valuables, like your passport / visas / money / tech, out into something like a purse or small backpack you can carry around until you’re ready to check-in. Also, don’t be afraid to change out of those pants you just flew 10 hours in before dropping off your bags. Which leads me to my next point.
4. Hotel Bathrooms Are Your New Best Friend
Whether you’re about to drop off your bags and need to do a quick-change, are in desperate need of a sink shower, or are out and about exploring the city and don’t want to be at the mercy of a café letting you into their bathroom, hotel bathrooms are your new go-to. Think about it, hotels constantly have people coming and going and really do not know if you’re a guest or someone who’s been holding it and is a 45 minute bus ride from their hostel! Walk into a hotel with confidence, discretely look around for the bathroom, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to use their facilities.
DISCLAIMER: If you’re trying to use a fancy hotel’s bathroom make sure you’re dressed up at least a little, and even if you’re not, no matter where you are and no matter how nervous you are (idk about you but sassy concierge energy intimidates me), walk in like you’re staying in the presidential suite.
5. Take the Bus Instead of the Subway to Get a Better View of the City.
Great job changing into some fresh new clothes, dropping off your bags, and heading out with no time to waste! You’re now searching for directions into the city center and have a range of options to choose from. If bus or tram directions are available I highly recommend taking these over the subway. I find bus routes often take some additional effort to figure out, but it’s a nice way to get the feel for a new city and all the neighborhoods you pass through that you’d breeze right under while on the subway. A bus ride can also be a nice, cheaper alternative to a bus tour. You may discover somewhere you decide to check out while en route which you hadn’t planned on and otherwise wouldn’t see. Also, if you hop off and get lost, you now have the confidence to ask for directions 😉
6. Information Booths Were Made For You in This Moment.
Look at you! You mustered up the courage to conquer a new bus system, and have made it to the bustling city center. You’re looking around overwhelmed by everyone’s confidence and perfect sense of where they’re going next. As you wonder where to go yourself, you see a big sign with an “i”. An information booth. I think we often assume information booths aren’t for us savvy travelers or that the people working there don’t want to be bothered with a confused tourist, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. That is liiiiterally their purpose. The individuals here are a wealth of knowledge and can give you really good local tips, expert directions, and even those brochures you’ll be tucking into your travel journal and pasting into your scrapbook. There have been so many times where I’ve gone to a new city or gotten lost and some really nice and friendly person at an information booth has sent me in the right direction and given me some local knowledge and confidence to carry on. Also if you’re reading this you’re likely and English speaker and the good news is, most of the time, so are they. But, given your mastery of translation apps now, a language barrier is no problem for you.
SIDE NOTE: Take advantage of information booths no matter where you are: train stations, airports, hotels, even bus stops.
7. Take Advantage of Your Tour Guide’s Local Knowledge
The lovely individual employed at the city center’s information booth recommended a cheap walking tour of a museum around the corner. YOU, since you no longer have your luggage and have this amazing tip, go on the tour and it is a delight. I am getting SO proud of you! Before you say goodbye to your amazing tour guide forever, consider asking them about a nice place to grab food, coffee, or maybe more likely, a drink. They’ll often have great recommendations that are a little off the beaten path and something you wouldn’t find in the average guidebook. When I was in Iceland, I took a food tour of Reykjavik and at the end of the tour asked my guide for a recommendation that night. She recommended a stand-up comedy show at a hole-in-the-wall bar downtown (in English), that led to a night of laughs, meeting new friends, and getting a great view of local culture. Without asking my knowledgeable tour guide, this highlight of my trip is something I certainly never would have heard of.
8. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there
Your room is ready, you’ve made your way back to your lodging, and settled in. So now what? Go out to a restaurant by yourself. Introduce yourself to your hostel-mates. Say hi to someone if you want to talk to them. This isn’t always going to end up in a new or strong friendship, it certainly hasn’t always for me. I remember meeting a group of people in Amsterdam that I really did not click with, but just kept laughing to myself about how awkward the situation was, parted ways with them, and ended up meeting some awesome people the following day, right in the same hostel. Without question, the good friends I’ve made traveling far overshadow the awkward interactions I’ve had while solo.
9. Make Note of Local Emergency Contacts.
Definitely not the most fun tip, but even if you never have to use emergency services, having the knowledge of who to contact will give you a sense of security and control of your surroundings. If you’re traveling within the USA, this is an easy one, but no one else really uses 911. The state department has this resource of emergency services contacts abroad and so does Wikipedia. What I do is add them in my contacts as “[COUNTRY] Emergency”, before going anywhere so I know I’ll always have them.
10. Last But Not Least: Be Proud of Yourself!
It takes a lot of courage not only to travel somewhere all by yourself, but even more to get out there make the most of where you go. I find no matter where you end up, a deep breath, appreciation for what’s around you, and a smile go a long way. Now get out there and explore!
One more last thing, I’d love yo hear your thoughts and travel stories and if this post helped you overcome solo travel anxiety. Drop me a dm or leave a comment if it was helpful or if even if you’ve read this post and you still feel like you just can’t travel on your own and need a pep talk from me. Bon voyage!