A natural part of the human condition is the fear of being alone. This fear presents itself differently in every person; do you constantly need to be in a relationship? Can you dine at restaurants alone? Will you only attend a movie with at least one other person?
Personally, I’ve never been the relationship-girl, my job makes dining alone a part of daily life and I have no qualms with going stag to a theatre. The hurdle I had to conquer was that of traveling alone. I’ve been all over the world, but have always been with friends, family, coworkers or with an organized travel group – which is likely the type of travel all of you have experienced as well. The world is more open to us twenty-somethings than it has ever been to any previous generation and in order to experience all that the world has to offer, we need to be ready to seek out adventure on our own!
For those of you ready to conquer this fear with me, I have put together some tips, including pros and cons, that will hopefully help push you closer to being able to take your own solo trip.
I spent the last two weeks traveling through Iceland. The first week of my trip was led by a travel company, Under 30 Experiences, whose purpose is to bring together adventure-seeking, passionate, and driven young adults for an amazing travel experience. I won’t digress too far on this point – but if any of you readers are looking to travel, can’t find a group of friends to go with you and think you aren’t quite ready for solo travel after reading this article, I would highly recommend you look up U30X and travel with them. You won’t regret it! Anyway…
The second week of my trip, my travel companions left and I remained to see what traveling alone is like, if I could manage it, and if I would want to do it again for a more extended period. Because I didn’t quite know what to expect, I booked an Airbnb for the week, scheduled a rental car, signed up for two organized tours and had a shuttle arranged to take me to the airport at the end of the week. Below is what I learned.
1. Don’t entrap yourself by over-planning your trip!
As I met fellow travelers and learned what I liked and didn’t like about Iceland, I found opportunities I had to turn down because of my too-rigid schedule. My best day was rental car day; I had a list of 10 places I wanted to see, grouped by proximity to my Airbnb and to each other, and a GPS. I drove around checking off places and skipping along to the next as I saw sunset approaching and my time slipping away. I got lost several times, unsuccessfully used a compass, ran out of gas and hitchhiked for my first time – but I have no regrets from that day!
2. If you don’t stay at a hostel, at least go hang out at one.
Even if it’s scary to go up to complete strangers and try to start a conversation, at least in a hostel you know that everyone you talk with is in the same boat as you. Also, don’t give up. My first night ridin’ solo, I struck out 3 times before I finally met a group who could speak English, weren’t so messed up on drugs that they could at least see straight, and were willing to go out that night! Jackpot!
3. Tinder…no but really.
I made my ‘about me’ say something along the lines of “traveling in Iceland for the next week; could use a tour guide or someone to get drinks with.” I met one guy who took me out with his whole group of friends for a tour around Reykjavik, dinner and to a dance club; granted, I also met a guy who turned out to be 16 and likely a serial killer – but that disparity is no different from Tinder in the USA so just go for it!
4. Be aware of where you are.
In Iceland, traveling alone as a girl is no big deal; the country is one of the safest in the world. However, if you are planning to go somewhere with a less stellar crime record, think twice about where you stay, who you talk to, and your daily activities. I hitchhiked alone, walked alone in the city, and drove cross country alone at night – but I wouldn’t repeat these experiences in most places around the world. If you’re a guy, especially a taller or bigger guy, you don’t have to worry as much about this; but as a girl, practice your street-smarts.
5. Carry business cards with your email or Facebook name on them.
When traveling internationally, not everyone will have their phone on them to get your information, but if you meet someone who you really enjoy and who you want to keep in touch with you should provide a means of contact. I already have plans to host two fellow travelers I met when they come through Chicago next month (these were the travelers from the hostel mentioned above who actually didn’t suck!).
6. Last, but perhaps most important: be open to the fact that you are alone.
Talk to anyone and everyone – if you embarrass yourself, no one knows you and you know no one and you don’t even live in the same country so I guarantee you’ll get over it. Say yes to everything – this goes back to keeping your schedule open, because you want to be able to change your plans if something wonderful comes up. Do what you love to do while traveling – since you have no one to answer to but yourself, go take that cooking class, go bungee jump off a bridge, or just lay in a park all day reading; learn what you love to do and do it. Practice the art of the selfie – the downside of traveling alone is the picture aspect, because all photos are either purely scenic, selfie-style, or involve asking others at every site to take your picture, which gets awkward and annoying.
I tried it. I loved it. I’m not very good at it. But I’ll do it again – this time for longer.