I absolutely love traveling alone. As many of my friends and family know, I am normally an introverted, shy, and anxious person. However, when I travel solo, I am forced to put myself out there and talk to knew people, and it has resulted in such amazing experiences.
While I highly recommend that everyone experience solo traveling, I also want to be clear that it is super important to make sure that you do so safely. People always tell me that I am so brave for traveling alone, especially as a young woman, but I can honesty say that, because I follow simple steps to stay safe, I have never felt frightened when traveling on my own.
Never Tell Anyone You’re Traveling Alone
Seriously, no one. This does not just apply to guys, I would not tell anyone that you are alone. Now I know what you are thinking, “But Alexa, I am clearly alone when I am meeting new people.” or “Alexa, I am staying in the hostel alone, so won’t everyone know I am alone?” While you will be alone in that moment (i.e. at the hostel, meeting people on tours/while you are out, etc.), you can still tell them that you are in that city with friends.
For example, when I was out exploring, I would simply tell people that my friends were back at the hostel taking a nap, and that I was meeting up with them after I saw a site or finished a tour. Usually I would say that my friends had been to the city before, and had already seen a museum or building or whatever.
When I was in my hostel, I would say that my friend was living in the city for a study abroad program, and that I preferred to stay in the hostel, so that I could have my own bed.
If you are at a bar or club, you can tell people that your friends are running late from dinner, and that they will be here soon. When they don’t show up and you are ready to leave, you can say that they decided to meet at a different bar/club, and head out to “meet up with them.”
You get the point. It does not matter what you say, just do not say that you are alone. Honestly, this felt a little weird at first, but after a few times, it became a fun little game.
PSA: For anyone that I have met while solo traveling, I apologize for lying about the “friends” I was traveling with. I promise I actually do have (real) friends. I am sure many of you looked back at my Facebook posts suspiciously wondering where all these “friends” were in my pictures from my trip. You understand though, I couldn’t risk you being a secret serial killer. Clearly the lying worked out well for me, since I made it home without reenacting Taken, so it was worth it in the end.
Keep Your Family/Friends in the Loop
Make sure that, before you leave, you give your family/friends your itinerary. This includes all the information about your flights, trains, hostels/hotels, tours, etc. Additionally, keep them in the loop if plans change. For example, when I was in Italy, there were strikes that caused cancellations of different trains, that caused me to adjust my itinerary.
If you are not going to purchase a data plan for your time abroad, make sure that you have a plan to check in with your friends/family to let them know you are okay.
For my first solo trip, everyone was convinced that I was going to be taken. To be fair, I have been known to have a terrible sense of direction, and as I have said before, I am typically a shy/anxious person. Everyone wanted me to check in with them each day, and they each had their own expectations of what that looked like (i.e. Email, texts, snaps). It was honestly overwhelming, and I knew it was going to take away from my experience. I told my family/friends that I would let them know I was okay by posting one picture on Instagram at the end of each day.
This turned out to be a lot of fun because it was like a picture diary from my trip, which I still love looking back at today. It was also super easy. Everyone knew that as long as I posted a picture at the end of the day, I was still safe. Sure, I did some Snapchatting and FaceTiming when I was on Wifi, but I wasn’t feeling pressure to check-in through multiple different apps each day.
The most adorable side note: My grandmother was one of the many people worried about me during my trip. She actually created a Facebook and sent me a friend request while I was abroad so that she could keep up with my travels. She is honestly the sweetest woman ever.
Be Lost with Confidence
I love getting lost in a new city and discovering all that it has to offer. But do this without looking lost. Avoid pausing under street signs, reading the mad on your phone, and looking like you have no idea where you are. It is okay to be lost, but walk with confidence to the nearest cafe/bathroom/shop to pull out your map or figure out where you are.
Be Extra Conscious of your Drinks/Drinking
We have all heard it a thousand times: Never leave your drink unattended, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. This is true for life, but especially true when you are abroad. I also encourage you to limit your drinking. Notice I do not say, “do not drink at all” because honestly, I am not going to Italy and NOT having wine. Just be smart. I am a solid 5-foot-nothing, so I know that means that I am having 1-3 drinks, and that is it. I also do not do shots. You know your body, and you know you limits. Just make sure that you are still alert/aware of your surroundings and definitely do not drink and “throw your inhibitions to the wind.”
Enroll in S.T.E.P.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is run by the U.S. Department of State. STEP allows you to enroll your trip with the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which allows them to contact you if there is an emergency. They will also send you safety information about your destination country.
Trust Your Gut
If someone is making you feel icky, it is okay to walk away or ask for help. Worry less about feeling mean or rude, and remember that it is about your safety. You can step into a store or restaurant and hangout until you feel safe to go back outside. Also do not be afraid to tell a employee if you are concerned and ask them for help.
Travel During the Day
Make sure that you are departing/arriving during the day. You never want to get into a new city at night, in the dark. I always make sure that I arrive with enough daylight to find my hostel, check-in, then walk around and get the lay of the land.
This means following the same safety tips you should be following at home: Keep your eyes up, be aware of your surroundings, do not walk with headphones in, do not walk around starring at your phone, etc.
Avoid Drawing Attention to Yourself
First, do not bring any flashy jewelry. One, you do not want to lose it. Two, you do not want people to target you based on your jewelry. I would also suggest dressing conservatively or at least match the fashion of the area you are traveling in.
Always Meet in a Public Place
I am not here to judge. If you want to use Tinder/Bumble/Grindr/Her, go for it. Just make sure that you are meeting in a public place, preferably during the day. And let people know this is happening. Tell your host/hostel/hotel so someone knows what your plans are.
Helpful Safety Items
- Infinity Scarf with Pocket – This is such a great idea/accessory for those colder months.
- Personal Alarm – Keep this on your purse or key chain as you are out and about
- Padlocks and Steel Cables – I used these to lock my bags in the hostel as well as on the train/bus. I also suggest smaller locks to help keep your zippers on your backpack locked while you are walking around during the day
- Door Stop Alarm – If you are staying in a hostel or hotel room alone, this is a great comfort to have