When I turned 18, I didn’t care about a lot of things that came with adulthood, like getting my driver’s license, but I was psyched that I was finally officially allowed to travel alone. Back then, I decided to travel to France for two weeks during the summer. I thought the Côte d’Azur will help me improve my language skills before graduation.
While my French still sucks, I truly enjoyed that time out and about by myself and also made fellow cosmopolitan friends there, who I am still close with several years later.
I traveled alone to New York which was only the beginning of a serious love story, grabbed my backpack, and joined an Australian intrepid group touring India and visited a few cities in Europe on weekends. And I can’t wait to hit the road again.
My sister turned 16 this year and it makes me happy to witness her travel lust and future plans to see the world, and I am also a little proud that I instilled that desire in her. As her big sister it also makes me anxious of course, so prepping is key and I am happy to share what my travels taught me thus far – with her and with you…
research the important things
When I decided to travel to India, I had about three months to prep for the trip by getting the necessary vaccines and basically reading everything I could to avoid a huge culture shock, once I’d arrive in Delhi. Travel guides are a great source of necessary information but I also prefer to read travel novels such as the German Kulturschock series, written by people who actually traveled to the specific country and therefore have loads of insights.
Reading romantic novels and planning ahead when it comes to sightseeing is nice, but when you travel to a country with totally different customs and beliefs – alone, mind you! – compared to where you grew up, educate yourself! This brings me to the next subject…
learn about the culture and local customs
It’s totally fine to wear sleeveless tops during summer in Italy, as it is totally normal for guys to leave the shirt altogether. Doing so in Arabic countries and parts of Asia will count as sexual harassment and it doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist and didn’t know about it – you will get in trouble! Educate yourself about the areas in the country you’re going to visit, the local customs and manners. Which gesture is seen as polite and which is not? Especially if you’re a young woman, it is crucial to know these things! In Dubai, you can’t leave the hotel after 9 pm without male company, for instance. Who would’ve thought?!
teach yourself the language basics
“Meraa naam Martina hai” That means “My name is Martina” in Hindi. Learn the basic words and phrases like Good morning, Good evening, yes, no, thank you, please… it will earn you respect from the locals and sometimes even spark a conversation or they’ll teach you a few more words. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself – you probably will – but it will only make you more confident in the long run.
Be prepared but don’t go crazy
While traveling in India I met this British girl with a backpack three times her own size, she even packed a travel iron. For India. During summertime. I’ll leave it at that. It’s great to be prepared when it comes to medication, international calling cards, local currency, and things like that, but don’t go crazy and be honest with yourself. Do you really need that curling iron on a hiking trip?!
Confidence is key
You did your research, memorized basic phrases and you read a couple of books, and kept up with the political news online. Good job! You already know what to expect before your departure and know how to get around once you have arrived. Having that kind of information gives you confidence and it will show and it’s more likely that no one will bother you.
trust your instincts
Know your limits and trust your gut, even if others cannot understand or your reaction might seem irrational – never do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe! Personally, I only regret decisions I made when I didn’t trust my gut. So there’s that!
For example, I once had the feeling that someone is following me when I was out and about in Nice, in a not-so-nice neighborhood. Chances are that guy was heading home as well but my gut told me to head to a nearby 24h fast food joint and wait it out. Another time I walked toward a group of tourists and acted as if I belong to them!
Have fun, duh
All that prepping and my safety tips shouldn’t keep you from having fun and enjoying the ride of course. Never plan every minute of your trip, be spontaneous and be open to life’s pleasant surprises. From my experience, I can only assure you that my trips turned out better than anticipated and also totally different but in a good way!
If you’re still skeptical, read Fly Solo – The 50 Best Places on Earth for a girl to travel alone by Teresa Rodriguez Williamson, and tell me you still won’t give it a try!
What are your tips for traveling alone?
(Photos from my trips to Amsterdam and Bregenz)