I've spent a lot of time over the last month telling you all about how to prepare for a trip. As I'm sure you're well aware at this point, I'm planning my first international trip. But as I've mentioned before, and will continue to mention, I'm also traveling alone. A lot of what I've talked about in these last few posts has been how preparation is one of the best things you can do for smooth travel. And, to my own credit, I'm not wrong. However, in all the preparation I've been talking to you about for your trip's logistics, your body, and your apps, I've left out a key piece of information: you. How do you travel alone?
Originally, I was going to spend this week talking to you about stress management as I promised in my last post on staying healthy. That post is still coming, but in going over the ways I manage my stress I realized that I've been doing a lot of avoiding. I avoided thinking about how I, one of the most independent people I know, will manage traveling alone to somewhere I've never been before. You can prepare the perfect itinerary, line up every moment to go off without a hitch, but if you don't know how to enjoy it then can you really enjoy it?
I believe you can.
Dip Your Toe In
My biggest piece of advice I can offer to anyone even slightly entertaining the idea of traveling alone is to test it out first. Start small, like seriously small. For me, I started so small that I didn't know I was even testing myself until I had already done it. Nearly one year to the day before my upcoming trip I traveled to nearby San Francisco for the annual Game Developer's Conference.
I was there for business, networking, parties, conference- things, the whole sha-bang. Not to mention I grew up only a few hours north of the city so while it wasn't a common hang-out it also wasn't an unfamiliar place for me. I booked my stay outside of the busier areas (read cheap) and thought I'd be spending my days and nights surrounded by strangers and meeting new people. What I learned very quickly was that, for me, I enjoyed traveling solo quite a lot with an emphasis on the solo part.
I found myself sneaking into cafes, sitting in parks, visiting a library, and wanting to do most of the things I wasn't there to do. I'd duck out early in the day to work on homework or client work and hang out at my accommodation while ordering takeout. I'd done an eerily similar thing a few months earlier at TwitchCon but always thought it was just me being overwhelmed, turns out I just really like being left alone on vacation even if it's a "work" vacation.
Take your test trip, learn what works for you. Pick a place that's different enough from where you live without being too different or too far and stay for a few days. I had no choice but to stay for the week, however, I knew by the third day. If you find yourself wildly uncomfortable without any changes after a day or two then traveling solo to somewhere too far away may not be a good move, you might need to start smaller.
Do Your Research
If you're traveling alone then I have some news for you: you are your only support. Depending on who you are that can sound terrifying and empowering or both at once. Look into your destination a great deal before you book any flights or accommodation, especially the nonrefundable kind. If it sounds sketchy or too good to be true then it probably is. Many areas are safe enough to travel on your own if you're a certain race, sexuality, and gender. However many areas may be a risk for you if you fall into any number of minority groups, especially women of color. You should always strive to stay as safe as possible, whenever possible, so don't put yourself at risk just for the sake of traveling solo.
Be aware of where you're going. Then research what you want to do, where you want to go, etc. I have so. many. lists. I mean seriously, if you looked at my search history, notebooks, and my phone your head would spin at the sheer number of lists for things I've saved or notated that I want to keep in mind when I land. You'll never regret being informed.
Set Yourself up for Success
Similar to when you're researching, you should also set yourself up for a successful trip on your own. Because I don't know where you are headed or who you are, this advice will look different for you than it looks for me. Maybe it means booking accommodations that are close to subways and trains, maybe it means booking them close to the hospital. If you're not bringing a computer and don't want to pay for roaming or portable WiFi options then know where you can access the internet in case of an emergency.
Do you know where the police station is? Can you trust the police in the country or area you're visiting? Are you traveling between cities and, if so, are you bringing your luggage? Figuring out these logistics beforehand is important, you don't have anyone but yourself to fall back on when you're traveling alone. Sure, you can ask for help but you don't have a consistent person in your corner that's with you the whole time. Answer the important questions for yourself so, in case of an emergency or odd situation, you can save yourself the stress.
Be Okay With You
This is the big one, the hardest part for many traveling alone. You can pack the perfect bag, get all your ducks in a row, plan the absolute perfect trip, and still have a horrible time alone. When you travel alone there's nobody to share it with in the moment, nobody to talk to about the cool thing you saw or the things you're tasting. When you have an awe-inspiring moment and look around you may see other people but at the end of the day - you're alone.
You can enjoy the alone, in fact, you might enjoy it more. But it takes time to be okay being alone. For some of us, we might never be okay with this idea. This is why the test trip I mentioned is so important, you need to take your time and learn how to be okay with being alone with yourself. Take yourself to smaller outings and enjoy the alone time, I promise it can be a wonderful thing.
I'm still afraid of traveling alone, that's probably not going to change overnight. I will likely be afraid until my final plane lands and I have no choice but to not be afraid anymore. But I've taken the steps to prepare myself for this big leap of faith. I believe in myself and my ability to travel alone, far away from home. I encourage you to take even a small step in building your confidence to do something small alone, you might surprise yourself with the results.