By: Elisabeth Huber
There have been two times in my life where I have had to travel completely alone, and both were experiences that I thoroughly enjoyed. The first was during the summer of 2013 when I studied abroad in Tours, France for six weeks at an intensive French immersion institute not affiliated with my university. The second time was in 2015 when I was asked to give a five-day training program to my former company's client in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Both times were incredible learning and growing opportunities for me that I will never forget, and I've therefore learned some pretty important lessons from those experiences.
Without further ado, below are some of my Do's and Don'ts for traveling alone, so if/when you do it, you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Do be safe.
Safety first, always. Take extra precautions, especially when you're in a foreign country. Avoid walking alone at night – take a cab or an Uber when necessary. Watch your drink(s) carefully while you're at a bar. If you meet friends during your travels, use the buddy system so they know where you are at all times. Pickpockets are common in big cities and in other countries, so keep your wallet in a place that is not easy to access. I was, unfortunately, the victim of pickpocketing while I was in France because I wasn't smart enough about the location of my wallet – a mistake that cost me over 200 much needed euros. Try not to make the same mistake I did.
That being said...
Don't be afraid to venture out.
After my business trip in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I had an entire day and night to explore Dublin, Ireland. It was originally supposed to be me and one of my colleagues there together, but because her phone broke we were unable to easily figure out where to meet while we were both there. Because of this, I ended up finding myself completely alone in Dublin. After grabbing lunch at a local cafe, wandering the streets for awhile, then eating dinner at a pub, I resigned myself to a quiet night in instead of a late night out. At around 7 in the evening, I went to the market across the street from my hotel, grabbed myself a couple of beers, and headed upstairs to my room where I drew a bath and listened to some music. As lovely as this would sound on any normal night, halfway through my relaxing evening I suddenly thought to myself: When will I realistically be in Dublin, Ireland again?
I sighed, forced myself out of the bath, threw on some clothes and makeup, then grabbed my purse and went outside to the Temple Bar streets. After stepping in and out of a few pubs that, for whatever reason, didn't interest me in the least, I found one that wasn't too over-crowded and had some good live music playing. I sat at the bar, ordered a beer, and was just starting to feel a bit lonely again when a girl around my age sat next to me and also ordered a beer. I started a conversation with her and she turned out to be absolutely awesome! She was from Australia but had just moved to England and was traveling alone before starting her new job. It ended up being one of the best nights of my life. After a couple of drinks at the first pub, we went to another bar where we met some really cool people from the Netherlands and had an absolute blast until the early (or, as they say in Ireland, wee) hours of the morning.
Do fake confidence.
The point of the above story is that had I not forced myself to do something that was stepping outside of my comfort zone, I wouldn't have had the amazing experience I enjoyed and still love to think back on today. Even if you feel self conscious about it, force yourself to go to a restaurant or bar alone, force yourself to take a guided tour alone, force yourself to walk the streets of the unknown city alone (in the daylight or on brightly-lighted streets, and avoid dark alleyways always). Learning how to be alone in a new place is such an empowering experience, even if it's only for one day. Fake it 'til you make it - if you tell yourself you can do it and force yourself to do it, you can. And you never know what/who you will experience by doing so. (Just always keep your safety in mind).
Don't use your phone.
"Blasphemous!" you say, "How can I go without my phone?" You can, and you should. Substitute your phone for a book, if you must, but don't go visit a new place and immediately shut yourself down to the beautiful new world you are in by scrolling through cyberspace. Are you in a different country? Go to a cafe and listen to the language around you while you sip on your coffee. Are you at a bar? You'll never meet someone new if you're stalking your ex on Facebook. Wait to use your phone until you're in for the night. Your phone can wait, the experiences you could have while you're traveling cannot.
Do learn about the culture you're visiting.
I was an anthropology major so I feel as though I'm required to add this. If you're visiting a new country and/or culture, it's important to know the general practices and customs of that culture so you are not unintentionally offending others while you're there. It's as easy as taking ten minutes to read up about that new destination to know what to keep in mind, and it will help make your experience that much more pleasant.
Don't forget to take pictures.
And no, I'm not necessarily talking about the typical bathroom mirror selfie, however you do you. This, instead, is advice that my friend Joel told me before I went to France. "You're going to want to look back on this experience in the future," he told me, "So make sure you take lots of pictures, and make sure some if not most of those pictures include yourself in them!" I'm so grateful today for his advice. I love to look back on my travel pictures and, despite the fact that I don't often like to have pictures of myself taken, I do enjoy seeing myself in them. I think this sentiment is because as time passes, those travel memories feel as though they were dreams, so seeing evidence of yourself having been there proves in a way that it truly was a real experience.
Joel wanted to add a note today to say "However, make sure not to spend the entire time of your travels looking through the lens of your camera!" This is also a good point. Have a balance of a well-documented visit, take pictures of the important, cool, and/or beautiful things, but do also experience most of your travels through your own eyes and not the camera's.
Traveling alone can be a beautiful experience that leaves you knowing yourself better and feeling more confident in yourself than you ever thought possible. So, if you take anything from my advice, you should at least remember to have fun and be safe. Make the best out of each moment as your time there will pass quickly.
With all that being said, have YOU had an enlightening travel experience? Share it with us in the comments! You never know, your experience may be shared on one of our social media pages in the future.