So you’ve conquered your fears and have decided to embark on that solo trip. Good for you! First things first, get over your fears. Attentiveness and vigilance goes a long way, no matter where you are in the world. Aside from trusting your gut instincts, here are a couple of tips to follow so your solo-adventure can go smoothly.
- Passport Control
Tip number one is major: leave a copy of your full itinerary with someone back at home, along with a copy of your passport. Speaking of your passport, if you’re traveling around the city, leave it at the hotel (in the safe), but snap a photo of your passport with your phone and mark it as a “favorite” in your gallery. Photo proof of citizenship has a couple of benefits. First, you will have a copy of your passport in case of an emergency. Second, you will have a copy handy for your VAT refund when shopping at duty free merchants. And last, you can have a copy to show to travel agents who may need your passport info when booking your excursions.
- Buy American
Now, you may contest me on this point, but I’m an advocate for staying in an American hotel if you travel overseas alone. Although the lure of the boutique-y local hotels can be charming, in the words of my granny, “Sometimes the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” Most of the time, the hassle isn’t worth the charm factor. As Americans, we have expectations of a certain level of customer service that far exceeds what you may get elsewhere. A 4 star hotel in Europe isn’t equivalent to a 4 star American hotel. The rooms are smaller and the hotel is invariably older. In America, “the customer is always right” adage isn’t the case in most other countries. By staying in American hotels, you already know that the level of security, service and accommodations are going to be on par with what you would receive stateside, so save yourself the hassle and worry. In this case, it really does pay to buy American.
Speaking of hotels, the concierge can be your best friend. This person holds the key to everything- where to go and how to get there. So befriend the friendly face at the front desk and tip graciously, and they will look out for every bit of your coming and goings. I always make nice and often give them the heads up on when I should be returning to the hotel. Bonus tip: make sure to grab his/her card in case anything comes up.
- Talk is Cheap
Carry around a phrase card. This is very important in Asia or in countries where they don’t use the Roman alphabet. Aside from not being able to pronounce your destination, you certainly can’t write it out for the cab driver, so make sure you at least have your hotel name and destinations written down in their native language. This has saved me many times, and undoubtedly, it will save you the frustration of trying to find an interpreter.
- Protect Yourself
Carry mase or pepper spray. Thank God I have never had to use it, but when I found myself wandering around Egypt’s Tahrir Square at 10pm (courtesy of the Air France losing my luggage) at least I had some built in security. Here’s the thing, it’s not really allowed in your luggage, and it is illegal in some (but not all) states, but who’s telling? My mantra: better safe than sorry. I ordered pepper spray on a key chain from Amazon for eight bucks and have never had any problems getting through security. If you’re worried about that, put the keychain in your checked bag. The worst the TSA will do is remove it from your luggage.
- Dress Accordingly
Two words: Cross Body. A cross body bag seems like a necessity when you travel period. Fashion wise, I am not a fan of backpacks, but hey, that’s just me. But because backpacks are generally worn on your back, you can’t see what’s going on, making you an easy target for pickpockets. My cousin got hit up in Barcelona while wearing her backpack walking down the street! The benefit of cross body bags is that it hits you in the front of your body where you can keep your eyes on your belongings. Another plus is that you’re hands free, so you can easily grab that mase if you need it.
- Hire a Tour Guide
Strolling the streets solo certainly has its benefits, but to get the most out of any city, it’s best to take a tour either with a group or hire a private tour guide. A good resource is Tours by Locals. They hire only local tour guides, and have reasonable flat rate pricing based on number of people in your group. You can scroll through the descriptions of their tour guides and find one that is suitable for your budget. Since the tour guides are locals, they know the hidden gems, and can often modify an itinerary based on your interests. If that’s not in your budget, there are many free walking tours in cities where you meet at a central location, and that’s a great way to get some exercise. And tours are a great way to meet people.
Vigilance and common sense are key everyday and traveling solo is no different. Being well prepared is essential to a great vacation, so take these tips and whatever else you can think of and hit the road.