9 Tips for Traveling Alone for the First Time
Traveling alone can be an intimidating journey for many who have never traveled alone before. While many have traveled in their childhood, or most of their lives, there are others who have not and don’t know where to begin.
My first trip solo was to Beijing just 8 months after I joined the Peace Corps. It was the first time no one I knew was waiting on the other end for me. It was also the first time I had traveled anywhere that had such an intimidating language barrier. It was also my first time visiting Beijing. That particular journey held a lot of firsts for me, but I learned one thing about myself – I can do anything, especially this.
I have had significant travel experiences including one in France and Spain a few years early, so the initial fear most have when traveling alone for the first time wasn’t that prominent for me, but nonetheless there are so many things, feelings, and scenarios that run through your brain before you actually start the journey.
For those who have never traveled and have mixed feelings of excitement and worry, don’t worry, it’s completely normal. If you keep a positive attitude, follow your intuition, and stay smart and safe during the trip, you’ll have an experience to remember.
Below you’ll find some tips for traveling alone for the first time. My tips will be helpful in planning the journey, preparing for the worst, and experience everything at its best.
Stay Safe and Smart
Depending on what country you go to, you can guarantee there are people out there who are very skilled in the art of scamming. I’ve had friends get computers stolen out from under their eyes, people pretending their car broke down to get money from strangers. American tourists are prime targets for scams. Do your research about the area you are traveling to and see if there is a scam culture and how you can avoid it. And always ALWAYS follow your intuition. If something about where you are an who you’re with is not right, trust your gut and leave to find a safer environment.
Stay Positive and Have a Good Attitude
I’m a big believer in the philosophy, “what you give out is what you get back.” If you’re constantly focusing all your energy on how great this trip is going to be and how much fun you are going to have, you’ll have a positive experience and a lifetime of memories. If, however, you spend most of your time being fearful of the unknown or the many things that could possibly go wrong on your trip, it’s likely you could have a rough trip that swears you off from traveling, and we don’t want that. But chances are if you are willing to travel solo, you’re probably not the second person I described.
Plan, Plan, Plan
In my opinion, you can never plan too much. I’m the type of person who loves to research the heck out of my destination before I venture there. I read blogs, visit Tripadvisor, watch videos, and do hundreds of Google searches to make sure I am seeing everything I want to and all of the unique gems in the area. I also like to review my reservations several times before actually making them, mostly because I want to make sure I plan enough, but not too much or too little.
Keep Your Identity Secure
If you’re traveling internationally, I recommend giving important documents to a trusted family member in the case you get into a bind. Hopefully, you are not so misfortunate that you lose your passport, but let’s say you do. You want to keep copies of your passport and ID with you but separate from your original passport and ID so that you can get back home. To keep your personal documents safe, use a passport holder that you keep underneath your clothing, which make it harder for people to steal from you.
It’s normal for first-time travelers to overpack. If I’m going on a big trip, I take a few weeks to pack, unpack, and repack my bag. We tend to put items in our bag that we think we will need but aren’t entirely necessary. By packing, unpacking, and repacking throughout several weeks, you’ll be able to see what was an impulsive item you packed and what isn’t. It also keeps you from forgetting important items you do need to pack. Also, packing lightly means less stress for you while carrying your luggage around.
Experience the Food
Too many times I was traveling with others, I noticed they spent more time looking for a McDonald’s then they did an authentic restaurant in the country they are visiting. So much of the culture can be found in the food. Whether it be delicious duck confit in Paris, tapas & paella in Barcelona, or rabbit head in Chengdu. I encourage everyone to try everything at least once unless it makes you sick to your stomach (I could never stomach kidney and liver but I did try both).
Call Home If You Need To
I am close with my parents, so I called them a lot, especially if I get distraught or stressed during my journey. Fortunately, we are all iPhone users, so Facetiming with my parents from anywhere in the world sure made being away from home easier. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can use Whatsapp to stay in touch with people you’re close to. You can also use the app, WeChat for messaging, voice calling, and video calling.
Bring a Journal
You can take a laptop, but for me, there is something about taking time to write in a journal about what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling. It’s also nice to be a little more disconnected so you can really experience the environment around you. The journals come in handy years down the road when you are trying to recall your experiences when first traveling. Take hold of those moments traveling alone when they are fresh in your mind and writing them down is also a great piece of your own history you can pass down to generations of your family that come after you. I recommend a moleskin journal, which you can find in my travel essentials.
You’re Braver Than You Think
During my first trip to Beijing, as I was visiting the Summer Palace, I came upon Houhai Lake, which was frozen solid. People were skating on the thick ice while the bright sun tried to poke through the haze. The sky was still bright despite the pollution and I remember taking a deep breath in. A day before I had just visited the Great Wall of China and before that, the Forbidden City. I felt, invincible and courageous having traveled alone. It sparked a confidence in myself I didn’t know I had. From that point on, traveling alone became a piece of cake and planning every adventure after that was a no-brainer. You are brave and traveling alone is easy peasy.