Don’t you hate it when your friends want to go see the Eiffel Tower, but you wanted to see the Louvre? I know I do, it’s just a tower. My traveling interests often conflict with others and that’s why I choose to travel solo for a lot of my adventures. I do whatever I want to do. I have absolute freedom to go wherever I want, eat whatever I want and do whatever I want.
Another reason I travel solo is that it forces me to make friends. When I travel in groups, we’re essentially an American bubble within another country. Not my favorite way to experience that city. I personally am not interested in seeing sights but am interested in how cultures are the way they are, and that starts with its people. Within the past three years, I’ve managed to visit New York City, Chicago, and backpack around Europe (London, Oxford, Venice, Barcelona, Budapest, and Copenhagen).
It’s going to be scary, there are a lot of unknowns involved. But you’ll find many rewards for taking this big leap of faith. New friends, new experiences, and new memories. Money will come and go, but these experiences won’t.
Here’s How I do It:
Choose Places Where You Know At Least One Person
When I first started, I found a cheap flight to New York City for spring break. I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me during that time so I said “YOLO.” I told my dad I was doing this and he was like “I have a sister in NYC, I’ll give her a call.” And I was like “wait, I have an aunt in NYC???” And surely enough, I stayed with her during the week I was there. That gave me a free place to stay and had a local who was going to show me around.
Have a Common Ground to Make Friends
When I went to Chicago, I went to a music festival (Lollapalooza). It was easy to make friends because every young person was going to that music festival. I made friends on the flight there. I made friends from the Uber ride to my hotel room and I made friends with the people there at the festival.
The best way to meet people isn’t the first thing you say to them, it’s the second thing. The first will get two people talking. ”
Hi, are you going to Lollapalooza?”
“Cool! Where are you from?”
And the conversation just flows from there. Being in a big city, you will never be alone. It’s insanely easy to make new friends because people love interacting with someone from somewhere else.
Choose Big Cities Used to Having Tourists
What if I don’t know anyone in this city and what if there’s no big event going on? Well, this is what I faced when I backpacked Europe. I chose big cities because they’re used to having international people visit. We’re pretty lucky as English speakers that most people’s second language is English and we’re highly likely to bump into someone who speaks it. Even then, you should learn the language of the country you’re going in because you can’t assume everyone you’re going to meet is going to speak English.
What About Safety?
I can’t speak about the negative biases female travelers face when traveling alone, but here are some blog posts from female solo-travelers have:
And for all of us travelers in general, here are some general tips to stay safe:
Don’t look like a tourist.
Yes, you are one. You have a camera around your neck and you’re wearing shorts. Try your best to blend in with the locals and respect the culture you’re in.
Keep a phone charged and make sure someone knows you’ll be out.
Don’t be like 127 hours where you go on a secret hike and don’t tell anyone because you could be stuck between a rock and a hard place and cut your arm off in order to be free. Have these things and tell someone in case something happens.
Don’t Go Out at Night Alone.
Don’t walk in dark alleyways alone. It’s hard to defend yourself, but don’t let that deter you from going out at night.
It’ll be high risk, but very high reward. You’ll find in yourself the ability to become independent and to be able to handle yourself anywhere. Don’t think you can’t go to a place because you don’t have any friends that want to go with you. Just do it. You’ll be fine and you’ll come out a better person!