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The challenge of traveling alone for the first time

The first time I had to travel alone, it was for work. Before that I had only made two trips by plane; the first when I was 11 years old, with my parents and the second one a month before my solo travel: I bought tickets out of anxiety, to rehearse how to move in an airport and to avoid to be late to work on the other side of the continent.

In those years traveling wasn’t very important in my life and, moreover, I was not even very convinced about the idea of leaving without any company. So if the same thing happens to you and you still don’t make the decision, I’ll try to convince you.

Travel alone, even if you’re not sure you want it

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu (photo by William Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash)

Of course, to know new things is scary, even more if you don’t have someone to support you. People who travel alone always say that this is a life changing and I also think that, but you may not. Still.

Has it happened to you? When you do something new, you feel a little inner pride, as if you had won a star? When you travel alone that feeling is constant: I didn’t miss the flight = little star; I found a place to sleep = little star; I spoke to a stranger = little star; I had an ice cream alone = little star. It’s a kind of love for yourself that will last several days and will help you realize that there are many things in your day to day life, that you previously left aside just because you didn’t have someone to do it with.

Don’t be afraid of places

Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena de Indias (photo by hotbook.com.mx)

My first solo trip took me to Colombia. I was going to spend a month in that place that was constantly on the news  and people told me about guerrillas, drugs and kidnappings. But places are not like television shows you. Colombia turned out to be a very quiet, orderly placefull of beautiful people.

So, don’t think that places are like in the movies, probably your city is more dangerous than the city where you are going (at least for Latin Americans) and every day you work, you go out at night and live in it.

Of course you have to avoid dangerous places and do some research before going to certain neighborhoods, but nothing else.

Nothing gives you more security than knowing where you are

Pamir Highway

Pamir Highway (photo by Lonely Planet)

If you are afraid of arriving to the most dangerous place in the city without noticing or don’t want a taxi driver to make a long route, do your research.

Before embarking on your first trip alone, travel the city with Google Maps Street View. Find out which are the neighborhoods you don’t want to visit and mark them on your map. Download an offline map on your phone, so you always know where you are and if you take a taxi, you can guide the driver as if you knew the city.

In your next trips, you will be letting go; but don’t be ashamed to want to know everything before leaving. Knowledge will give you tools to feel more confident and secure.

Destroy the language barrier

(photo by Lonely Planet)

Maybe some years ago not knowing a language was an excuse for not going to some places. These days technology helps us understand almost everything anyone says. There are apps like Google Translate, ITranslate or SayHi, that can help you with that. (Read our article How to get your smartphone ready for a trip: Tips and essential apps to know more).

Another good way to understand the culture and get closer to the locals is to learn some basic words in the language of the country you are visiting. “Hello”, “bye” and “thank you” in the local language are magic words anywhere and will open doors for you.

Don’t be afraid of loneliness

(photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash)

Maybe several solo travelers told you that you will meet many people during the trip. The truth is that it depends on your personality, but the chances increase if you follow certain key rules.

Hostels and B&B’s are better than a hotel to meet other people traveling alone. Spend time in the common areas and you’ll see how someone will approach you. Ask for information about the city and if you are invited somewhere or to have a beer, say yes. There’s nothing better than sharing time with people who are doing the same as you.

To meet new people, a good way is to sign up for a guided tour. Every city has several free walking tours in which you will find many people in your same situation. Also going to a small cooking class or traditional handicraft workshop will increase your chances of meeting people.

Be honest, ask for help and talk to strangers. Leaving our comfort zone, makes us brave enough to do different things. On my last trip to the south of Chile, for example, I was so desperate to find a transport crossing the border from Pirihueico into Argentina, that I spoke to a couple of elderly people who were walking through a national park. They turned out to be the only ones crossing the border by car that day and thanks to the fact I said hi, I was able to cross with them.

If you don’t like to eat alone, share

(photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash)

A very common fear is eating alone. To fight it, for example, look for restaurants with bars, so you can at least talk to the bartender. You can also go to restaurants with common tables: look for “communal table” on the internet and you will find places in every city. Another option is to join organized dinners, where everyone enters the same place at the same time (in restaurants or private homes). A website that helps with this is MealSharing, but you can also find these events on Facebook.

Take care of yourself

(photo by Vidar Nordli Mathisen on Unsplash)

If you want a good experience worth repeating, avoid putting yourself in risky situations. For example, don’t arrive at your destination at night. At night it’s more difficult to navigate through a new place and if you don’t have your accommodation booked in advance, or if something goes wrong with your reservation, it will be more difficult to find a last minute option.

Carry a padlock, especially if you are going to share a room with more people. With that you can close your luggage or leave your valuables in the hostel lockers.

Don’t bring more things than necessary. Wherever you go, if you need something, you will be able to buy it. Also, if you have fewer things, the fear of losing them is less and your back will thank you. And if you are passing through a city, look for a keepair nearby and leave your luggage for the day, walking lighter will make you faster and you will not be so tired, so you can take more advantage of the city.

Scan your passport and important travel documents and send them to your email. So, if you lose them, you can recover them more easily.

Make your trip more enjoyable

Kanyakumari train, India

Kanyakumari train, India (photo by Rathish Gandhi on Unsplash)

Traveling alone, there will be several moments when you will feel lonely, be ready for that. Carry music that makes you happy, have a notebook (or tablet), carry a book or several e-books and take many pictures for whenever you want to share your trip with others.

Choose an easy place for you

(photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash)

On your first trip alone, don’t demand too much of yourself: If you think that a trip to Asia or Europe is too much for you, start smaller. Try a few days in a place in your country (one you don’t know yet) or try to visit one of the neighboring countries. We all have our own timing, the problem would be to never try.

Have you noticed that it’s less difficult for people to approach you when you are alone? That’s because you are much more accessible. Stop over thinking it, dare into the unknown and enjoy the trip.

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