I love traveling alone. It may sound weird at first and a little bit "loner-ish,” but hear me out. I love making my own schedule, waking up and going to sleep whenever and wherever I want, having the option of meeting new people or not talking to anyone, being able to change my plans last minute, listening to audiobooks in the car or on the airplane, and having the option to stay in lavish hotels or pitching a tent at a free campsite. Whenever I travel solo, I get to know myself a little bit more, become a bit more comfortable with being alone, and feel so rejuvenated when I return home. I usually end up meeting a few rad people along the way too!
I am often asked if adventuring solo is safe, and my snarky response is usually along the lines of, “It is safer than driving down the 405 freeway,” which in my opinion is true. I have traveled to other countries solo, camped solo, backpacked solo, and road tripped across the country solo, and I have definitely learned a thing or two about how to stay safe while traveling solo and making the most of my trip. In reality, no matter where you are in the world, you are never 100% safe. True, some cities and countries are safer than others, but I truly believe that if you practice good judgment and have some street smarts (Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road, it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you), you will be just fine.
I have many girlfriends tell me they are fearful of traveling solo because they may be unprepared or may find themselves in an unsafe situation; however, living in fear is scary in itself. You will not know if traveling solo will fill your soul until you step out of your comfort zone and try it. After I graduated college I promised myself that once a year I would travel internationally and travel somewhere within the United States where I have never been before. It has been 10 years since I have made this pact to myself, and I am still going strong.
People naturally ask how I am able to travel so frequently. To be honest, I have an amazing career that I love and that pays me well and gives me the freedom to work remotely the majority of the time. I save a lot of my money because I do not go out to eat frequently, I rarely buy coffee out, and I rarely shop for clothes. I literally spend most of my money on travel, sparkling water, wine, and skincare. I consider myself a minimalist because I do not like owning a bunch of things, and I am that person that always has the same outfit on in every photo. I buy most of my clothes from consignment stores and will wear them until they have holes in them, and I never buy processed snacks from grocery stores because they are overpriced and unhealthy. In other words, I have learned to spend my money on things that are important to me.
Tips and tricks for the most epic solo adventure
- Have an itinerary printed out that includes your reservations, distance to each destination, stops along the way, and any other details you do not want to forget. I also email this agenda to myself and take screen captures on my phone.
- If you are road-tripping solo make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a detailed description of your final destination and stops along the way because it is very possible you may lose cell signal. I am preparing for a 10-day solo road trip in Northern California where I will be backpacking the Lost Coast Trail and stop at a few national parks within the general area, so I have a Word document with all my stops, campground reservations, hiking details, trail recommendations, and of course a tide chart (since backpacking along the Lost Coast solely depends on the tides).
- Always check the weather and plan accordingly. My parents recently canceled their trip to Hawaii a day before their flight because of the hurricane. So sad.
- Make sure you always have at least a third of a tank of gas because, depending on where you travel, you can often drive for 40 to 60 miles without any service stations, and running our of gas does not sound like a good time.
- Carry essentials in case you run into car trouble. This includes an emergency first-aid car kit, a flashlight, a warm jacket (in case you get stranded in the cold), a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), a spare tire, jumper cables and your roadside assistance card. Make sure you know how to use your jumper cables because you can do some serious damage if you do not use them correctly.
- Always make sure you have plenty of snacks, water, caffeine and good music (or in my case, audiobooks). I usually order three to five audiobooks at the library before an upcoming trip so I have plenty of entertainment while I am driving. My rule of thumb at every gas station stop is to purchase two bottles of sparkling water, a coffee, and a couple of bags of trail mix and gummy bears. I am a creature of habit, and many of my friends who have been on road trips with me know that I buy the exact same thing at every gas station.
- Bring ear buds and a battery pack to charge your electronics. Ear buds come in handy especially on trains, airplanes, and in long lines.
- Always have a book…or three.
- Remember you can do laundry anywhere in the world, so pack light. Whether you are hiking the John Muir Trail or you are adventuring to Africa, you can always wash your own clothes (in the case of the JMT) or pay a small fee to have your clothes washed. I have lived in India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy, and I always was able to have my laundry done. Everyone around the world does laundry, so there is no need to pack a new pair of clothes for each day you are adventuring. Contrary to the fashion magazines, it is totally okay to wear the same outfit two (or even three days) in a row.
- If you go out to eat, grab a seat at the bar instead of a table (it is less awkward, and you will meet lots of people eating at the bar).
- If you get lost, take a deep breath, look at your map, and center yourself. Everything is going to be okay, and yes, you will make the wrong turn at least once. It happens to everyone.
- Keep an open mind. Not every plan is going to work out, and not every detail is going to go your way. There may be a wrench in your plans, but the only thing you can control is your mindset and attitude. Keep an open mind, and always be willing to make a new move.
- Skip washing your hair. Seriously, I never wash my hair when I am camping or backpacking, no matter how many days I am out on the trails. When I am staying at a hotel or a rented apartment, I wash my hair once a week (my usual routine).
- Do not ever forget your sunscreen (I actually carry most of my skincare regimen in travel size containers even when I am backpacking).
- Always send a loved one at home your itinerary and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
- Baby wipes and face wipes are a must. I use Philosophy cleansing cloths for my face
- If you plan on flying, always use carry-on luggage unless you are bringing camping gear or traveling internationally for more than 10 days. I use stuff sacks in my carry-on bag and can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes in my carry-on without having to do laundry. Nobody likes waiting for luggage to come off the plane, paying for luggage, or losing his or her luggage.
- Do not venture out alone at night, always be diligent when you are pulling money out of the ATM, never carry too much cash or your passport on you, keep your valuable items in a safe at the hotel, and always trust your gut if you feel you are being watched or followed. I have been chased down twice in foreign countries; both incidents were at night, and I saw the individual follow me with my peripheral vision. I do not carry a weapon or pepper spray, and I hope I will never need to.
- Wear minimal or no jewelry, and do not wear revealing clothing.
- Talk to people. It is amazing how many people you will meet, whether you are backpacking alone or traveling internationally alone. People are usually very intrigued by solo female travelers, and it is a great way to engage socially and learn some great tips about the trail or the city.
- If you are in a country where toilet paper is uncommon, always have a stash in your purse.
- Charge all electronics before you hit the road, and bring a backup battery pack (with an adapter for foreign countries if needed).
- Take public transportation whenever possible to save money, save the environment, meet people, and be adventurous. Taking public transportation helps you sharpen your navigational skills, and many metro systems have apps you can download. Or you can always use Google Maps offline to navigate the public transit system.
- Buy a memento from your trip. I personally collect magnets for my fridge so I can save wedding invitations, printed photos, and hand-written cards I receive in the mail. Some of my friends buy a patch, a pin, or a t-shirt. If I am in a place that is known for its art or jewelry, you can bet I will be doing some damage on my credit card.
- Always make a packing list so you do not forget anything.
- Take lots of photos. Instead of taking selfies (I despise selfies), use your amazing people skills and ask someone to take a photo of you. Or, instead of having to be in every photo, take a photo of your surroundings.