Solo Travel — Expectations vs Reality
I’d like to start today’s post by discussing the important issues in my life. Whats up with the Pokemon Go thing? I’m so behind. I don’t actually even know what Pokemon looks like. So lets start there. I’m envisioning Mario’s outfit on a creature with four legs. Probably not even close, huh. I played with legos and cardboard as a child and deep down thats really all I know.
I think I’m an oxymoron. I can tell you how to use public transportation in many of the worlds major cities, but I’m also really sheltered. Am I though? I’m having an identity crisis realizing all of these things right now.
Ok, so Pokemon dresses like Mario. What does he do? Does he have superpowers? Like incredible speed or healing skills? Why are people trying to run around and catch him? Like I saw people walking and someone told me they were trying to get to the Pokemon. So is this like a weight-loss program with incentives? Encouraging people to be active by creating an app that uses physical activity as a means to win the game? IS SHAWN T POKEMON?????
Someone please comment and explain this to me. Or write me a detailed powerpoint presentation and email me. Thanks fam.
Everyone who I talk to about my travels eventually brings up their concerns about traveling alone. I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty much the exact opposite of what people assume it will be. Traveling alone is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. It can definitely be a lot of work, but it’s something that everyone should consider!
Expectation: I’ll be a target for pickpockets (etc.) because I’m alone.
Reality: For the most part, I think being alone actually helped me blend in more. Large groups of tourists being led by a guide are pretty hard to miss, but I was actually asked for directions in almost every place I visited. Catcalling will be an issue no matter where you go, but it’s important to just move on without reacting. I was left alone besides that for the most part. Just make sure you take precautions to pickpocket-proof your valuables and look like a local.
The level to which you need to blend in with the culture around you is going to vary depending on where you are. If you’re a female traveling alone, I think it’s always a good idea to wear a wedding ring. Especially if you’re in the Middle East, it would be a good idea to dress along with the culture as much as you can as well. Also remember that there is no shame in lying and telling people that you’re traveling with a group if you don’t think it’s safe to say that you’re alone.
No matter where you are, looking confident and avoiding calling attention to yourself will always help you out. I planned for 6 months for my trip so I was able to confidently navigate in each place I arrived. If I needed to look up directions, I always went inside a grocery store or market so I wasn’t standing lost in the street. I made sure to make mental notes of all of my surroundings and usually after a couple hours of exploring I understood the layout of the city fairly well.
Expectation: I won’t be in any of my pictures. (And I am fundamentally opposed to the selfie stick.)
I hate selfie sticks with a passion. But tourists abound! I am very cautious of who I hand my DSLR camera to, but a family who are all taking pictures and wearing matching t-shirts in the back of a tour group are usually a pretty safe bunch of people to ask.
Expectation: Eating in a restaurant alone is weird.
Reality: It’s always nice to share a meal and talk with someone, but when you eat alone you have a chance to absorb more of the culture. I was able to talk to the chef in a restaurant in Nice, and then had a long conversation with the waitress about pronunciation of some French words I had been working on. Even though I wasn’t drinking, I sat at the bar in almost every place I ate, which allowed me to talk to the bartenders and understand more about the place I was staying. This always led to really great conversations, which sometimes ended up being the only ones that I had all day. In France I even spoke with a cafe owner who taught me how to order gluten-free food in French, which is a skill that helped me a lot! Eating alone definitely has it’s perks!
Expectation: Staying alone in a hostel is creepy and unsafe.
Reality: Hostels are full of solo-travelers, and are generally built for the safety of people who are living the vagabonding life. There will always be exceptions to this, but if you do your research you can always find options that are safe and accommodating. I never had a single safety issue in any hostel – just be smart about where you leave your belongings and make sure you have locks just in case. Hostels are not creepy death traps! I met a lot of other solo-travelers and made a lot of life-long friends because I stayed in hostels.
Extra tip: have a check in plan with someone who is state-side. Each night I iMessaged my mom an emoji to let her know that I was safe and in for the night.
Expectation: I will be lonely.
Reality: Some people need to be really social. I am not one of those people. Nonetheless, I like having good conversations and getting to share awesome experiences with people I care about. Traveling alone does mean that sometimes you have to wait to tell someone about the amazing things that you see and do. It doesn’t mean you are lonely, though. I think it’s really important to have a good chunk of alone time – you learn a lot of important things about yourself, which make you a better person when you have people around you. Traveling alone gave me that time to myself that I needed, but certainly provided a lot of social experiences as well. Through hostels, trains, restaurants, hitchhiking, beaches, Euro Cup games, and more, I met a ton of people and had a lot of great conversations along the way.
Hostels are as much of a social setting as you want them to be – there were places where I kept to myself and places where I made friends with my entire room and we all cooked, talked, and played card games together. If you need an ice breaker, hostels provide a lot of group activities that are attended by a lot of solo travelers. I didn’t find that I needed to attend any of these to make great friends – even just going into the kitchen and cooking led to talking with everyone else around me.
I attended a Coldplay concert alone and ended up making friends with the couple sitting next to me – by the end we had friended each other on social media and were singing every song together!
Solo travel is an enriching and eye-opening experience. Its good to do things that give you some butterflies in your stomach, but please know that safe solo travel in entirely possible, and it’s not something that you should be afraid to try.