15 tips for traveling alone
I recently returned from a four-month trip around Europe. I backpacked to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Germany, Norway and The Netherlands, sometimes with my best friend, sometimes with new friends, and sometimes all alone.
Travelling alone was one of the best experiences of my life. You’ll surprise yourself with your keen intuition, your ability to cope with a new language, your friend-making skills, your geographical bearings and overall just how much you enjoy doing whatever you want, whenever you want - from eating whenever, going wherever and doing whatever you feel like doing. Sometimes I had gelato for breakfast, once I spent six hours in a museum, a few times I slept til midday, I went to a music festival solo and I swam in the ocean morning, noon and dusk.
But travelling alone can also be problematic and lonely if you’re not properly prepared. Here’s some easy tips that really enriched my experience travelling alone.
1. Laptop smart
Not only is it exceedingly hard to navigate foreign transport sites from a phone, my laptop proved really valuable to me when I needed precious downtime, which was about once a week. I loaded up a portable hard drive with movies and boxsets so I could retreat into my own little world with my headphones on to watch a movie in bed when I needed a bit of ‘me’ time.
2. Device smart
- I subscribed to Spotify Premium for $10 a month and built myself some playlists by mood - chill, happy, groovy, pensive. Then I downloaded them, so they were available offline.
- I also downloaded Tripit, an app that links with your email and builds you an automatic itinerary based on your email confirmations.
- I also downloaded Maps.me, an app with offline maps and GPS location so I was never lost. I dropped a (permanent) pin on the location of my accommodation in each city so I always had my bearings.
- Also make sure your emails are accessible on your phone - I found the Gmail app to be the best option for me, because many of my emails were available offline - valuable when I needed an address or confirmation number, which was a lot!
3. Spend smart
I went with Citibank Australia, who offer a Citibank Plus everyday account with fee-free withdrawals and fee-free transactions anywhere in the world. Shop around your banks and see what deal you can find - don’t just go with your own bank, who might smash you with withdrawal and transaction fees. Every dollar counts when you’re overseas.
4. Insure smart
This was a non-negotiable. I actually submitted two claims after this trip - one for a lost phone and another for a change of trip. Make sure you know what you’re entitled to before you commit to a policy - valuables up to $1,000 is essential if you’re taking that laptop or smartphone!
5. Pack smart
A few quick tips:
- Don’t take anything that needs ironing. You’ll never wear it, trust me.
- Bring your runners so you can walk miles during the day. It really made all the difference for me - on days I wore them I could walk up to 30,000 steps without any pain whatsoever.
- Bring your flip flops for showering. Tinea is rampant in hostel world!
- Bring exercise gear. I always moved from place to place in my exercise gear - it’s easy to sleep in on long haul bus-rides, and you don’t want to wear your 15kg pack with bad shoes - it hurts your ankles!
- Pack, then don’t take half the things you packed. Every little thing is a lot heavier on your back in the blistering heat, trust me. And they have toiletries in other countries too, you know!
6. Disembark smart
- Always carry some cash with you for the country you’re going to - for me, it was mostly euros. It was essential for my commute from the airport, and when I forgot to arm myself with currency, I was left disoriented, tired and wandering around trying to find an ATM while not getting robbed.
- It’s also worth Googling bus or train information before you board your plane, so you know the fastest and cheapest way to your accommodation before you land. Taxis are tempting - but will run your budget dry quickly.
7. Book smart
- Book directly through the website, not the compare-sites - it’s cheaper! This includes airlines, bus companies and train websites, and the hostel websites when it comes to booking your accommodation.
- Also, always book your bits and bobs in a private browsing section. Airline websites have algorithms that send the ticket prices up if they log your IP looking at a price a couple times to create a sense of urgency in you.
- But don’t feel like you need to map your whole plan out before you even leave home - I purposefully left gaps in my plan and life filled them in. I stayed with europeans I’d met overseas, travelled with new friends and went to countries that I had no plans on going to, like Norway (one of my favourite countries in the end!)
8. Backup smart
After every country I backed up my phone to my laptop and my laptop to my hard drive. If you trust the Cloud, backup to there too. It is devastating to lose travel photos - they’re about the most important thing you own when you travel.
9. Stay smart
- Hostelworld.com is the go-to site for hostels. If I was nervous about my choice, I’d usually book one night in and extend my stay if it felt right. I always read plenty of reviews for each place, particularly taking notice of the location rating. Cleanliness in the bathroom, uncomfortable beds or a tiny kitchen were things I could deal with. A 30 minute commute to the city was something that wore me down pretty quickly.
- Speaking of the kitchen - that ‘free’ shelf in the fridge is your best friend - use it!
10. Be alone smart
- Find a local pub and go and sit at the bar with a good book. Strike up a conversation with the bartender - they are probably bored out of their mind! Bartenders have a wealth of cultural knowledge about their city that you’d never find on Trip Advisor - ask for their hot tips on eating, drinking, shopping and the sights. I asked each bartender to draw all over a fold-up map in each city so I had a visual reference - it helped me pair things together that were close by so I could plan my days better.
- Also, do the walking tour on your first day. They are usually free (the tour guides live on tips) and they are the most useful introduction to a city - not to mention hugely interesting.
11. Commute smart
If you’re wondering if you should walk or get a metro, walk. If you’re wondering whether you should get the metro or a bus, bus. The metro is fast, but you see nothing.
12. Dress smart
- If you’re spending the day exploring, wear one less thing than you think you need to. It’s awful being hot and sweaty, but easy to speed up if you’re feeling a little nippy. Plus, your thighs will thank you when they can crush steel between your rippling muscles!
- Runners are pretty much always the best option - you’ll double your productivity with them on.
13. Mini-pack smart
Your daypack should contain:
- a book
- a city map (to ask the locals to circle their favourite places on!)
- a knife and fork (plastic, for impromptu lunches in the park or by the water)
- a water bottle. Water is your best friend between all that exercise you didn’t realize you were doing (win!), the salty restaurant meals you’re eating (yum) and the drinking (inevitable). Drink it in litres - otherwise you’ll be perpetually dehydrated and wondering why you feel so tired.
14. Wash, dry and iron smart
It’s inevitable you’ll have to wash atleast once a week. Face it, pretty boy. Mama aint here to help you now.
- Every night, wash the underwear you wore that day in the shower. It takes five seconds, stops them from stinking up the place (we all know undies get the most dirty) and fresh undies are one of life’s little pleasures!
- You can iron out major creases by wetting a towel and wiping the clothing while it’s on you (it’ll dry), or bringing the item on a coat hanger into the shower area (the steam makes the creases drop out)
- Splurge occasionally and get laundry done. Most hostels do it for less than $10, and having fresh clean dry clothing one of those amazing little things that lifts your spirits when you’re out of your comfort zone.
15. Socialise smart
Talk to people! Everyone is the best version of themselves when they are travelling. Strike up conversations with people you would never usually speak to, especially those travelling alone as well. Ask them their story, compare itineraries, go on adventures together and who knows? You might just make a friend for life.