My decision to travel alone was not something I agonized over. In fact, I surprised my anxiety-ridden self by purchasing a one-way ticket to London on a whim two weeks before I was set to embark. Suffice to say, my preparation was minimal. Physically and tactically, I did alright. Emotionally, I was sort of a mess.
Ideally, you will have more time to prepare for a solo journey. I was buying my backpack at REI three days before I was meant to board the plane, and I was bringing shoes I had not yet had the time to break in. This was all unnecessarily painful, but it doesn’t have to be for you. By the time I prepared for my second trip, I knew exactly what to do.
1 – Understand how to use public transportation
I had quite the whirlwind introduction to train travel when I arrived at Gatwick Airport the first time. Ticket machines for the Gatwick Express were closed and I thought for sure I was going to be fined upon arrival. When I realized how easy it was to buy train tickets on my phone, I barely ever worried about the trains again. I highly recommend downloading and familiarizing yourself with the official apps for transportation methods you will be using. For England, I used Southern Rail.
2 – Make a plan to use social media to stay in touch
Not only will you feel safer when you check in with family members and friends online, but you also avoid those annoying texts from everybody under the sun asking if you are okay. I also recommend giving your tentative itinerary to somebody back home you trust. I once gave my itinerary to the paranoid mother of a now ex-boyfriend and she tried to report me as missing because I failed to answer my phone immediately!
3 – Pack clothes that blend in with the locals
You will thank yourself forever if you show up in clothes that don’t encourage street criminals to target you. That means shorts and dirty sneakers are out. Casual dresses and tights or even dark pants can keep you from standing out while giving you a sense of confidence.
4 – Buy travel insurance
What would happen if your super reliable budget airline lost your luggage? What if you got severely ill while traveling? What if you were forced to re-book your hotel after a robbery? Travel insurance may be able to reimburse you for expenses involved in emergencies like these.
Bonus tip: take copies of all your documents, including your passport and insurance papers. Make sure to store photos of these documents on Google or DropBox just in case.
5 – Create a list of free activities before you go
No matter where you go, you are sure to find something you can do for free. When I go to Hollywood, I hike through Griffith Park. When in London, I like to walk to Buckingham Palace or along the river. Some museums are free too, including the British Museum and Tate Modern. Many hostels also offer free walking tours. Take advantage of free tours to see things you wouldn’t think to experience otherwise.
6 – Know how to book the hostel you want
Booking a hostel is easy enough, but you should always book at least one hostel before you even leave. This gives you a destination for when you arrive, and it also shows immigration that you have a place to stay. As you book the room, make sure you have a clear idea of your expectations. Look at photos of the rooms, determine how many people you are willing to share a room with, and decide how much importance you place on free breakfast in the morning. For me, a priority was proximity to the train station.
7 – Deal with your phone plan
With my current cell phone plan, I have two choices. I can either get a new SIM card when I arrive, or I can pay an extra $10 each day for unlimited international service. Check into phone options with your plan to see which one works best for your needs.
8 – Register with the U.S. Department of State
The U.S. Department of State offers a program that will alert you to pertinent safety information. In fact, you should also download the Smart Traveler app to receive information and stay updated on important information while home or abroad.
I found traveling alone as a woman to be absolutely amazing. I made new friends and learned a lot about myself. I put myself in a position to be scared, excited, and free. The most vital lesson I hope to pass on to future travelers is to possess as much self-awareness and confidence as you can muster. It’s perfectly fine to feel afraid. I did. But you can fake it until you make it.