In the Spring of 2012 I took a three month trek across Europe, by myself. That is: solo female. Scary? No! FUN!! It was empowering and SO enjoyable! I would recommend it to any of my gal pals, or male friends for that matter. I was solo in more than one way at the time and had very little to lose in going. I had decided after college that going by myself for the duration of a college term was cheaper than going abroad while in college, so I packed my bags and headed out. Well, shell-shock is to be expected, but more than that, I wasn’t as scared as everyone was for me. In fact, I dare say I learned a thing, or two. For your enjoyment, I wrote some of them down! Feel free to use them in your planning phase for your own adventures:
Almost everyone, no matter the country, has an opinion of US politics. As a super-power, it comes with the territory. On that note…
People do not hate us. They might be mildly annoyed at times, but they don’t hate.
A lot of people can speak more than one language, and a surprising number of those second/third languages are English, so don’t let fear of being misunderstood hold you back. Still…
Bring a phrasebook whenever you can. Depending on where you are going, you may need it!
Make friends with the underground/metro. Most major cities have them, and I can tell you in most cases they are a lot easier to navigate, faster and cheaper than using a taxi.
If you afraid of trying the food, or unsure of what to eat and where, try taking a food tour. Nothing can get you out-and-about on purpose like having to take a tour. Who doesn’t want to do that? Speaking of which…
Take a bike tour! Sure sitting in a bus watching things go by is fun, but biking around a major city in a group is not only fun, but exhilarating! It will slow down the pace at which you take things in and you will be making your memories, as opposed to sitting through them, so do this in whatever city will provide you with that opportunity.
Buying coffee abroad was definitely a bit of a shock to an American like me. In most cases the only places I could find a ginormous-super-grande-large is at places like Starbucks and Costa Coffee. The average cup of coffee at a cafe in Europe is just that: average. But I learned to enjoy the tiny espressos and medium-ish-sized lattes just fine. Plus, looking back at the end of my trip, I got the priceless souvenir from all the “coffee-related expenses” on my bank statement.
Getting scammed doesn’t happen as much as you think it does and in most cases a simple rule-of-thumb is all it takes to keep you from harm: don’t take out your wallet in front of the people you are giving money to (if you do decide to). As soon as you show them where you keep your money, you are at risk.
You’re never really alone. Even when traveling alone, there will always be other travelers, or at least someone to talk to along the way. It is a good chance to practice language skills and meet new people. And you WILL meet new people, some may even become good friends!
Skype will become your new bestie. Buy credits before you go, so you can call US landlines if need be.
Get a cell phone while you are there! I was going to do my trip without the use of a stupid cell phone at first, but midway through my first month I was becoming incredibly stressed out trying to contact people solely through WiFi. Long story short: it’s cheap to buy a throwaway phone, and if you get one that is SIM card capable (most of them are), you can buy a new SIM for the different countries you visit, which in turn saves yourself the out-of-country rates.
Not to pack so darn much! Little did I know H&M would be waiting for me when I got over there! I got so caught up in being thoroughly prepared that I was later miserable because I could hardly lift my pack.
KFC and McD’s all have free WiFi. Keep your eye open for these chains as you are making your way across the continent.
You will make good mistakes and you will make bad mistakes. This is life. Even when you aren’t in Europe/Asia/Africa/etc… this is the truth. Accept this early on and your trip’s stress level will be lower!
The final lesson and most important thing I learned from traveling:
For all the stress I had from not knowing where I was going to stay sometimes, to what train I would catch and when, I learned that 99 % of the time, it all works out. And often times, better than you ever thought it would. Traveling alone, or even with a group of friends will not only teach you to trust yourself, but prove that you can.
So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and travel!