What I Wish Someone Would've Told Me Before I Traveled Solo

Updated on August 8, 2016
sarahbw profile image

Sarah has a love for friends & adventure. She's been over Europe, acquiring a love for old architecture and public transport along the way.

My passport is not that impressive and I won't for a second pretend it is, I have spent my fair share of nights in airport waiting areas, though. I've also put uncountable miles on several different pairs of shoes due to poor planning or a lack of knowledge, so I think in some respects, I have earned my stripes (or a few of my stripes anyway). To a seasoned traveler this list probably seems quite the common knowledge checklist, but I wish, wish, wish someone would've bestowed this knowledge upon my naive little self before I set off to discover the world all by my lonesome. Being on the cusp of adulthood I felt like I had the entire world at my fingertips and it was mine for the taking. I suppose a lot of things have to be picked up via trial and error, but maybe this list can spare you to some extent.

Avalon House - Dublin
Avalon House - Dublin | Source

1. Hostels Are Your Friends, You Will Make Friends in Hostels

I am not a betting individual in any capacity, but I am willing to bet that upward of 99% of the people who stay in hostels while traveling are friendly and also looking for someone to sight see/drink/dine out/generally hang out with. I also won't lie and say I've never been put in an uncomfortable situation with some rather unsavory characters of the opposite gender, but hey, it happens and it wasn't anything that a simple "No thank you" didn't handle. Generally speaking though, unfriendly people don't stay in places where they are forced to be around people day and night, so keep that in mind. I've met some very pleasant people in hostels whom I've managed to stay in contact with despite the distance between us now.

When choosing a hostel that you may be interested in PLEASE, for the love of God, read every single review you can get your greedy little hands on. As we all know, pictures can be deceiving and some hostels buy reviews to make themselves look better than they are, so beware! Sometimes it is worth it to stay in a one or two-star rated facility if it's only for a night, if the location is near something you need, but pick and choose what is worth sacrificing for the money you saved. Saving $10 might seem enticing at the time, infesting yourself and all of your belongings with bedbugs, though? Not so much.

Personally, I always book through booking.com - a popular site, I have gathered. The reviews are brutally honest sometimes, and there is almost always a plethora of pictures of your prospective lodging.

2. Don't Be Afraid of the Locals

Changing of the Guard.  It's clear that everyone was dying for their own personal photograph.
Changing of the Guard. It's clear that everyone was dying for their own personal photograph. | Source

...And I am not saying try and make conversation with every single person you come across either, but don't be afraid to ask for their suggestions on restaurants or bars that are locally renowned, questions about the local attractions, to be pointed in the right direction, etc., willing that person doesn't look like a complete creep and seems interested in helping you to some degree upon your approaching them.

Once upon a time I read a post on Tumblr dot com about what not to do when you travel. It has since been deleted, I'm positive, because my multiple searches have turned up fruitless. Sadly, it evades me still. Anyway, on one of the many PowerPoint slide, there was a topic labeled "How to Approach the Locals." Under that it said, "Don't. Do not. They don't care about you. They don't want your compliments about their accents. They don't want to help you. They want you gone." My uneducated, untraveled self was pretty shocked to say the least, and it never occurred to me that Tumblr might not be the most reliable source of information.

That PowerPoint could not be further from the truth, thankfully! I have asked so many people for directions, some even walked me to my destination and guess what?! We talked and carried on and not once did they tell me off for not being native. Phew! *wipes brow*

3. Travel Off the Beaten Path

The Salmon Festival, July 2014 - Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland
The Salmon Festival, July 2014 - Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland | Source

This sounds like a given, but c'mon! Big cities are great, magical, and populous and you can easily remain anonymous, but to a degree, you get the same experiences in London, as you get in Paris, as you get in NYC. I love them all still. All cities offer a unique vibe with unique perks, attractions, and beautiful architecture, but the authentic experience is outside of the city in the small towns with the 100+ year old family run breweries, restaurants, and un-commercialized, authentic businesses. Small town festivals are all the rage. More often than not, businesses in the big cities are there solely to capitalize on tourists, maxing out their cards and emptying their wallets. Not to say that spending boat loads of money isn't a blast, but you can get the authentic experience for less elsewhere.

Any person who lives in the city will tell you this same thing. "Dublin is great, but you need to go out West." I was told this on multiple occasions, and so I did just that.

4. McDonald's? McWhaaat?!


This one is a particular challenge to me because I am moderately picky when it comes to where I eat. It isn't so much that I am picky, I am more of a creature of habit than anything. I still kick myself for not trying more of the local, authentic restaurants while I was away.

Don't be left kicking yourself if you can help it. I am clearly no foodie, but I'm definitely researching some local cuisine next time I am out and about.

Eating cheap can be the easiest and most obvious way to save money while traveling, but I think it's acceptable to splurge every now and again, especially if you're vising a country that is worshiped abroad for their food (i.e. Italy). Again, always ask the locals where the "go-to" restaurants are located.

5. Study Public Transportation and the City's Layout

Tube Map
Tube Map | Source

This is another one of those "duh" ones to a seasoned traveler, and thankfully I had the forethought to think about these two things, even being from the sticks where I reside. I have had friends talk to me about this very topic and the issues it raises, so it must happen to some people.

Whether it be the Tube in London, the tram system in Amsterdam, Venice, or Dublin, or the complex bus system anywhere for that matter, every city's transport is unique to itself and it can be a major pain to try and figure out on the spur of the moment while toting around a suitcase. Most of the locals grew up using that system and know it like the back of their hand, so you're at a disadvantage here. Giving it a few glances prior to your departure may make a huge difference once you arrive.

Thinking back, I could've saved so much money on taxis had I bitten the bullet and rode the bus, even after all this time, buses are such a hit and miss ordeal with me. I choose to avoid them altogether.

Another point to keep in mind, plan out your journey for what you want to do and see. Plan accordingly, figuring out what hostels are near what you want, whether that be a landmark, or a lively night scene, city center, a shopping center, a particular train station, etc. Take London for example. When booking a place to stay, a simple search of "London" can give you a range of results from places in Barnet to Westminster, to Peckham or Tower Hamlets, so know where you want to go and what you want to do. Searching a landmark or certain attraction may lead to a more precise result.

Again, this seems obvious, but after mile upon mile of public transport, plus a fair bit of walking these are the subtle habits you pick up to spare yourself the distance.

If you're into maps and planning and all that good stuff, you can download all sorts of free maps to your phone or computer here:

Be aware of potential scams.  One of many examples of a card skimmer.
Be aware of potential scams. One of many examples of a card skimmer. | Source

6. Be Aware of Potential Scams

Keep your mind on your money, at least most of the time. Women who tend to leave their purses unzipped, with their money, phones, ID's, credit cards, etc. exposed will "get got" when least expecting it. Crowded city streets or tightly packed public transportation are a thief's wonderland, and getting stranded in a foreign country without your passport would be a nightmare.

Credit card skimmers are becoming more and more commonplace at ATMs worldwide as well, so anyone could end up with your details and access to your bank account in seconds. In case you live under a rock and haven't heard what those are, a card skimmer can be attached to the mouth of the ATM, fixed to look nearly normal; they can be very difficult to spot. These 'skim' your card, transferring all your bank details to the thieves running the operation. Keep an eye on your funds and don't hesitate to act upon any fraudulent activity that may be present on your bank statement. People are out there getting screwed on the regular by activities like this, so I feel the need to add this to the list!

Of course, every region has its own personalized and unique scams, some of which are actually pretty intricate and even impressive, so just educate yourself to the best of your ability on this subject. Vacations are already expensive enough, no one needs actions like this adding to the tab.


Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral | Source

Though short, I feel this list encompasses the basics of what I would tell any first time traveler had they asked my advice. Given I don't get asked that too often, these are the few things I've compiled over the years and I've come to realize this really is a report of things I wish someone would've told me before I embarked on my first minor exodus, minus the nuance items like "Don't forget to smell the roses." It is still important to smell the roses, though.

What one tip would you suggest to a first time traveler?

Questions & Answers


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      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 

        2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        Sarah, with all my pre-trip research, what a London mugger looks like" had never crossed my mind! How to thwart pickpockets, yes; how to identify a mugger, no. Well, not until the incident at Baker Street station. Then it dawned that potential muggers would look pretty much the same in England as in America. Someone who stood out as "not belonging" (i.e. not there to use the Tube) as well as, as I said before, being wayyyy too interested in my asking the Safety Officer for directions and the officer's answer, then appeared outside the entrance the S.A. told me to use. And yes, being a little bit paranoid is a good thing to be when traveling solo. Sometimes, someone REALLY is out to get you!

      • sarahbw profile imageAUTHOR

        Sarah W 

        2 years ago from Raleigh, NC

        It's ALWAYS way after the fact that you think of smarter solutions to the problems you ran into... and then you're left kicking yourself for the rest of your life for not thinking of it sooner! As they say, hindsight IS 20/20 after all.

        Being a little bit paranoid is always a good thing (I think)! It's better than being out of touch with the reality of the situation and getting taken advantage of. More times than we care to acknowledge I think our gut instinct is correct in odd, and slightly intimidating, situations.

        I did let out a little laugh when you mentioned the fact that you didn't know what a "London mugger" looked like. I completely understand that though. There were a few times when the person next to me on the Tube or in a restaurant or in some store would start talking to me and, while I wanted to be nice, my mind was whirling with "Oh my god, are they eyeing my purse right now? Do you think he's sizing me up?! Is he actively stealing my credit card information right now in this very instant??!" Americans are quite chatty, but I was always under the notion that people in big cities (especially in the UK) just kept to themselves! I returned with my identity and sense of security intact, though, so I must've been doing something right.

      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 

        2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        Taking that trip ALONE most certainly gave me a confidence I didn't have before I went. There were really only two times I panicked as a solo traveler.

        The first was the very first morning when I was waiting for the light to turn green across from Parliament so that I could go down to the river cruise dock. Faced with a sea of people on the other side waiting to cross, it suddenly dawned that I had NO idea what a London mugger looked like, and what the heck had I been thinking when I decided to travel alone to the largest city in Europe! Didn't register until later that most of the people waiting to cross were tourists like myself!

        The second time was just outside Baker Street station on my way to an evening performance at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park and sensed I was being followed by scruffy looking man who'd been paying way too much attention when a Safety Officer was giving me directions to the park. It was already dark and other than my stalker, I seemed to be the only person out and about. Two blocks of this and I turned around, went back to the Tube station and went back to my hotel. Only after I got back to the States did it dawn that I could've taken a cab from the station to the theatre! Live and learn! (Also one time when a companion would've been helpful!)

      • sarahbw profile imageAUTHOR

        Sarah W 

        2 years ago from Raleigh, NC

        I traveled solo for many of the same reasons, and being moderately introverted I ran into a lot of the same problems as you! I got a lot of things accomplished on this particular trip when I was alone, but some days I just lacked the motivation to thrust myself into public and really 'deal with people' (I was traveling for a little over a month, not all in England, so I could afford a lazy day or two). I don't think that having a travel partner would've changed much with that aspect, though. Traveling alone is definitely a learning experience in any respect. I don't think you grow in the same ways when exploring new places with one or more partners.

      • JamaGenee profile image

        Joanna McKenna 

        2 years ago from Central Oklahoma

        England was my first trip to a foreign country, and London was my first stop. I'd traveled all over the U.S. with friends and relatives, and because my time abroad would be limited, didn't want to waste any of it waiting for a slow-starting friend to get ready in the morning and/or listen to the whining if the day's itinerary didn't quite suit her, so I chose to go solo.

        Sometimes that was a wise decision, other times not so good. For example, many times on the Tube I didn't hear one word of English other than the canned announcements for the next stop and, of course, "Mind the gap" getting on and off). I also chose to stay in a B&B in West Hampstead, where the full English breakfast was my main meal of the day but devoid of any potential companions. Being an extreme introvert, I soon realized a traveling companion would've been nice.

        Even though I looked at online photos of English currency - coins and bills - I wasn't prepared to figure out the combinations with the real thing in shops and such. But I'd read that most shopkeepers who deal with tourists were essentially honest, which I found to be true when I'd simply hold out a handful of change and let them pick out the correct amount. (This was in 2003 when plastic wasn't yet the norm for paying for purchases, especially outside of London.)

        Six days in London was only half the trip. The other half was spread among the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury, and a part of Somerset where my earliest known ancestors were from. As in London, I stayed in B&Bs, but the owner of the last was a willing tour guide of the area. (Never mind she also wasn't the least bit squemish about re-arranging furniture in local churches to get me a better camera angle, which I was sure would get me, the non-Brit, hauled off to jail on some obscure charge or another!)

        At any rate, I wish I'd known then what I know now about traveling solo! I did have enough sense to thwart pick-pockets by securing my wallet with one of those curly cords parents use to keep a child from wandering. One end was attached to a zipper pull on my wallet and the other to a zipper pull on the inside of my purse (which a London walking tour guide found quite amusing when I pulled out my wallet to give him a tip!)

        Oh yes, one more thing. I've never gotten over finding a McDonald's at the entrance to the Tower of London! Seriously??? What does that teach children about experiencing new cultures???

        Anyway, great hub! ;D


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