Tips for Traveling Alone
In the autumn of 2004 I had the crazy idea that I should quit my life and travel around the world. This notion hit me in late September, and by the first week in November I was in Europe for the beginning of what would become a nine month long journey. I didn't give myself a lot of time to prepare, so I learned a lot of lessons the hard way!
Prior to this trip I had never been outside the U.S. (I didn't even have a passport), and I'd never done much traveling by myself. I'd traveled alone a bit around the eastern U.S. and went to Hawaii ten years earlier for business, but that was about it. I didn't let that stop me, though. Instead I bought myself an "around the world ticket" and a backpack, and after minimal preparation I took off to see the world.
Based on what I learned, here are the best international travel tips I can give to anyone else who has this itch and decides it's time to scratch it!
1. Don't Overpack
This tip is especially useful if you'll be backpacking—because you have to carry all that stuff on your back! Naturally, you need to dress for the weather conditions in the region(s) where you'll be traveling. You really need a lot less than you probably think—two pairs of pants, a mix of long- and short-sleeved shirts (five or six, max), one pair of shoes/boots (in addition to the ones you'll be wearing), and if you'll be traveling in warm weather, two pairs of shorts and a swimsuit. This doesn't sound like much for a long trip, but keep in mind that you'll be able to do laundry along the way, and it's easier to buy more than to get rid off extras.
2. Plan Ahead, but be Spontaneous
It's a good idea, at the very least, to know where you'll be staying in each city you stop in before you arrive. I rarely booked reservations for accommodations more than a week in advance, and rarely for more than one or two nights. That way, if I didn't like the place I was staying I wasn't locked in for a longer stay, and if I enjoyed the place I could usually extend my stay.
I read travel guides as I was traveling—both online and in books—and usually knew a handful of things I wanted to see or do once I arrived in a new city. But I never planned out any sort of itinerary in advance—it was much more fun, and much more rewarding, to feel my way around. Just about anyplace you stay—from a cheap hostel to a fancy hotel—will have some folks who can give you great tips about the area that no travel guide can match.
3. Organized Tours Can Be Good—if You Choose the Right Ones
If you had told me before I left that some of my favorite side-trips on my journey would be group bus trips, I would have laughed! But it turns out that there are group bus trips that aren't at all like the "organized fun" that I had expected. In particular, I really enjoyed several "jump-on, jump-off" bus trips in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Since I didn't have my own transportation in any these places, and since they don't have the proliferation of train and bus transportation you'd find in Europe, the most affordable way to see these countries was by bus. But these were not your typical tourist buses filled with senior citizens and families with small children. These were fun buses full of backpackers and other like-minded independent travelers!
Each day the bus would leave in the morning, usually stop for a side-trip (a hiking trip, a visit to a museum, a place to go bungee jumping, etc) and then finish up in the evening at a hostel. The following morning you had the option of getting back on the bus for the next leg, or staying behind for a few days until another bus came along with a whole new group of travelers. I met more people and saw more of those countries than I ever could have traveling any other way!
4. Use Public Transportation
If you're in a large city, the best way to get around is often by public transportation. You should make a point of learning how to read bus and train schedules and how to navigate a subway system. Luckily, once you do this in a city or two those skills are easily transferred to other cities!
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, and I had often taken the train into Manhattan, so I was familiar enough with traveling by train, but I had only ever used the subway once or twice. But while I was in London on the very first leg of my trip, I quickly figured out the "underground" and it became my primary means of transport the whole time I was there. I had never ridden a public bus before my trip, but after doing so in France for the first time, I was hooked!
5. Should You Bring a Computer?
I would say you certainly should consider it, especially if you have a small notebook-style computer. When I traveled back in 2004, I brought along a laptop computer that at the time was considered lightweight. But lugging that thing around the world changed my definition of a "lightweight" computer! I wish that the small and light notebook computers available today had been around back then.
While having your own computer is not mandatory (in fact, I was one of the few travelers I ran across who had one), it is handy if, like me, you plan on keeping an online journal of your travels. Sure, there are Internet cafes everywhere (and I mean everywhere—there was even one in a little beach-side town I stayed at in India). But these places often charge by the minute, and there can frequently be queues of people waiting to sign on. Since I had my own laptop, I could write my journal entries anytime and then upload them when I found a place with free wireless Internet access (something that becomes more abundant every day). I also had the luxury of downloading the pictures from my digital camera to my hard drive, instead of having to wait until I had access to an Internet cafe computer or a photo shop that could transfer them to a CD.
6. Get a Branded Debit Card Tied to Separate Bank Account
Credit cards are accepted most everywhere, and they take all the hassle out of currency conversion. If you don't have one or don't want to go into debt on your trip, I would recommend a Visa or MasterCard branded debit card from your bank. These are accepted wherever those credit cards are, and they have the added advantage of letting you withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere in the world.
I would also suggest, for safety's sake, having that card connected with an account that's separate from the accounts you use at home. That way, if the card is stolen, the thief only has access to the funds in that one account! Before my trip, I set up a new account at my current bank and got a card that was tied only to that new account. I put some money in the account before I left, and anytime I needed more cash in it I logged on to my bank's website and transferred money from my regular bank account into the new one.
Just make sure that your bank has reasonable fees (or no fees at all) on international purchases and ATM withdrawals. It's also a good idea to call your bank and credit card providers before you leave to let them know that you'll be traveling, and to which countries. That way they won't automatically cut-off your card due to seemingly "suspicious" overseas transactions. Even though I took this step, I still found myself having to make international calls to my credit card company a couple of times to reactivate my card—but it went smoothly because I had already alerted them to the fact that I would be traveling overseas.
7. Talk to Other Travelers!
The single best travel resource I found was my fellow travelers. No one—not even the locals— will be able to educate you about where to go and where not to go than other like-minded people who share your tastes and have been to where you're going.
So if you're in Madrid and plan on going next to Paris, ask other travelers you meet where they stayed in Paris and how they liked it. This can help you find great accommodations, as well as avoid horrible ones! You can also get uncensored reviews on things to see and places to visit on side-trips. My favorite part of my trip to Australia—a 10-day outback camping trip—would have never happened if I hadn't heard about it from a Dutch girl I met along the way who raved about her experience.
8. Follow Local Dress and Behavior Customs
If you'll be traveling all over the world, you obviously can't be expected to know the language and customs of every place you visit. As far as language goes, it helps to at least be able to read some phrases in the local language, and it's usually considered polite to at least greet people in their native language, so its' a good idea to learn at least that much.
Beyond language there are local customs and taboos to be aware of, especially in non-Westernized countries. Knowing at least the bare minimum about what's acceptable and what's not will save you a good deal of embarrassment and can also save you from inadvertently offending people. And if you're traveling for the purpose of learning about other cultures, the worst thing you can do is offend the people you came to learn from!
Simple things can be hard to get used to if you've never considered them before, but they aren't always horribly offensive. So, for instance, eating with your left hand in India is considered uncouth - it's kind of like picking your nose in public—but it isn't likely to arouse anything more than a few stares.
Other things, like touching a Thai person on the head or going topless at a beach in Southeast Asia, can be considered the height of disrespectful behavior. If you're from a country where these behaviors are normal, it might not occur to you that you're offending anyone, especially when many other people are doing the same thing. So try no to take your behavioral cues from other tourists - they're just as ignorant of what they're doing wrong as you are, so instead do a little research and you can avoid accidentally offending the locals.
Just try to keep in my mind that you are a guest in someone else's country.
9. Stay in Hostels
Even if you don't consider yourself a "youth" anymore, you should still seek out hostels for your accommodations! I was 34 when I went on my trip, and I was frequently the oldest person at the hostels I stayed at. If you aren't keen on being surrounded by a bunch of twenty year-olds, many hostels offer single rooms for a bit more money. Whether you choose single rooms or dorm-style rooms, hostels are far cheaper than hotels, and just about every one I stayed in were staffed by friendly and helpful folks - both locals and fellow travelers - who were endlessly helpful in giving recommendations on what to do and see in the area.
There are quite a few websites that offer user-ratings and reservation services for hostels all over the world. This was an invaluable resource for me on my trip, and one of the best reasons for bringing your own computer! A few days before leaving a city, I would go online and find a highly-rated, affordable hostel in my next destination city. The website even gave directions on how to get to the hostel from the train-station or airport!
10. Realize That You Probably Don't "Fit in" as Well as You Think You Do!
This one came as a real shock to me during my trip! I am of European descent, so I knew that when I was traveling in India and Southeast Asia that I would stick out as a tourist just from my skin color. But I assumed that I would easily fit in with all the other white folks while I was in Europe. Wrong!
Despite being an American, I wouldn't consider myself the stereotypical loud, rude, pushy American tourist. I dressed plainly and didn't have a huge camera hanging around my neck, but still they could somehow tell. One of the first times this happened was while I was in the south of France. I remember walking into a small shop to buy a memory card for my digital camera. I walked in the door and not a half-minute later the shopkeeper looked over at me and said, "Hello" in English. I hadn't opened my mouth yet, and she already knew that I wasn't French! This happened all over the world—even when I greeted people in the local language, they would greet me back in English.
So those are just a few of the countless things I learned traveling the world on my own. Of course there are the obvious safety considerations, but here I wanted to share some of the things I learned that hadn't been covered in all the travel guides I read before and during my trip.
If you're planning to travel on your own, just remember not to get too uptight! Stay safe and try to get as much from the places you travel to as you can. The more relaxed and open you are on your trip, the more benefits you'll gain from the experience.
CZCZCZ from Oregon on March 26, 2012:
Excellent travel trips for the solo adventurer. I have had fun traveling by myself in foreign countries and would agree with the tips and strategies that you have outlined above. voted this hub up as it is excellent for any would be traveler to read through. Great reminders for planning my next adventure.
travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 31, 2012:
great hub on travel tips! loved the plan ahead but be spontaneous bit! :P that way travelling is more interesting instead of having everything cut and dried!
hoteltravel from Thailand on January 25, 2012:
I have travelled to different parts of the world alone and have rarely faced problems. These are excellent tips. Voting up!
kxdorey from Beverly Hills, California, USA on January 13, 2012:
It's so simple but you're right on. People plan to see parts of the world and then they pack too much stuff. It takes away from the enjoyment. I love these tips.
the mayostar on October 13, 2011:
brilliant hub hoping to travel to oz myself but wasn't sure if i had the balls to go alone, i think ive just grown a pair!!
biljanakara from Macedonia on October 11, 2011:
I like this hub very much and I found it very useful!
courtlneygdtm from United States on September 07, 2011:
Excellent hub and good travel information! Thanks for sharing! This makes my dream trip to Paris, France seem more plausible, since you've gone all over the world! Voted up and useful!
FashionTravel from Paris on August 31, 2011:
Wow!! This hub has a lot of information regarding tips for traveling alone around the world!! I traveled alone in 2006 for the first time and met some friends throughout my journey. You are absolutely right about how locals can definitely tell that you are not from their country. I had the same experience when I landed in Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic everywhere I went I was greeted in English without even opening my mouth first:) Thanks for sharing your tips about packing light.. although I always tend to pack more than what I need. :)
Bootsmade4walkin from Washington, DC / Leadville, CO on August 11, 2011:
Hi! I did a similar sort of trip 2005-2006 after graduating undergrad. I planned to be gone for a year, but ran out of money (and energy) at 10 1/2 months. It was quite an adventure, and your hub was a pleasant reminder of all the wonderful experiences I had - especially your pictures of New Zealand. They are fantastic! I've been to somewhere around 30 countries and NZ is still my happy place. Thanks for sharing!
SummerSurf on August 05, 2011:
VERY useful hub
danielleantosz from Florida on July 27, 2011:
Great tips, particularly on packing light. I would add that using credit cards is not as easy in Europe as it is here. I found that many places do not take credit cards, even if it is a debit card. Apparently they think if you have to put it on a card you can't afford it, even if it is a debit card and you have the money in your account!
balihq on April 24, 2011:
Great hub! People should really give hostels great considerations for great deals the offer.
thedutchman on December 16, 2010:
great tips! hopefully i could try this traveling alone thing. thanks! great hub!
ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on December 09, 2010:
very good tips and funny ending. I blend a little bit more in those situations. Don't wear American stereotypical clothes or sandals. Get a haircut like the locals, stand and make gestures like the locals and it becomes easier. I learned this in So. America
helene.bliss on December 07, 2010:
Wow! your hub would really help me to feel at ease when I travel. Now I know some of the things that I need to do to make trip wonderful.
Celine on November 13, 2010:
Absolutely wonderful hub! Excellent advice. I have to add one thing: check the expiration dates on your bank cards before you go, because if a card expires while you are on the road, it will be a total pain to get a replacement. I learned this the hard way. Happy travels!
Morris on October 04, 2010:
Good read. I'm traveling for the first time internationally.. alone. This helps me out a lot.
Thanks for sharing. =)
nikitha p from India on July 05, 2010:
great hub I like it
retirementvillage from Philippines on May 26, 2010:
I like your hub Edweirdo, this is a very nice source for all travelers out there!
Better Yourself from North Carolina on March 20, 2010:
A great hub for any traveler!
FGual from USA on March 05, 2010:
Great story. You have packed a lot of information here. I should have done that at your age. I always travel alone and enjoy it, but that's only been in the US and London, so no language barrier. Hope to do more traveling.
sreeiit on March 02, 2010:
That's really good info, thanks for sharing.
hafeezrm from Pakistan on February 22, 2010:
Nice suggestions espectially opening a new account for debit card and occasionally transferring the money into it from the main account.
Sometime, all precautions fail and one is betrayed by the very people one trusted such as safe-keeper at the hotel. Just putting money in an envelope and putting it in the safety box would not help, wrap it fully.
Jersey Jess from USA on February 20, 2010:
This Hub is truly inspiring, thank you for posting it! Keep up the good work!
Mystique1957 from Caracas-Venezuela on February 18, 2010:
Hey, Edweirdo! This was really fun and pretty informative! I enjoyed it a lot! In fact I savored it! Great adventure! I imagine it changed your views about life!
Thumbs up, my friend!
warm regards and blessings,
Laurel from Germany on February 18, 2010:
Great hub, very informative! I've travelled alone a lot and would also recommend volunteer vacations, if you are going alone, but don't want to be alone, and want to do so good and staying at bed and breakfasts, which are somewhere in between the price of a hostel and a hotel but the atmosphere is friendly and you're likely to meet other travellers.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on February 18, 2010:
I always wanted to travel around the world. Thanks for the tips regarding such matters. I find it amusing that foreigners always know an American tourist when they see one. So typical, eh? Later!
Karen Banes from Canada on February 18, 2010:
Great hub. I bought a round-the-world ticket and took off at short notice when I was in my early twenties. While some people were supportive, a few did think I was crazy, but to this day, it has shaped the way I look at the world and the way I do things in an incredibly positive way. I still love travelling, and would never have any reservations about travelling alone.
franciaonline from Philippines on February 18, 2010:
Good information for travellers! This hub might as well be a manual for people travelling alone.Thanks for this hub.
Hummingbird5356 on February 18, 2010:
Excellent hub. I would definitly recommend anyone who wants to travel to go. By the way the tip about letting the bank know is a good one. I travelled to Pakistan and forgot to let the bank know and as a result couldn´t use my HSBC card in any of the shops. I rang them up but still I was only able to use it at the Muslim Commercial Bank. Not even the HSBC there would give me any money. So thank God for the MCB bank.
You have some very good tips in your hub. Thank you.
Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on February 18, 2010:
Thanks for all the trip tips! The bank account tip is very sensible. Happy travels.
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 17, 2010:
Good for you, LadyLux! Enjoy your trip :)
ladylux on February 17, 2010:
I traveled Europe and Turkey alone several times until I was 25. Saving up to vagabond for several months with my family now. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight and experiences!
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 16, 2010:
Thanks Lorlie6! It does take a lot outta ya ;)
Laurel Rogers from Grizzly Flats, Ca on February 16, 2010:
Wonderful hub and photos, Edweirdo! You must be exhausted...:)
Great writing, too!
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 14, 2010:
Lilian, I completely agree! Thanks for stopping by and commenting :D
lilian_sg from Singapore on February 14, 2010:
Great post. As I travel more and more, I have also learnt to pack less and to rely less on organised tours. By travelling on my own, I can have more time to explore the places which I visit.
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 14, 2010:
Salt, TattoGuy and Obsexed - Thanks for the great feedback !
Katie Butler from Sensual, USA on February 14, 2010:
Sounds like a great adventure and it seems you learned a lot. Thanks for sharing. I doubt if I'll be traveling around the world anytime soon, but one never knows what life will bring. LOL
TattoGuy on February 14, 2010:
Brilliant hub my friend, I so want to go back to Salou but I can't get the courage to go on my own, you deff have determination !
salt from australia on February 14, 2010:
Thankyou, I appreciate it greatly. Lovely writing.
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 13, 2010:
Thanks Money Glitch - if you can swing it, I highly recommend spending some time traveling around to different parts of the world! It should be on everyone's "bucket list" ;D
Money Glitch from Texas on February 13, 2010:
Great tips and awesome pictures. One day it is my hopes to just take off to see the world. Congrats on being nominated as a HubNugget Wannabe! Good luck to ya!
shazwellyn from Great Britain on February 13, 2010:
Well done for doing it! You lived my dream! Fantastic. I have bookmarked this for future reference x
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 13, 2010:
Pamela, Katrina and Beth - Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the positive feedback !
Beth100 from Canada on February 13, 2010:
Excellent hub! Your experience speaks with great advice for lone travellers.
Katrina Ariel from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada on February 13, 2010:
This is an excellent Hub, and sound advice for travelers. I recently spent 4 months in Central and South America, and can back up many of these tips with my own experience.
Congrats on the nomination!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 13, 2010:
What a brave thing to do on your own. This is a great hub as you listed so many important facts and some of the pitfalls as well. I loved your advice as it all made good sense.
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on February 12, 2010:
You are most welcome :)
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 12, 2010:
@alexandriaruthk and @ripplemaker - I didn't even know I was nominated until I read your comments!
Thanks for the positive feedback :D
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on February 12, 2010:
Amazing...I find daring and adventurous people to be amazing. The information you put in here would surely be a huge help to those who would like to travel like you did. :)
For sure, I can see that the experience has enriched your life in more ways than one.
Now I'm going to belt a song for you! A Hubnugget Wannabe, that's who this hub is! A Hubnugget Wannabe, woo wooo woo Congratulations Edweirdo!
To vote for the Hubnuggets, click here: https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/Hubnuggets-h...
alexandriaruthk from US on February 12, 2010:
good one! Congrats HUBNUGGETS!
rainbowhotel on February 09, 2010:
your hub is perfect for a traveller. Many times i see my guests come to Shanghai with heave pack. Good idea. commended by Rainbow Hotel Shanghai
Edweirdo (author) from United States on February 09, 2010:
@theherbivorehippi - I hope I have inspired you - traveling is an invaluable experience, and if you need to do it alone, than go for it!
I think my trip would have been a lot less fun if I'd had to bring someone else along - this way, I was in charge! So there was no arguing over what to do or when to do it!
theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on February 09, 2010:
Thank you for this Hub! This is so inspiring! I am want to go soooooo BADLY to tour the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil and then hop over to the Amazon Rainforest and as badly as I want to do this in the next couple years, I know that no one I know will be as excited about this and I keep thinking I can go by myself but then I feel like nobody takes vacations alone?? After reading this and seeing your pictures I feel like I really can. Awesome Hub!