She who walks alone – Notes on travelling solo

“Aren’t you ever scared?”, I get asked a lot about my travelling by myself, closely followed by “Don’t you get bored?” I don’t and I am not – usually. But I do have my set of hacks and guidelines that so far have helped me make the solo-travel-life enjoyable and incident-free. Touching wood it stays that way. And of course, happy to share my experience. So here is how I stay entertained, happy and safe on my travels.

On being bored

  • Books, books books. I read. A lot. I usually carry at least three different books with me and have some back-up novels on my phone, not to mention a travel guide and one or two magazines, that I also have in my pack. I like to travel light. But I never manage to really cut back on books.
  • Sing along. This is probably a no-brainer, but I never travel without my headphones and some of my favourite music on my phone.
  • Treat yourself. I eat out by myself at proper restaurants. I go to the movies and to concerts. I visit museums and I do any activity that I would do if I travelled with a friend or in a group. Just because you travel alone, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in your hotel-room all the time.
  • Use that brain of yours. I use travel-time, airport-waiting-time or too-lazy-to-go-outside-and-explore-time to learn something new. I worked my way through a Yale online-course in political philosophy during my travels (not saying I actually understood all of it), brushed up on my french and spanish vocabulary and every now and then read something smart and non-fictional like a Noam-Chomsky-essay or a Niall-Ferguson-book to put that crazy little world I travel in into perspective.
  • Go the extra mile, literally. I drive for two hours just to explore that one-hour-hike in a national park that is supposed to be lovely (Pinnacles National Park, I’m talking about you 😉 ) I walk for one and a half hours just to visit that temple that the guide book described as quite pretty. After all I didn’t have anywhere better to be.
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“I walk this empty street…”

 

On being lonely

  • Know what makes you happy. I have a set of sort of emergency-activities, that make me happy and calm, when I feel lonely and shaky and lost in this huge world (which can happen especially if you have been driving for hours through the middle of nowhere and end up alone in a hotel room being the only checked in guest in a huge building – not to mention the whole way too obvious The-Shining-flashback giving you the creeps in said scenario). I locate the good cappucchino in town (or make do with a cheap Instant-coffee that I always bring along), I watch an episode of “Gilmore Girls”, I do a yoga practice with my favourite You-Tube-Channel “Yoga with Adriene“. I listen to some of my favourite songs. I have a cigarette on a nice park bench or on a pretty rock by the sea. I do any of these small things that feel instantly familiar.
  • Get up and get out. But allow yourself to relax too. Especially if you travel for weeks. After all you are not out and about every day at home either. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you do spend an afternoon just watching movies in a hotelroom, even if there woud be a world to explore.
  • Hydrate. And eat. Be sure you always drink plenty of water and especially if you travel in warm climate mix some electrolytes into your drink every now and then too. Too often have I found myself feeling just a bit blue with the whole travelling-solo-business, when I actually have just been on the verge of being dehydrated. The same goes with meals. It’s too easy to just skip a meal when you arrive at a hotel exhausted and tired after a long drive or flight. But do bother to go out and eat. Or at least order in room service. Or get a sandwich from that 7/11 around the corner. Or a clif-bar. And don’t forget to sneak in an apple or an orange juice as well. The world will look much brighter again afterwards.
  • Join a group activity every now and then. Not necessarily just to meet new people, but also to have someone else organise and plan the day. I join tourist bus tours, guided treks, ranger programs, horseback rides, visits to environmental programs or public yoga classes, which gives me sort of a day off and also allows me to learn or get to know something new and usually to make some new friends too.

 

On being safe

  • Plan ahead. I plan ahead, more than I would when travelling with a friend. When I travel alone I usually know when I leave a destination where I will spend the next night and will have worked out how to get there and made reservations at wherever I will want to stay.
  • Leave an itinerary. I leave an itinerary with my parents. I update it regularly, including addresses and contacts of hotels or AirBnBs I am staying at and I check in each time I arrive at a new destination, even if it is just with a WhatsApp saying I arrived. I also let them know when I will not have cell reception for a few days and when I should be able to contact them again. I also especially in the case of hikes leave some information on  the local wilderness agency in charge of that area with them, so they know who to alarm if I don’t check back in.
  • Take a cab. I take a cab instead of just walking to places just one or two times more than I maybe would at home. Especially when I am new in a place. Especially at night.
  • Don’t hitchhike. I never hitchhike by myself. Ever.
  • Keep your whereabouts off the web. I like to instagram a lot about my travels. But never about my actual whereabouts or my future travel plans. My feed is usually about a week or so behind my schedule. Because you just never know who is watching.
  • Go with your guts. If I feel weird about a place, I leave. No matter if I already payed for a room. No matter if I already set up camp and it’s already dark.
  • Talk to people. I like to small-talk a lot when travelling by myself. The guy at the post office, the lady at the supermarket, the portier at the hotel, the elderly couple at the diner: A bit of friendly chit-chat can go a long way, with people a) helping you out and b) remembering who you are and looking out for you.

So far, this has worked well for me. But I am curious: What are some of your travel guidelines and hacks when on the road by yourself?

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And also I know it is an obvious one, but still, there you go: Green Day’s take on walking alone 🙂

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