From the conversations I’ve had with many, many people in my life, and the research that I’ve done online, the general assumption is that solo traveling is terrifying. Solo female traveling? Even worse.
Exchange brings so many opportunities to travel. You have so much potential for new explorations right next door to your city, or even your country. Depending where you are, maybe even outside of your continent! Being able to take advantage of your exchange and see as much as you can within one short year is a highlight for anyone.
With the varying schedules of your fellow BIB friends or even the new ones you meet in your host community, it is often difficult to coordinate group trips. I’ve found that the best way of making my dream trips a reality is often travelling solo. I’ve learned that if I wait until everyone I’d like to travel with is available, I would be limiting my opportunities. Travelling solo grants me both the experiences I’ve dreamed about, as well as the personal growth that comes with spending time alone.
In terms of staying safe while traveling solo, I’d really like to say what I hear most, “just use your common sense.” Okay, yes. Great idea. But let’s define “common sense.” Here’s what I consider “common sense” things to do when I travel alone:
- Bring a fully charged portable phone charger – essential! This will be the light at the end of your tunnel when your plane lands, you have 10% battery left, and still need to call an Uber.
- Use something like Uber (or the local alternative) whenever you can – something that gives you insight and control on your phone.
- Keep the important things in your backpack closest to your body (ex. placing your laptop and wallet in the little back pouch that most packs have) – in case a pick-pocketer does reach in or slash your bag, the things at the top/outside have the first shot at being snagged.
- At nighttime, avoid parks and any streets that you’re not familiar with. If you’re just arriving in a city at night and looking to grab something to eat, ask your host or hotel reception.
- Always be familiar with the people around you, keeping an eye out for anyone suspicious or following you. Dipping into a store is a great way to let someone walk past, and if you feel unsafe just let the store clerk know.
- Send photos or messages home when you can, your family and friends will both appreciate knowing that you’re safe and also that you’re enjoying your trip.
- Be careful to hide your PIN when using an ATM and notice if there are any strange-looking attachments in front of the card reader. These can sometimes be readers that thieves have stuck on there to catch your information.
- Keep money and important cards in different places (some in your backpack, some in your inside coat pocket, some in a separate wallet, etc.) so that if some are pickpocketed or stolen, you’re not completely emptied out.
- Always have a little cash and a card, plus one form of ID. You really don’t need to be carrying around anything more during days out. Leave the rest in a safe or locker in your room. If possible, leave your actual passport in the room (locked up) and just take a photocopy with you.
- Keep a photocopy of your passport and other essential documents with you while you travel. Keep them as safe as the real documents. If you lose a passport, you can take the photocopy to the local embassy of your country and they’ll be able to help you out!
- When sitting in train stations or airports, keep your bags between your feet – it’s easier than you think for someone to swiftly walk by and pick up your belongings on the way.
In a world like ours, there’s not enough we can do to ensure that we’re safe and happy as we travel, both in groups and alone, regardless of who you are. Those “check-in” texts that you mom seems to ask you for non-stop actually hold an important place in making your exchange safe and successful.
As I mentioned above, spending time traveling solo has granted me with so many opportunities that I may not have found otherwise. Primarily, my personal growth. Having dinner with myself in a busy restaurant sounds lonely and grim, but it’s really not. I look forward to dinner or coffee with just me. It gives me the time I need to become comfortable with my own thoughts, understand what I truly want from my life and how I will be able to achieve my goals. There’s also no shame in reading your favourite new book at a restaurant or cafe either. Or just looking at the charming decor and wondering what stories it’s heard over its life.
Traveling solo teaches you to not be afraid; to reach out, to ask questions, to fulfill the burning curiosity that we all have inside. It forces you to be social, at least for a little bit. I know I’m not the type of person who could go three weeks with no social settings, but I also need my down time. When I book my accommodations, I try to balance my weeks with some lively youth hostels where I’ll share an 8-bed dorm room and some Air BnBs where I can have my own space. Even in the times when I have my “quiet accommodations,” I still like to book (free!) city walking tours to chat with some new faces for a few hours, or I make a nice, long phone call home (to make sure I stay on mom’s good side).
Which brings me to my absolute favourite part of traveling. The choice is all yours. You want to sleep all morning and wander through food markets in the afternoon? Great. Early mornings and programmed museum tours are more your thing? Fantastic. Whatever schedule you want, it’s all yours! Just try to make the most of what will leave you with the best memories.
As cliché as the saying is, the world truly is your oyster – your happiness is completely and utterly determined by what you choose to pursue in your life and how you go about pursuing it. So, if seeing the world is your dream and you just haven’t found people with the same time or budget as you to travel, don’t be afraid to book that one-way plane ticket. Or whatever else you’ve been following on Instagram. The choice is yours, my friend.
Alexandria Hewko is a third-year Bachelor of International Business student who is studying abroad in Spain.
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