Party of One: Lessons Learned on My Solo Travel to Europe
As I unloaded my bags from my weeklong London & Iceland excursion, I chuckled at the mail that had arrived for me in my absence. On my pillow laid Essence Magazine’s June 2016 travel edition. It was this time last year that I was reading an Essence article that encouraged women to step out of their comfort zone and see the world, even if it meant doing so, solo! After reading that article, I was determined not to let another year pass before I did just that.
Several failed attempts at traveling to new and exotic places with my friends had left me frustrated and anxious. The travel bug bit me during my first international trip to Sydney, Australia. Wanting to recapture that feeling of excitement and wonder, I vowed to make traveling a priority, but without my squad, I felt discouraged. Exhausted by my ladies’ inability to get into Formation, I made a list of countries I wanted to visit. Using the stamp-less pages in my passport as motivation, I saved up my money and vacation days.
Now back from my first solo international trek, I regret not going sooner! I had the best time ever and I hope the lessons I learned will prove helpful to you, as you plan your next adventure.
First, let’s play a little game of True or False, so that I can give you the real on what it is like traveling solo…
I’ll look lonely.
FALSE. You would not believe how many people were excited to hear about my journey when I returned. The words people frequently used to describe what I had done were brave and courageous.
It will be unsafe.
FALSE. If safety is a concern for you, do your research! In the city you currently reside in, there is a nice part of town and a not-so-nice part of town. The same applies to any country you travel to. I stayed in hostels by myself and got lost at night in London after my phone died and lived to tell the story! Be smart and you will be all right. Interestingly enough, many of the people I met along the way were other women who were also traveling solo!
I won’t have any fun.
FALSE. The amount of fun that can be had with a group of friends cannot be underestimated. However, are you going to sit on the sidelines of life because your friends cannot or are unwilling to join you? None of life’s adventures should center on who is and is not coming. You will glean so much from travel that the presence of a friend becomes insignificant, when you think about all you will gain. In addition, an ease comes with traveling alone. The only person you have to consult during your travels is you! We all know that traveling with besties can get a little testy.
Now that we have dispelled those untruths about solo-travel, here are 8 things I learned or proved to be helpful to me when planning my trip.
1. DO NOT TELL ANYONE ABOUT YOUR PLANS (AT FIRST)
Though they mean well, those closest to us can be the most effective Debbie Downers. In order to avoid feeding into their fears and concerns, book your accommodations first! Tell them about your plans after you have secured your flight tickets. If they ask you whom you are going with, tell them you are going with three close friends (Me, Myself & I). Once you have booked your flight, proceed to tell everyone who will listen! To my surprise, I got some amazingly helpful tips once I told people about my travels. For example, hostelworld.com is a great place to research hostel accommodations. I personally recommend the hostel chain Wombats Hostels. I also learned that Sandemans gives great walking tours for free! This served as the perfect way to familiarize myself with London.
2. PACK AT LEAST A WEEK IN ADVANCE
As you travel, you really want to carry the essentials. I found out during my travels that I had less of what I did need and more of what I did not. Had I packed sooner I probably would have noticed this a little sooner.
3. IT’S BETTER TO GO TO SLEEP EARLY THAN TO STAY UP LATE
While in London, I was certain that there would be a thriving nightlife (even on Mondays) every single night of my stay. Well I was wrong! I learned quickly that most of my adventures would occur during business hours and ditched the late nights to ensure I did not miss the different events bound to take place in the A.M.
4. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN AGAIN, THEN THROW YOUR PLANS TO THE WIND
Planning gives you a since of familiarity with your destination before you get there. It is comforting to know the lay of the land and not have the stress of finding things to do. However, you are abroad, so do not be so rigid. Some of the most fun I experienced was when I ditched my plans to do other things or simply to explore aimlessly.
5. FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW. NEW COUNTRY, NEW RULES
Born and raised in New York City, I’m always taken aback by how different other places can be. Like the situation with the lack of nightlife, there were times during my trip when I had to remind myself to be open to a different way of doing things. These incidences are bond to come, so go traveling with an open mind and a carefree spirit.
6. SWITCH YOUR PHONE TO AN INTERNATIONAL PLAN
I know people dread the extra cost, but there were several incidences when I needed to make a call or use the internet and was grateful that I had switched over my plan. Before you assume this fee will be too much, check with your carrier. The cost of my international plan was extremely reasonable and worth it in the long run.
7. EXCHANGE YOUR MONEY WITH YOUR BANK
It was too much of a headache trying to compare exchange rates to see where to get the best deal. In addition, what I did not know is that not all international airports can conveniently exchange money from other countries. To avoid the hassle, use your bank, especially if you intend to visit several countries during one trip. Also, the app Currency Exchange Calculator was helpful in helping me decide how much money was reasonable to spend on certain items, especially in Iceland.
8. ITEMS YOU MUST HAVE
TSA approved travel locks
Portable battery charger
Selfie stick (invest in a good one with Bluetooth capabilities)
Directory with the contact information for your lodging and modes of transportation
Maps (you can get these for free at your hostel or hotel)
Back up funds (Things happen :-))