A year ago today, I was wrapping up a trip to Munich that started and concluded in London. It was the second trip overseas by myself, or as I like to refer to it: flying solo.
I have to admit that I’m split 50/50 when it comes to my level of enjoyment when traveling by myself or with other people. I’ve found there are benefits and drawbacks to both.
A short while ago, I read an article that gave seven keys to traveling alone. It was a pretty insightful article, although a little too spiritual for my tastes.
Since I like to strike a balance between my practical side and my adventurous side, I decided to add a few more “keys to traveling alone” based on personal experience.
#1 Learn a Few Phrases if Traveling to a Country that Doesn’t Speak Your Language.
Getting around by yourself can be a little frightening especially if you aren’t with someone who is fluent in the language spoken in the country you are visiting.
It’s important to learn a few phrases before you go even if it’s “please”, “thank you”, or “pardon me, my (insert language here) isn’t too good, can you help me?”. Don’t be afraid of “toddler-speak”; it will help you get your point across.
For example, when I visited The Hague in September, I tried my hand at a few Dutch phrases and was met with surprise. I would apologize for not knowing much of the language, but I was commended for trying. Ask how to say or pronounce something. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll start recognizing.
Chances are, you’ll also feel a bit more confident that you’ve attempted something new.
#2 Ask a Local.
As a solo traveler, you will find yourself alone at a market, restaurant, bar, or somewhere else where people congregate. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips on fun things to do and see that may be “off the guidebook grid”, so to speak. Obviously, safety is key and should never be discounted.
I struck up a conversation with someone who lived in The Hague and was introduced to Jenever and the best broodjes anyone could ever experience. Was I little weirded out eating a cow’s udder? Sure. However, it was something new to experience and travel is all about experience.
#3 Research and Plan, but Be Flexible.
I’m notorious for booking a trip to a certain destination months ahead only to tweak my itinerary a little to accommodate my desire to see and do something else. As a solo traveler, you have the flexibility to do so.
My experience has taught me that you can enter and depart in one country, and experience other destinations in between by train and plane. Likewise, if you’re in the states, you can usually fly to a certain destination and drive, hop on a train, or take a short flight to see something else not too far away.
For example, my trip this time last year originally involved flying into and out of London with a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days. I scratched the trip to Edinburgh not because I didn’t want to go; rather, I wanted to visit Munich because I had heard so much about it and learned that Salzburg was a short train ride away. Therefore, I weighed my refundable train cost to Edinburgh versus my flight to Munich and it was about the same.
How do you remain flexible? Many Websites such as Orbitz and Booking.com have deals that allow for hotel cancellations up to a specific date before your arrival. You will need to review the restrictions when you book, but if you book a refundable stay, chances are, you’ll be able to make a change if you need to according to the hotel’s policies. However, it’s important to note that changing flights can be tricky, and many airlines impose a hefty fee to change in addition to the fare difference. Weigh your options if you want to remain flexible.
Renting an apartment for your stay? Be sure you speak with the owner and confirm his or her refund guidelines. I’ve often found that a downpayment for a reservation is not refundable.
#4 Save, Spend Wisely, and Just Take It In.
You may be traveling to a place where your currency is crap, to put it bluntly. Furthermore, traveling alone can be costly because you aren’t splitting expenses. Check out apartment rentals if you have identified a specific place to stay and don’t think you’ll make changes.
Travel is all about experience, right? Budget for your trip ahead of time, but plan for unexpected expenses. If you live by yourself, you’re probably already used to doing this.
Chances are, you can go a whole day just seeing and exploring for free and only spend a little money on inexpensive meals and snacks you’ve thrown in your bag.
Do you have positive and negative experiences to share regarding “flying solo”? Please share in the comments section.