When I’m planning a trip, my mom is the first person I call. I try to casually hint at the idea of traveling solo (again!), but she always cuts in to inevitably ask, “Is it safe?” I will reply, “Of course!” And I’ll laugh and say something along the lines of: “I know how to take care of myself!”
I’m sure she knows that’s true. But I still have to make that call every time, more for my benefit than hers. There’s value in telling someone you’re strong, even if it’s just to hear the words yourself.
Whenever you go on a solo trip—whether it’s your first or your fiftieth—chances are you and the people who love you probably will worry. But the trick is to feel confident enough in yourself and your trip that the excitement outweighs the worry, at least most of the time! Here’s what I do before and during each trip to help make that happen:
Do Your Research
While some worries are realistic, often fear is based on perception rather than fact. When I’m thinking about traveling somewhere alone, it helps me to understand what the real risks are. It might sound obvious, but most cities, states, and countries have sections that are safe and others that aren’t. Generalizing a whole area usually just isn’t accurate. What’s more, many (though of course not all) cities outside the United States have much lower rates of violent crime.
Sometimes your research helps you decide to go ahead and travel. For example, when I decided to travel alone to Mexico, I dug past gruesome headlines to find the fact that the Yucatán Peninsula, where I planned to travel, often has a violent crime rate as low or lower than Canada’s. On the other hand, researching a destination can also give you enough information to alter your trip. In planning a trip to Eastern Europe, I decided to avoid visiting Slovakia (for the time being, at least) because of the resurgence of neo-nazism in that country. Even if I initially thought it was safe, my research helped me realize that as a Black woman, I wouldn’t feel safe traveling there. Research allows you to weigh the real risks vs. the imagined ones and make a more informed plan.
Build Your Skills (and Your Confidence)
This applies most to backpacking, but I think it can be helpful with traveling too! Before I went on my last hiking trip, I tested my new water filter and tent on low-stakes trips near home. By the time I was in the mountains, I had no trouble filtering water or setting up my tent, even after hiking all day. By building up these skills ahead of time, I knew I could rely on myself (and my backup plans) to stay safe and have a good time on my trip.
Make a Communication Plan
When I travel, I try to let other people know when they can expect to hear from me. If I’m going abroad, this might mean telling my mom I won’t be able to call the first day, but when I get to a hostel with WiFi I’ll send a text. Or I might not be in touch over a four day hike, but I’ll call when I’m able. This helps to decrease some of the worry if my friends and family haven’t heard from me in a few days. Planning out communication ahead of time also allows me to fully immerse myself in a place without worrying too much about whether I’m calling home enough.
Share Your Itinerary
I’m all for spontaneity, but if you’re traveling alone for the first time or going into the wilderness, it’s a good idea to leave a detailed plan with a few different people. This plan should include where you plan to stay each day (with contacts!) and a general route or itinerary. This way, if the worst does happen, you’ll be able to get help sooner.
Check in with Yourself
It took a few trips overseas to realize how jet lag, hunger, and lack of sleep can really take a toll on my mood. Once I started noticing these external factors, I stopped wondering guiltily “why aren’t I having more fun?” and slowed down to take a nap or have a meal. In unfamiliar situations (especially if you don’t have anyone around to give you feedback!) it’s super important to tune into your body and give yourself space to adapt and enjoy the experience.
Use a Mantra
Last month I hiked alone in Wyoming’s grizzly country. Along with my bear spray and canister, I took along this mantra: *breathe in peace* *breath out worry*. Whenever I noticed myself getting uncomfortably nervous, I took a moment to try to recenter on those words, and I swear it works! In her memoir Wild, Cheryl Strayed has a similar practice. She boldly said “I am not afraid” aloud so often it became true.
Meet Other Travelers
Most of the time, “solo” travel isn’t really solo at all. On every trip I’ve met other travelers to have dinner with, grab a beer with, explore the city with, or even go on a five day hike in the Himalayas with. These brief friendships have helped me build my confidence and quell my loneliness. Plus you get the added benefit of hearing first-hand about other countries to add to your travel wishlist!
(Important!) Don’t Plan too Much
As you can probably tell, I support planning. But there’s a limit to its helpfulness! If you over-plan every single mile or activity, you’ll stress yourself out before and during your trip. You should be prepared enough to adapt to a variety of situations—not plan out every detail of your trip. As my father-in-law likes to say, “Plan to be flexible!”
Things won’t go entirely according to plan—they never do, even at home. But when you’re confident in your skills and trust yourself, you can take on whatever comes your way. If you have any other helpful tips for solo travelers, drop them in the comment box!