Traveling alone can be tricky but also very rewarding. With every other destination, however, I hardly think any of us can be a master at it. Between navigating a new city layout to getting by with your minimal knowledge of the country’s language, you have to be street-smart, adventurous, and naturally inclined to be comfortable even outside your comfort zone.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be armed with some tested tips from other travelers as well. Consider these the kindness of strangers you encounter in between lay-overs or when you happen to meet someone of the same nationality as yours in a foreign country.
The first person I thought of when gathering tips for this story was Henrik Maedler. His feed is often filled with travel photos and updates of how he’s leaving yet another airport. As a senior consultant for Lufthansa Consulting which handles “management advisory for the aviation industry, i.e. airlines, airports, and authorities,” he gets paid to travel. Don’t worry, he knows I secretly hate him for it.
Friendly banter aside, Henrik says that TripAdvisor is still a godsend for anyone traveling alone. He also emphasizes that booking online is the best way to go when you need to have accommodation. “Even if it’s standing in front of the hotel.” The paper trail helps and it also cuts down on your check-in period. He also notes how to choose good accommodation, “What makes life easy in a hotel: light switches you can find, underfloor heating in the bathroom, and a no-fog mirror. Add decent views and a loveable staff, and you have me sold for life.”
For long haul flights, he also says having a pair of Bose noise-cancelling earphones helps along with an iPad or any tablet with access to your Kindle. You never know how in-flight entertainment will be like so better be prepared with your own comforts.
When it comes to your baggage, Henrik says it’s never really practical to have them shipped ahead of you or to check in your lugguage. “Both only are really worth it if the trip is either crazy long [which is more] than two weeks or has special requirements in terms of wardrobe [such as] dress code for weddings or if stuff is heavy like ski gear.”
Packing light seems to be an indispensable tip across all kinds of travelers. This is true for Mara Miano, former Scout managing editor. Now living in Europe, she sends out posts from Paris one day and then from Berlin in the next and many other destinations in between. “It doesn’t matter what you pack, just make sure you have a lot of fresh underwear. Everything else works out as long as you have fresh underwear. You just have to feel good and that changes everything.”
She also notes that packing light has inherent perks. “You’re more mobile and in case of emergency, you’ll be able to move fast. Packing light also means more room for souvenir and new clothes.”
If you’re worried of things going amiss or certain security risks, Mara says it’s all about being alert. As she took a three-hour cab ride on her first trip alone to Pattaya, Thailand at 2 a.m. for the Wonderfruit Festival, she learned to be in the moment. “What I learned is not to read horror stories about lone female travelers. Presence of mind is all it is, and you should be resilient when things don’t go your way so you stay alert.”
When you talk about staying alert and being in the moment, it also doesn’t mean you should only be on the lookout for bad things. It also means soaking up the new culture and vibe of your place. At this, there are two opposing views I gathered. Bernadine So, who left her life in the Philippines after college to try her luck in New York, says the advice of “living like a local” can be a bit prententious. “You can go explore a new place however you want and go to all the tourist traps that you please.” She just holds back with something, however. “It doesn’t make sense to go to a McDonald’s if you have all the local offerings around you.”
On ther other hand, lifestyle and travel blogger Yuki Tansengco says that going to the usual tourist spots might not be the best if you don’t like being around a lot of people. “It’s usually so crowded and you don’t get to enjoy it.” So perhaps just try to approximate what is your travel temperament and what you want to prioritize when going somewhere. After all, you’re alone and free.
Both of them, however, share the same thoughts when it comes to bringing only the essentials. Yuki says to “pre-plan your outfits and bring multi-purpose makeup. If you lack something, then you have a guilt-free reason to shop at your destination.” She also says that “a huge chunk of the commute is walking, so sneakers are always the way to go. Bernadine seconds this as she believes that you don’t need more than five pairs of shoes wherever you may be going. She also adds to her must-have traveling wardrobe include Uniqlo’s Heattech Innerwear and the “magic of non-vacuum Ziploc bags.”
All in all, everyone agrees that traveling alone is something you should try at least once. It may be scary (“Be vigilant!” Bernadine reminded me) but all of the people I talked to said there’s nothing like it. Traveling alone can add extra value to your trip. Mara says what really makes traveling alone worth it is the “freedom and flexbility, and realizing how much you can handle without anyone watching after you. It’s the best feeling in the world.”