By Harriet O’Connor
Travelling alone is a wonderful experience, and one that I would fully recommend. Obviously, going away with friends, partners, or family is great fun but going solo comes with a whole host of different positives. You don’t need to worry about what anyone else wants to do, or wait around for other people to get ready in the morning. In fact, there are times when travelling alone is utter perfection. Solo travel builds immense life skills, such as a keen sense of direction, social prowess and the ability to adapt to uncomfortable environments. You’ll come to realise that you don’t need anyone else to reach your goals. Although it may seem scary, travelling alone is something every woman should experience at least once. And with these tips, there really is no further excuse not to…
Prepare, plan and prepare some more
If you’re travelling alone it is essential that you are prepared for any eventuality and have your important documents on you at all times. Keep a copy of your passport, reservations and any other travel documents in your purse, an extra copy in your suitcase and take a photo on your phone. I would also recommend keeping a small notebook with the contact details of your accommodation, details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate and how to reach any contacts you may have in the area. As a solo female traveller, it’s also worth bearing in mind to plan activities for during the day to limit time spent wandering alone at night.
Blend in with the locals
Imitating the locals’ sense of dress not only improves your travel experience in terms of safety – you’re less likely to become a target for pesky pickpockets and generally attracting unwanted attention – but it is also a great way of fully immersing yourself in a country and culture rather than just visiting as a touristy onlooker. Additionally, remember that certain cultures and sites impose a strict dress code, and it is incredibly important that you respect this to avoid causing offence. Make sure you read up on a country’s customs before you visit to avoid this problem.
Use social media as a tool to keep safe
Whether through messaging, tweeting, posting Facebook updates or Instagramming, it is really important that your friends and family are aware of where you are and when. Whenever you get the chance, keep people at home updated on your movements, so that on the off-chance that something goes wrong, you can be easily traced to your last point of contact. Along the line of technology, I really recommend doing some research and downloading certain apps that will make your travelling experience much easier, such as Currency Converter, Create Trips, and a translator.
Don’t fear the dreaded “Table for one please”
For me, there is little that is more enjoyable than reminiscing and laughing with friends over a long, languorous, wine-fueled meal. So, I find one of the hardest aspects of solo travel to be the eating part – a bit of a problem since obviously it’s something you have to do! However, there are plenty of ways to avoid eating out alone at night. For example, try a communal dinner experience or make friends and meet them for dinner. For something simpler, just grab a takeaway and eat back at your hotel, whilst people-watching in a public square, or ideally by the River Seine (when in Paris…). On the other hand, why not embrace the solo travel experience and everything that comes with it? One of my favourite memories from my year abroad, and strangely quite a turning point, was during a solo weekend trip to Avignon in Provence. I decided I wasn’t going to let my self-consciousness hinder a) my hunger and b) my time spent in the beautiful and fairytale-like town. So in the end, I went the whole hog and treated myself to a deliciously indulgent three course meal in a swish restaurant. In fact, I think I got the best service out of all the other customers and chatted away to the waiter for most of the evening!
Meet other travellers
Although it’s a great feeling to spend time alone, sometimes you just need social contact and the chance to share your experiences. Plus, it would be a shame to be so closed off when travelling is the most incredible opportunity to meet likeminded and fascinating new people from all over the place. Thankfully, making friends as a traveller isn’t nearly as hard as making friends at school. I’ve found staying in hostels to be one of the best and easiest ways to make friends instantly. During a solo weekend in Copenhagen in January, I stayed in a dorm with eight other travellers; we clicked immediately as we all had one thing in common: being solo and eager to meet other people.
Don’t be afraid to say “No”
Whilst it’s an amazing quality to be open-minded, enthusiastic, and keen to try new things on your travels, at the same time it’s really important to remember that this is your trip, and you are under absolutely no obligation to do anything you don’t want to do. Something I often struggle with is being able to decline things. Whether it be a dinner date, an offer to take my photo by a questionable person or an invitation to go out for drinks when I’d really rather not, by being too afraid of saying no I’ve ended up doing things I wasn’t really sure about. Your safety and comfort is absolutely the most important thing, and as a female solo traveller you must have the confidence to refuse things you are not comfortable doing.
Keep a Journal
I happily admit to keeping a journal anyway, but I find that when I’m travelling alone it becomes more than just a lovely way to reflect on each day – it also serves as a permanent memory of all the little things that took my breath away that day, the people I encountered, the cultural differences I noted, and generally all my haphazard swirl of thoughts and observations. As well as a book, a journal is, if nothing else, a perfect way to ponder and pass the time when you are on your own.
Beware of catcalling
Despite it being the twenty-first century, sadly this does still happen. I learnt this the hard way during my year abroad in France where, along with every other French woman, I could hardly leave my apartment without being stared at, shouted at and – the worst – followed. Although, of course, this happens in England, experiencing it on your own in a foreign country is horribly intimidating. My advice is to pretend not to be fazed by it, act like you didn’t hear it, don’t make eye contact, keep being fabulous and walk with your head high.
Learn how to take your own photos
I’m a self-proclaimed Instagram addict, so I struggled quite a lot with this one at first! But as with everything else, there are ways around this difficulty. I’m not really one for tripods and anything too technical, but self-timers, selfies and the kindness/patience of other people are things even I can work with.
The most important point to make is that solo travel is valuable and rewarding. It’s invigorating, exciting, and liberating. As long as you are prepared before you go, remain vigilant and have a positive attitude, you are guaranteed to have a good time.
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you read up on the country you’re going to beforehand or the neighbourhood of the city you’re staying in. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a wide array of advice for women travellers as well as information about what to do if you are a victim of a crime, crisis or sexual assault while abroad. For all of the latest foreign travel information, head to the FCO’s Travel Advice website. Follow the FCO on Twitter @FCOtravel, watch their videos on YouTube and add them on Facebook to get instant access on all of the latest travel updates.
Photograph: Harriet O’Connor