Travel

Between arranging flights and hotels, figuring out what to pack, and navigating an unfamiliar place, one of the more complicated aspects of travel is coordinating your trip with a friend.  Not only must you line up your schedules, but you have to compromise on how you spend your time; maybe your buddy wants to hit the beach and eat fast food, while you’d be happier hiking a mountain and trying new flavors.  One solution?  Pull a Beyonce and go solo.

Independent travel is a great time for self-discovery and self-indulgence; however, whether you’re on an old fashioned Route 66 roadtrip, a relaxing stay at a swanky resort, or an adventure fit for the intrepid soul, it’s undeniable that going it alone makes you especially vulnerable to all the risks inherent to travel.

Your safety begins at home with thorough research.  Read as much as you can about your destination, including information about hotels and hostels, how the transportation system works, what types of food are available, et cetera.  Having a general idea about these things before you step foot in a new place will ensure that you’re not overwhelmed (or less overwhelmed than you would have been) when you finally get there.  I like to use Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor, but it’s even better if I can find someone who has been to my destination before.

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Next, try to have all lodging reservations finalized before you leave, whether it’s a hotel, hostel, or a couchsurfing host.  If you’re traveling for an extended period, then at least have a plan for the first couple weeks.  That way, you’ll have a place or person you can contact in case of emergency.  The last thing you want to worry about in the midst of culture shock and jet lag is to find a bed to sleep in.

The next step is to plan your budget.  When you’re traveling with a friend, they can spot you if you run out of cash, but solo travelers don’t have that luxury.  If you’re going international, consult research how much cash to convert and to learn about the safest and most convenient ways to carry and spend money.

Next, it’s important to master the art of packing wisely.  Remember important items, including paperwork for the airport and hotels, travel insurance information, prescription medications, a water bottle, climate-appropriate clothing, and a basic first aid kit.  Again, do your research to know about essential items to bring to your destination.  Equally important is to know what not to pack; leave behind things that you can buy once you’re there, including most toiletries, excessive amounts of clothing, and packaged food.  Bring enough for a few days, but leave behind your economy-sized bottle of Tresemme.  You want to be able to carry your bags easily so that you’re mobile and are less of a target.

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Very importantly, remember to give someone the details of your itinerary.  Print out a day-by-day plan, along with contact information for the places you’ll be staying.  Give this information to a trusted friend or family member.  During your trip, occasionally make contact with them to give updates on any changes to your plans. This ensures that someone is looking out for you and can help you in case of emergency.  In some places it’s difficult to make contact, but consider getting a calling card, a prepaid phone, or using an internet café.

Lastly, be aware. Research safety tips for the specific place you’re traveling.  General rules of thumb are to dress conservatively, don’t give specific details about where you’re staying, and register with your local embassy.

Even with diligent planning, travel is unpredictable.  It requires flexibility and the ability to think on your feet, teaching you as much about yourself as it teaches you about the world.  Bon voyage!