Solo travel sometimes carries certain risks and dangers that you don’t experience when traveling with a partner or a group. Some of these risks are innocent misfortunes, such as getting lost in a new place with no battery on your phone, while others may be more sinister, like being targeted because you’re alone.
Whenever I’m getting ready for a solo adventure, I’ve got no less than 7 people (you now who you are, love you) concerned that I, a 21–year–old, somewhat naive–looking, female is traveling alone.
And I’ll be honest, the first few times I travelled alone I was scared and I have ended up in a few scary situations in my day. With that said, I am no longer have any reservations about traveling solo, and scary situations have been few and far in between ever since I’ve gained some experience.
Awkwardly making this a fashion post, too, because I love the pictures I took in New York in May!
Before we get started, let me say: Welcome to a new series on the blog, Morgan Meets the World! I’ve always been passionate about travel, but now that I’ve grown up and have the resources to actually do something about it, I’m ready to see the world and document it here on Mostly Morgan.
What I wish I knew before I tried solo travel:
Tip #1: Walk with confidence
The first two months I lived in New York I was constantly being harassed. Whether it was people asking for money, men making lewd propositions, or being approached with whatever the latest street scam was. I couldn’t leave my apartment without being riddled with anxiety and I was so confused why none of my friends ever talked about.
Until they did.
And they told me I was experiencing the harassment because I looked like a tourist nerd (their words) and if I walked like I lived there it would stop.
And voila, it did. (Mostly.)
My two recommendations: Headphones and sunglasses. They make it easy to avoid eye contact and pretend you aren’t hearing anyone. They can act as a forcefield as you confidently make your way through town.
Plus! Don’t be looking down at your phone every ten steps or stopping abruptly and looking around. If you feel like you’re lost, cooly walk to lean against a building or find a bench and then pull out your phone and start reorienting yourself. Street scammers are going to look for people who look like tourists (because they are more often going to fall for their scams and likely haven’t seen the same scam over and over again like the locals have) and target them. The number one way to look like a tourist is to look as confused and lost as possible.
Tip #2: Keep cash on multiple places on your person
The first time I traveled solo to New York I got something between scammed and mugged and was so lucky that I had money outside of my wallet so I didn’t have to take it out and risk him taking my entire wallet (with my id, credit cards, the works.)
If you’re in a situation where someone is asking for your money and you think it might get violent if you don’t comply it’s best to have a pocket full of crumpled up singles to give them than having to hand over everything.
And on that note, you are far more valuable than anything some stinker can take from you. Don’t try to be the tough guy just to save yourself $15.
Tip #3: Meet people on Instagram
No, really. I feel like everywhere I’ve travelled to I’ve met up with an Instagram friend because the internet gives you the power to connect with anyone no matter where they live. It’s seriously super cool.
I find people to meet up with by looking through hashtags like: #NYCBlogger or #InstagrammersOfChicago or anything like that.
But you can do this if you’re not a blogger, too.
Think about your hobbies and what you’re excited to find you have in common with people.
For example, if you’re a marathoner, check out local marathon hashtags.
Solo travel is great, but it’s also great to meet up with new people and maybe even get a tour of the area you’re visiting from a native. When I went to San Francisco with Tracey we ended up meeting up with Kelsey, a super cool internet stranger we’d never met in person and now both of us can say that Kelsey is one of our favorite people.
This is especially a good tip if you want to do something that might not be safe to do solo, like hiking in an unfamiliar area.
Tip #4: Tell someone where you are and where you’re going
When I travel alone I always keep my boyfriend up to date on where I’m at and where I intend to go next. It might seem silly or like you’re worrying too much, but if you’re in an area where you don’t know anyone, it’s a good idea to have someone worrying about your whereabouts, even if they’re hundreds of miles away.
Letting the people back home know what you’re up to and where you’ll be can act like a safety net if things go wrong. Plus, it’ll help your folks sleep better at night knowing what you’ll be up to on your trip. Unless it’s skydiving.
Tip #5: Trust your gut
This one is the cheesy vague one, but it might be the most important one on the entire list. One of my favorite books in the world, The Gift of Fear, talks all about how fear works to keep you safe, and how humans are the only species that routinely ignores that gut feeling you get when something isn’t quite right.
There are stories of how people listened to their intuition and ended up being right, and there are examples of how you can refine your gift of fear and learn what to look for in different situations.
The big takeaway: If something feels like it’s not right, it’s probably not right.
When you’re alone it’s more important than ever to trust your gut, lest your gut ends up being right only for you to have ignored it.
Anecdote time: My local downtown area has a big parking garage near all of the restaurants. Over Christmas I parked up top (as I always do) to meet a friend for dinner, got a weird feeling, pulled out, and drove to a lower level. Driving away, about five cars past mine there was a guy crouched fiddling with the tire of the car he was next to.
Now, more likely than not it was his car and he was a cool dude patching a hole in his tire or something, but maybe he was also a crouching assailant. All I know is I got the creepiest, worst feeling and listened to it, missing out on the beautiful top-of-the-parking-garage sunset views. (Sorry this story wasn’t cooler, but it’s the best I’ve got for ya.)
Tip #6: Have multiple copies of all of your important documents
When I was in San Francisco my wallet got stolen on the day I flew home (bummer!) but luckily I had my license in my phone case so I was able to make it back. At the airport, though, we met a girl who also had her wallet stolen that day and it had everything in it: Cards, money, ID, everything.
She too made it through security to get on her flight, but not before an invasive pat down and extensive questioning.
If you’re somewhere outside of your home country, though, it might be a lot harder to make it home if you lose your license or passport. I’d take no less than 3 copies with you. One to keep in your hotel room, one for your purse, and one for your suitcase.
Tip #7: Fake phone conversations
Going off tip number 5, sometimes when I’m in those creepy feeling situations but I can’t get out of them (i.e. if I’m walking down a desolate street I’ll have to keep walking before I can get off the desolate street) I’ll fake a phone call.
If I feel like someone is following a bit too close in an unpopulated area I’ll pretend to answer my phone and I’ll say, “Oh, hey! Yeah, I’m like five minutes away on Prince Street. So sorry I’m running behind, mind meeting me in the middle? I’m heading east towards Lafayette.
If someone is following you because they might think you look like an easy victim, knowing that someone is two minutes away from meeting you and they know your exact whereabouts is likely to deter them.
I’ll also use this tip if I’m in a touristy area and don’t want to get approached by someone asking for money.
Tip #8: Don’t let fear cripple you
When I lived in New York there was about a 3–week period where I only left the apartment to go to work. Overall I have a thinner skin than most (it’s something I’m working on) and got really shook up one day by a handsy guy on the subway and after that the idea of leaving made me feel like I was suffocating.
A skype call with my best friend shook me out of it, though, as I received the loving-est tough love I’d ever gotten (and so desperately needed).
Basically: Bad things can happen anywhere. Being somewhere new might make you feel more vulnerable, but you’re not. Walk with confidence, be brave, and be prepared if bad things happen, but don’t expect them to anymore than you would if you were in your hometown.
Where is your next travel destination? Are you going alone or with someone? What tips did I miss?