***This post was written by guest blogger, Erin D. who frequently shares her experiences living life as a true 'leisure nut'!****
As someone who hates the idea of simply going to dinner by myself at the bar down the street from my apartment, many of my friends were shocked when I told them I was going to be going on a 10-day solo trip. I always believed that the most fun could be had when you travel with a significant other or friends, and I thought that traveling by myself would be pretty boring. It also didn’t help that the idea of being alone while in a foreign country immediately made me think of the litany of terrible things that happen to women traveling abroad on their own. They made Hostel and the million Taken movies for a reason, right?
But nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot. I’d had friends tell me about their amazing experiences while traveling, and realized it had been too long since I had my passport stamped. Without a significant other or friend to tag along, I booked my tickets and started to plan my trip. And now, as I fly back to the states after 10 days in London, I am realizing that there are some things to consider before embarking on a spontaneous solo trip.
- Parlez-vous Anglais? - Not wanting to add the stressor of a language barrier, I picked an English-speaking country as my first solo excursion. While English is becoming more prevalent in most countries, I felt that it would be too difficult to go somewhere and not know what everyone was saying...and not have anyone with you to help you figure it out. However, now realizing that there are a multitude of different apps and software for language learning or translation, I might try a non-English speaking the next time around. I’ve actually recently started teaching myself French (with the help of Rosetta Stone) and think, despite being known for romance, Paris would be a great place to visit by myself. Although it’s more likely I’ll test out my newfound French skills in Montreal first.
- To book or not to book? - Being conscious that I would be footing the entirety of the bill for this trip on my own, I tried to not be too picky when it came to booking hotels. I used Booking.com to find hotels in three parts of the city, giving myself more exposure to different areas and hotel options. One of the main things I found when I was looking for rooms was that there were many (at least in the price range I was in) that had shared bathrooms or twin beds. While I can deal with a bitty bed, I made a point to not book any places that didn’t have en-suite bathrooms, fearing a National Lampoon’s European Vacation-esque encounter with a stranger while in the tub. I also found that I got some great rates if I booked a couple days before I needed the reservation. Sure, it’s nice to not have to worry about moving around every couple days or making a new reservation because your current hotel stay is almost up, but it’s also nice to be able to spend the money I saved on the room for more important things… like a pint of lager.
- Excuse me, but do you have WiFi? - Technology is seriously amazing. Almost everywhere you go now, there is WiFi. Walking around London, my phone was constantly trying to hook up to different free networks, allowing me to access maps and train schedules on the go. However, I also found that there are some cheap data-only SIMs that will allow you complete mobile access throughout your trip. For just a few quid, I was able to get a SIM and a gig of data, and the only real issue I had was figuring out where to get the card (I’m sorry, but what’s a “news agent” and where do I find one?). For reference, it’s best to look into carriers and prepaid options in the country you are going to visit before you head out on your trip. I would have never guessed that a place called “Carphone Warehouse” would sell mobile plans…. I also checked my American carrier to see what my rates would be if I used my SIM while abroad. Although a bit more expensive, I did use this option a few times to avoid the hassle of switching out my SIM and dealing with a new foreign phone number. I mean, I couldn't risk losing all my WhatsApp messages, right?
- How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. But really, which train takes me there? - Once you figure out your data situation, make sure you know where you are going. Google Maps has a feature that allows you to download a map area and pull it up while you are offline. I found this to be really useful at times when I just needed to figure out which street I was on or an easy way to get from point A to point B. I also found that apps like Citymapper are great when it comes to navigating a new city’s transit system. It not only gave me really in-depth directions (including which part of the train is the best to sit on), it also showed (accurate) times when the trains would be arriving. I am seriously in love with this app and am a bit disappointed that I really have no use for it at home in Boston.
- Can I get a latte, your WiFi password, and the code to the bathroom? - For most people, vacations are about food and the best places to eat. For me, it was finding a coffee shop that served multiple functions: cheap food/coffee, internet access, and a restroom. Spending as much time walking around the city as I did, I was constantly ducking into a Starbucks or Pret A Manger to refuel. And since many of the toilets around the city require payment (which is insane to me), this was also an optimal time to relieve my bladder. I don’t really have any suggestions for apps or things to consider on this front, although I’m sure that there is money to be made on an app that maps out free (or just nearby) toilets.
Besides this, you will also want to download travel guides and look into some of the events that will be taking place while you are on your trip. In the end, I found that traveling by myself was actually just as fun as traveling with other people. It made me be more social and step out of my comfort zone. I absolutely recommend going somewhere by yourself at some point in your life.