If there's one thing that I think all young women need to do before they're ready to settle down, it's travel. I love traveling. I love being in transit. I love being in airports and riding on buses and trains. I love looking out the window, watching landscape whisk by or the clouds below. I love being in places of transit, watching other people go about their lives in transitional spaces. And most of all, I love doing this alone.
I've been solo-traveling since I was 7 years old, when my parents put me on a flight to Texas to visit my extended family. I've learned a thing or two from my travels, and I'd like to share my tips for making the most of your solo-trip.
Do your Research Ahead of Time
This is probably one of my favorite parts about traveling. I love planning out itineraries on spreadsheets, and I’m obsessed with travel shows. If you’re anything like me, the best part about traveling is not about the Instagram-worthy photos or falling for tourist traps. No, my favorite part of traveling is the food. Prior to taking a trip, I will dig up every single Anthony Bourdain travel episode on my specific destination and find out Tony’s favorite neighborhoods, restaurants and bars. Make a list of your top restaurant destinations, tourist sights and neighborhoods, and plan to go to a different area each day.
Have An Itinerary, But Leave Enough Wiggle Room to Wander Off the Beaten Path.
While I do love creating itineraries, I have tried to plan out entire days all the way down to the minute and it simply doesn’t work. Sometimes there’s traffic, or you might underestimate how much time it really does take to wander around the contemporary section of the art museum. Or, you might stumble upon the most AMAZING vintage clothing shop ever and spend two hours digging through a dusty warehouse that smells like mothballs. Have a plan for the day, but leave yourself some wiggle room.
Plan Your Method of Transportation.
Do you plan on visiting a place with a decent public transit system? Pull up a map of the transit system ahead of your trip and work this into your itinerary. Boston and Chicago have incredible public transit systems, and they’re fairly easy to use by someone who isn’t familiar with public transportation.
Do you plan on visiting a sprawling city with multiple travel destinations? Rent a car. The great part about renting a car is that as soon as you’re finished with a destination, you can hop in your car and immediately head to the next with out relying on a transit system or ride-sharing that can add up especially in dense areas like LA or New York.
Dining alone can be a bit… daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. If asking the host for a seat for one is a bit too much, ask to sit at the bar, as long as you’re of legal drinking age. If the bar is kind of slow, you can chat with the bartender and find out about the best local spots. If the bar is busy, usually someone that’s also sitting alone will chat with you. Dining alone gets easier over time; I thoroughly enjoy eating alone now. (Especially when I don’t feel like entertaining a dining partner with conversation).
Try to Stay in a Hostel or a Co-living/Communal Living Accommodation.
Much like dining alone, staying in any kind of co-living accommodation can be daunting if it’s a new experience for you. If you’re comfortable with it, I absolutely recommend it. You will make so many new friends and get the best recommendations from other travelers and locals that run the place. Hostels and communes are usually run locally by small business owners that are deeply invested in their community, so if you want to eat, drink, and mingle with the locals, stay with the locals.
If staying in a hostel is a tad too immersive for your tastes, definitely stay in an Airbnb. You will have the comfort of staying in a cozy environment with gracious hosts that’ll point you in the right direction for the best of the best in local fare.
So, I know I just told you to go sit at a bar, and now I’m telling you to stay sober. What I mean is don’t go overboard. Sure, it’s fine to have a drink or two, especially if you’re at a bar known for a specific cocktail, or if the bartender is a talented mixologist. Keep an eye on your drink and don’t let it leave your sight.
Designate Some Check-in Contacts
The first time I ever traveled to LA, I remember driving back to the hostel at which I was staying from the Griffith Observatory and, while chatting with my mom, realized I hadn’t eaten anything in hours. I passed by a taco truck and realized I hadn’t planned out a single restaurant with Mexican food, and I’m Mexican! Mexican food in LA is iconic and very different from the variations of the cuisine I grew up with in Texas.
I immediately pulled over and my mom freaked out. My dad started asking me what cross-streets I was at to check out the neighborhood and make sure I was in a safe space, especially since the sun had already gone down. Pulling over at that taco truck was probably one of the best experiences I had while I was in LA, and thankfully, I had great check-in contacts to make sure I was safe on my unplanned detour.
Maybe it’s your mom, your dad, your sister or a few of your closest friends. Whoever they might be, make sure to keep in contact with a few people while you’re traveling to just check-in with. It’s easy to get lost in a new place.